May 7, 2010 — “Mr. President, distinguished alumni, honored faculty, and fellow students it is an honor to stand here as a member of the graduating class of 2010. It has long been my dream to stand here wearing this cap and gown, and yet, each time I have been in this auditorium it is to support loved ones who have received their diplomas. Graduates, I hope you appreciate how proud your parents are of you at this moment. I speak from experience as the mother of two graduates from this University. Moreover, I wish my parents were alive to be here with me today because it is certain they would have been proud to watch me attain this honor. As a young freshman, I believed I would graduate in the standard four to five years. However, life doesn’t always go as planned, and my life took a different path. As a young married woman I was determined to stay in school even though my salary was needed in order to support us while my husband finished his medical degree. While I worked, I went to school full time at night and was still able to take classes, even after I became a mother. There came a point in my life when I knew I was not doing anything well. I was the “Jack of all trades and master of none.”
With the realization that I wanted to be a better wife and mother, my life took yet a different turn and I quit school. Though many of my fellow graduates are too young, I am old enough to remember a1960’s hit song by the Byrd’s entitled “Turn Turn Turn” Interestingly; the lyrics for this song from the Bible, in Ecclesiastes read “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under Heaven.” It became apparent that this was not to be the season for continuing my education. Instead, it was time to focus on what was most important in my life. After nearly twenty-seven years of raising my family, I realized the season of my life was changing yet again and finally, it was my turn to come back to the University and finish the degree I started so many years ago. It was time to face new challenges. Believe me, it was a stretch returning to this institution after almost three decades. In fact, the last time I had written a paper I used a typewriter. Like me, you have all followed paths that are distinctively your own in order to be here today. Some of us have faced more challenges than others. I have a friend graduating with us that had a very different experience than most. She has a lifelong medical history that has imposed severe limitations that have placed hurdles in her journey that make her accomplishment that much more admirable. Some have taken even longer to get here. I took Math 1050 with George; at eighty he used binoculars in order to see the blackboard…from the front row.
What I find intriguing is that whatever paths we took, we all ended up in this same room, at the same time, sharing this moment together. How we got here is not as important as the fact we each arrived at the finish line together. The fact that we share this achievement is a great testament to the reality that we have each faced difficulties and hardships, but persevered. Eleanor Roosevelt put it best when she said, “I gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which I must stop and look fear in the face…. I say to myself, I’ve lived through this and can take the next thing that comes along… We must do things we think we cannot do” We have shared this season of education and gained the strength, courage and confidence we will need. Likewise, we also share a responsibility to impart the knowledge, experience and skills we have gained in our journey. Because our journey ends together, together we move into our next season. Which, I believe, should be a season of gratitude.
In a worldwide setting, we are truly a fortunate minority to have had the opportunity for a college education. We have this beautiful University but a few miles from most of our homes, and we had the means to take advantage of the opportunities a world class institution has to offer. Because of the wide variety of courses offered, we were exposed to and gained a greater appreciation of diverse religions, music, theories, philosophies, and political views.
In addition to what I learned from textbooks, I learned first-hand from my professors and fellow classmates the importance of human interaction and the need to care for others and to treat all people with dignity and respect. Having completed this transformative experience, we, as graduates, have the duty to ask ourselves critical questions: what will we do with this newly found sense of empowerment? What will we do with the concepts we have learned? How will we contribute to the betterment of our society? The knowledge we gained from our textbooks, in and of itself, will not change the world, or even our communities. But, our education combined with caring, compassion, and action will. Robert F. Kennedy stated, “History will judge you, and as the years pass, you will ultimately judge yourself, in the extent to which you have used your gifts and talents to lighten and enrich the lives of your fellow men.” So, let us use these new skills with confidence and share with those who are not as fortunate as those of us sitting here today. For the remainder of our years we should balance our time between our own personal development and service for others.
In forty-eight years I have learned one important lesson the hard way, and that is, life does not always go as planned. However, that is not necessarily negative. Many times unexpected turns in the road force us to change directions, stare adversity in the face and move to a new season that was unexpected but will ultimately be the instrument for growth. There is only one way to be true to ourselves. That is, no matter the season of life, take hold of your opportunities, recognize the advantages and move forward with the strength, courage and confidence spoken of by Eleanor Roosevelt. In closing I would like to represent the graduating class of 2010 in thanking our families and friends for the great support and help they have extended to us and offer the hope that we may all enjoy and appreciate the seasons of our lives.”