I was nominated to be the student speaker at today’s commencement for the graduate ceremony. While I was not selected (I attend a communications school – the competition was pretty stiff) I figured I could at least share what I wrote on my blog. Special thanks to Anna for nominating me and Chris, Max and Shaun for your thoughtful feedback.
So, how did you end up at Emerson?
This was a question I feel I was asked fairly often when I first started my academic career here at Emerson College. The answers were simple: I wanted to better myself. I wanted to make more money. I wanted to be more competitive in the job market. I wanted the prestigious Emerson name on my résumé. You know, the basics.
I remember when I opened up my acceptance letter to Emerson (which by the way, said “Congratulations” right on the outside of the envelope – sort of a buzz kill).
I was standing outside of my apartment – a subsidized housing unit in San José, CA where I had been living while I served a second year in AmeriCorps with City Year. City Year is a national non-profit organization that was founded right here in Boston. Our mission is to keep kids in school and on track by placing young, diverse leaders in urban schools to serve as tutors, mentors, and role models for at-risk students.
As someone who grew up in in a log cabin in the middle of the woods in upstate NY, a place where there were no lines on the roads and where you were more worried about crashing into a deer than into another car, I had been out of my element living in a huge urban city. But I had grown accustomed to living life outside of my comfort zone, and I was thrilled at the prospect of moving to Boston to attend the graduate school of my dreams.
But for those of you sitting before me today, you know that these dreams slowly but surely turned into a hard reality.
After two years out of college, I found myself in a classroom until late into the night at least two nights a week after having worked a full day in my current role as the Social Media Manager at City Year headquarters. My alarm still had to be set on the weekends, as I needed to wake up and complete a variety of assignments and study for exams.
Oftentimes I would lash out on Twitter and Facebook in complete disbelief over how my quality of life had deteriorated so quickly.
While I received a lot of likes from fellow classmates and friends across the country that were in the same predicament as I, one of my mentors posted a comment that forever changed my perspective. It was a link to a story about Malala Yousafazi, a fifteen-year-old girl living in Pakistan who had been shot by the Taliban because she wanted to have access to an education, but was denied that privilege because of her gender.
Here I was COMPLAINING that I was attending a world class college and had to sacrifice a few hours of my precious weekend to take care of some homework, while a world away a young girl was nearly killed simply because she believed that all children deserved to be educated, regardless of gender.
Malala is an inspiration to all of us. I have thought about her many times as I found myself looking at my iPhone to see how much longer until class would finally end, or as I forced myself to roll out of bed early on a Sunday morning to attend to my studies.
When I think about Malala, I also go back to the question: Why Emerson? Before any selection committee opened my application or read my letters of recommendation, I had to choose Emerson. All of us here had to make that choice – many of us, much like myself, without ever setting foot on campus.
I may not be able to explain what drew me to Emerson. A lot of it was they had a really great website, was located in an awesome city, and I knew an alum who had nothing but great things to say about it.
What I can tell you is that I found that many of my personal values are reflected in the culture and community of this College.
One of the best things about Emerson College is its commitment to diversity. In my first class at Emerson I literally felt like I was at a real life model UN. There were students from China, Pakistan, Bermuda, the Congo, Texas… the list goes on. Never in my life have I been exposed to so many different perspectives on life and communication challenges that I knew existed, but never had to experience firsthand.
My professors at Emerson held high expectations for us – and we were held to them. Every paper and project was treated like something that would become a tremendous asset to your portfolio. Every case study we reviewed in class was analyzed from all possible angles. We were pushed to think outside the box and with everything that we did, and this will stay with me through not only the entirety of my professional career, but in my personal relationships.
I also admire and appreciate President Lee Pelton’s vision for civic engagement with the announcement of the Elma Lewis Center for Civic Engagement in his inaugural address. As someone who spent two years of my life serving the community of San José, California, I was filled with pride to know that the spirit of service would now be an integral part of the Emerson community.
For those of you who travelled here for this ceremony and who have not been in Boston over the past six weeks, we have experienced trying times. Seven members of the Emerson College student body were injured in the Boston Marathon Bombings. I myself was cheering at the finish line a mere two hours before the blasts forever changed this city.
I can’t help but think of Richard Martin as I stand here speaking to you today. I can’t help but wonder if any of the children mercilessly slain in the Newtown shootings were destined to one day walk across this very stage or have the opportunity to address their fellow classmates by delivering their commencement speech.
Sadly, these are things the world will never know.
What I do know is that while that potential was lost on us, there are beacons of hope – and I truly believe that much of this hope is sitting right here in this room.
One of my most promising classmates is not here with us today because he went back to Pakistan to vote in an important election. Being guaranteed a (mostly) fair election is something that many of us take for granted. As is the simple act of logging into Facebook to post a photo of what we had for lunch, or going to the doctor when we have the sniffles, or making the important life decision to legally marry the person we love.
As we have experienced even just over the past two years that we have spent at Emerson College, we will be faced with insurmountable problems. But we are a lucky select few, for we are not only Boston Strong – we are Emerson Strong.
So, graduating class of 2013 – I leave you with the words of Malala Yousafzai:
“I don’t mind if I have to sit on the floor at school. All I want is education. And I am afraid of no one.”
As Emerson graduates, we are uniquely positioned to make a positive impact on the world. We have the education – now let us move forward without fear and work towards building a better world.