A Lesson of Perseverance: One Student's Speech at Commencement

It took eight years. And now, finally, this writer has earned her bachelor's degree. 

It was time. With an associate's degree in communications and a few scattered credits at colleges around the city, and with a hefty writing career behind me, I made the decision to enrich my writing by enrolling at Hunter College. What a remarkable education. Not only did I end my time with a perfect score in my literature and writing classes, but I was honored to be chosen at the student speaker at commencement., which took place yesterday at Cooper Union. Standing at the same podium that Abraham Lincoln once used, this newly minted graduate with a CUNY Baccalaureate in Unique and Interdisciplinary Studies received the Nan Bauer-Maglin Prize for Literary Studies, and will be studying (why stop now?) at the CUNY Graduate Center in the fall.

For those of you who attended the ceremony and showed your support, a heartfelt thank you. For those of you who weren't able to attend, the text of the speech is below. The only thing missing was an introduction with the theme song from Rocky. Unfortunately, the piano player had to leave for another gig after the national anthem so we'll save it for another time. Enjoy! 

Good morning, everyone!
 It’s such an honor to have been selected to be the student speaker at today’s Commencement. Thank you.
But I’m really the opening act for Olaf Olafsson who’s our keynote speaker. 
There’s a little bit of audience participation involved – no singing, I promise! When your name is mentioned, please stand and give us a wave.
So.  I’ll do my best to be brief and to the point.
Let me get the thank yous out of the way first so we can all move on the reception after we grab our diplomas and make a run for it.
Thank you, Dr. Kim Hartswick, Academic Director of the CUNY B.A. Program. No more e-mails from us!
And thank you, Eduardo Marti, Vice Chancellor for Community Colleges;  
Thank you, too, Provost and Senior Vice President of the Graduate Center, Chase Robinson—you’ll see me in the fall—and members of the University Committee.
Thank you, Thomas W. Smith for establishing scholarships.
And a great thank you to every faculty mentor, including my own, Professor Jeff Allred of Hunter. He deserves an award:  He put up with me for eight years.
So—let me begin.
Today, we celebrate the individual.
This is really what the CUNY B.A. program is all about.  
We’re here today because we are different.
We didn’t follow the usual route of getting our college education.
Instead, we designed our own programs and created our own schedules.
Each of us sitting here today has the discipline and the creativity to discover what really works best for us.
No two majors are alike, and neither are we.
Because our programs were especially tailored for us, most people here don’t know each other. I only know one person and that’s Mark Biddy. Mark, give us a wave. We sat next to each other in geography class at Hunter, learning about weather and water —and you know, important stuff like that. Mark knew every answer. All I can recall is that the professor’s name is Henry, he lives in Jackson Heights, his parents owned a hardware store and he was trying to lose weight because he needed some sort of operation. Mark, I’m proud to say, is moving on to a brilliant career in finance, and I’m – well, I’m still listening to other people’s stories.

The names and majors you see listed in your printed program are wildly different —and we celebrate and honor their individuality.
Here are a just a few names and their majors and if you’re here today, stand up and give us wave.
Jackelyn Mariano — Immigrant Community Organizing
Chandler Wild — Storytelling for the Stage and Screen
Suzy Yi — Buddhist Studies and Art Installation
Yukki Nita — Analyzing Music and Dance
Loretta Valentine — Nutrition Food Planning and Preparation
            Diane Kolak — Sustainable Food Studies
And let’s not forget Cory Rainford whose major is — The Business and Marketing of Innovative Entertainment. We’ll talk.
You can’t get this diversity anywhere else.

You know, you might have heard of this guy who gave the commencement address at Barnard a few weeks ago? A fellow by the name of Barack Obama? His message to the class of 2012 was — “to fight for your seat at the table.”
This message would not have worked for this group. We don’t fight to sit at the table. We are the ones who BUILD THAT TABLE.

As for me, well, I’m the last to earn a college degree in my family. Someone has to be the one and it might as well be me. My degree in literature from the CUNY B.A. program at Hunter enhances my writing, and enlarges and elevates my perspective. Before I entered the program, I wrote books about prizefighters and cops and robbers, so my writing contained words like champion, knockout, police cars and sirens.
            Now, after eight years at Hunter, you can find words like Venn diagram (that’s the MasterCard logo), allegory, alliteration! parable! and anti-diluvian, in my vocabulary (I did have to look up that last one again – it means before the flood but Mark probably knows that).
When I first enrolled at Hunter, the last Oldsmobile came off the assembly line, George Bush was president, gas was two dollars and ten cents a gallon, Facebook was launched at Harvard, and Martha Stewart went to jail. This does seem like a long time ago. And, regrettably, the cost of tuition and candy in the vending machines went up.

There’s one thing I’d like to pass on after eight years and that’s perseverance. 
            And along with that lesson of perseverance and for my grand finale, I’d like to share a quote with you.
From Ralph Waldo Emerson:
Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path, and leave a trail.

Thank you.


And here's a link to the video, also on YouTube, courtesy of Mark Biddy.


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