This past weekend, graduation came and went. I found myself, Saturday morning, pacing around our suite as my friends got ready. I couldn’t figure out what was going on: I felt like I was losing my mind. The emotions that were swirling around my head, my heart, and my stomach made it impossible to focus. I couldn’t even eat breakfast (and if you know me, I always eat breakfast)!
Then we made it to graduation. I walked down the aisle as my family cheered and I started to cry. I thought: Why am I feeling so emotional? Why didn’t I feel this way last time?
Ever since that moment, I’ve been considering what college meant to me. Unlike high school, I had formed my own little community on campus. Freshman year landed with a group of brilliant, inspiring girls, who wanted to be involved. They wanted to have a voice and they pushed me to want the same. Flash forward four years and here I was, graduating as the Vice President of the senior class.
That being said, a few weeks prior to graduation, I was given the opportunity to speak at our college’s Convocation Ceremony. Again, a day full of emotion. My heart was racing and my hands were shaking. Plus, my feet were sore from standing in the heels I stupidly decided to wear.
The experience of speaking in front of a few hundred people is something I will hold onto for years to come. I don’t know if I’ll ever have another chance to do something like that in my life. It was so nice to share it with my friends and family.
Rhode Island College has changed my life these past four years. It means a lot to me. It became my home and allowed me to grow into the person I am today. I hope my speech tells you a little about my school, if you aren’t familiar. I definitely left a piece of my heart behind when I drove away for the last time.
Distinguished guests, members of the faculty and staff, and this year’s graduating class:
I’d like to begin by sharing with you one of my favorite Maya Angelou quotes. It reads: “I have learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Now, this doesn’t necessarily forebode well for my speech today, but I believe it makes a just point. In our time at Rhode Island College, we have affected the lives of others and we have made changes to the world, sometimes without even realizing it.
While graduation is often viewed as an ending, I would like to ask that today you consider the impact you’ve made, and to consider the people who will remember you for the way you have made them feel.
Four years ago, I started as a freshman at Rhode Island College. I was eighteen, a recent high school graduate, and a very different person from who I am now, standing before you today. For awhile, I believed my story was the ‘typical’ college story. A young, doey eyed student navigating dorms, dining hall food, and the daunting reality that is the rest of her life. We go to class, go to a few parties, and miss an alarm here and there.
Well, in my time at RIC, I’ve realized that this is not always the case. In fact, at this school, our school, it’s one of the more uncommon realities.
One of the most notable aspects of our community here at Rhode Island College is its diversity. While we have students who are first and foremost, students, we also have students who are working on their second or third degrees. We have students who are returning to school after years in the ‘real world’ with jobs and families and burdens. We have students who are working part time jobs, full time jobs, or multiple jobs all while taking classes. And then, we have professors who guide these students- professors who are highly qualified in their fields, who show compassion and seem to understand exactly what their students need.
I am proud to say that in the past four years, I have seen the way that our campus brings together all of these people, from all of these different backgrounds, and fosters an environment of acceptance. We’re a small school, in a small state, with a big voice. We have big opinions and fight for big causes with perspectives that consider equality and human rights. We aren’t afraid to challenge the issues currently facing our world and we know that even the smallest of communities can have a huge impact.
This idea: making someone feel like the things they do matter, is one of the greatest things we instill in others. I have this very simplified theory that right now our society needs two things. First, people who know how to think. And second, people who know how to be kind to one another. I truly believe that among the many things we have learned in our time here at Rhode Island College, we have acquired these abilities.
We all need to remember that learning doesn’t end come graduation day. For the rest of our lives, we will continue being students, teachers, leaders, and advocates. Armed with the skills we have developed in our courses, we will continue to affect the lives of those around us. I look out into this crowd and I see graduates with a world of opportunity before them. For that reason, I’m going to tell you what my grandmother is constantly reminding me: grab everything.
By this, she means that you must take chances. Stand by your choices. Make mistakes and find what you need to feel fulfilled within your life. Remember that what you do and say will have lasting effects on those around you. Thank the people who helped you get to where you are and remember the places you came from, and the places that built you.
I wish you all the very best of luck in whatever is to come.