Graduation Day & the Commencement Speech that wasn’t

Back in January I set a personal goal. I decided I would apply to be the commencement speaker at this year’s undergraduate graduation ceremony. Though I didn’t succeed in my endeavor, I learned at valuable lesson: Always reach for the stars no matter the odds.

So today, a day I’m celebrating, I can’t stop thinking, what if that was me? That said, here’s my version of the 2013 student commencement speech:

President Caret, Chancellor Subbaswamy, Members of the Board of Trustees, Parents and Relatives, members of the University of Massachusetts graduating class of 2013: thank you for the invitation to address this commencement ceremony on this day.

Remember the day we moved into our dorms as freshman? Thousands of students packing into the crowded towers of Southwest and the quiet escape that is Orchard Hill. You probably had to take the stairs up at least 13 floors just to get to your room on move in day, but you did so with an open mind. Feelings of happiness and curiosity stumbled into your head just as you yourself stumbled back to your dorm after your very first college party.

I’ve had the privilege of studying abroad in Viterbo, Italy over the last four months and it has been one crazy ride. Studying abroad was like freshman year all over again. At first you’re shy and reserved, but you’re forced to make new friends and adjust to a new routine. Each of the challenges we faced as freshmen will show up every time we start a new chapter in our lives.

Today we sit on this field anxious to celebrate the previously unimaginable – Undergraduate Commencement. Some of us have butterflies because we are scared. Scared that our free time is no longer in chains. Scared that our Google calendar no longer shows our class schedule. Scared that our notebook is note-less. Scared that our agenda book is missing the date of our next Psychology exam. We are scared to break the chains even now because we think we are graduating into a world of crisis, of uncertainty.

In the past four years, we’ve made mistakes, and learned from them. We’ve built connections and broken them, we’ve started problems and fixed them. We’ve studied abroad, attended rallies, and participated in riots. We’ve fallen in love with Antonios pizza, turned 21, joined a new club on campus, and had more than our share of McDonalds’s McFlurries at 2 a.m.

We slept like boys and girls that first night in the dorms and woke up four years later as men and women. Men and women who will leave this town – this community – that we have grown to love and lead a nation that desperately requires our skill and dependability.

To our professors, faculty and staff – you are mentors, friends, and trusted agents for change. You pushed us, sometimes too hard, but we made it. If it weren’t for your 8 a.m. lectures and nearly illegible lecture slides, it would have been hard for us to pass the LSAT and go to Law School. It would have been hard for us to pass the MCAT and go to Medical School. It would have been hard for us to take the GRE and go to Graduate School. So thank you. Thank you for giving us an opportunity to make a positive impact on the world.

Our families have saved us from some pretty difficult situations that we’ve faced in college. If you lost a loved one, your family was there. If you failed a class, your family was there. If you lost your student ID for the sixth time, your family was there. Our families have acted as our de facto doctor, lawyer, accountant, and counselor – juggling many different hats as they helped us get back onto the bull every time we were thrown from the seat.

Our families and professors taught us to be independent. They taught us to be open and willing to change. They taught us to be kind. They taught us to cooperate with the inevitable and accept change. They taught us to be vigilant.

Dale Carnegie, considered a pioneer in human relations philosophy once said, “Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no help at all.”

Remember that as doctors, lawyers, engineers, and educators, we have the ability to change the world, just as we did four years ago. Take risks, have fun, be yourself, and most importantly don’t give up on your dream. Keep trying even when times are tough, because they will get better.

On behalf of the Graduates of 2013: Thank you to our families and professors who helped us through yet another chapter of lives. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Thank you.

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