Outstanding Graduating Senior Address
By Eugenia Fisher
I will always remember that fateful day in 1989 when I came home from school in my native Bulgaria to find my father listening intently to the radio – the communist regime had collapsed!
The following years were extremely difficult as hyperinflation and unemployment skyrocketed, and we could barely afford to buy bread. It was the euphoria of the political and economic transformation and the newly acquired freedom that kept my family alive and in good spirits. You see, I had grown up in an era when individualism was forbidden, our education was curtailed to suit the ideology of the communist party, and human rights were violated on a daily basis.
My only connection with the Western world was the occasional purchase of American candy from the black market. I would keep the colorful wrappers in a small box. Compared to the dull grey paper of the domestic sweets, they were so exciting and fun! I secretly looked in the box at night, dreaming of the marvelous worlds that existed beyond our borders and longing to experience their magic.
Many years have passed since that experience as life grabbed me with full force. I moved to the U.S.A., graduated from high school here, got married, became the proud mother of a beautiful daughter, and obtained valuable work experience.
Today, I find myself speaking on behalf of the graduating seniors of one of the finest educational institutions in the South. I remember the very first class I took here at Rollins – Leadership and Effective Communication, which taught me the importance of listening and influencing others and set the tone for the rest of my studies. That first night, I was overwhelmed with anticipation, excitement, and anxiety – I was not sure what to expect. My fears were quickly extinguished by the sense of community among the students. We all came from different parts of the world, grew up with different cultural norms and were in different stages of our lives. Our life journeys had brought us to Rollins for various reasons – some for the pure thirst for knowledge, others to advance their careers or attempt a new field – and then there were those who finally had a chance to finish what they had started a long time ago.
Most of us have jobs during the day and some have families to take care of as well. At first glance, one might guess that we are a rather overstressed, overworked, and edgy bunch of people. But this could not be further from the truth – I have never worked with a smarter, funnier, or more supportive group of people in my life. We stressed over tests together, worked on projects in the library many nights and weekends, shared many laughs and the occasional frantic midnight call on that pesky finance problem.
I was also extremely impressed and inspired by our faculty. They are experts in their fields and admired community members who bring their experience from the real world into the classroom. They ignited our passion on different subjects and topics and challenged us to think critically and independently, as we formed our own opinions on the events of our time. They were patient and understanding when deadlines came up, encouraged us to continue our efforts, and challenged us to do our best.
My decision to select Economics as a major was an easy one – the discipline has always sparked my interest and I longed to learn more. I have to admit, I never expected the magnitude of the challenge, the quality of critical thinking and practical knowledge, as well as the amount of fun I encountered in the department. I will never forget the heated debates in Professor Schutz’ Comparative Systems class – sparks were flying in the air as we discussed capitalism, socialism, and communism. Considering my past experience, I went to the class convinced that I knew everything on the topic. By the end of the semester, I was able to separate my emotional and analytical perspectives and see the advantages and disadvantages of all systems with different eyes.
Monetary Economics with Professor Kypraios opened the door to a different world – the fast-paced environment of banking and bond trading. The class was very intense – in its duration, I actually had a few nightmares where I was a bond trader, but could not figure out the graphs. However, it is probably one of the most practical and interesting classes I have taken in my life. Now, I can actually open the financial section of the Wall Street Journal and analyze the current status of our economy.
The very last semester of my journey here, I took Alternative Economic Perspectives with Professor Taylor, where we learned about the philosophy behind the different political, economic, and social views. It was a wonderful reminder of the freedom I have become accustomed to in this country, compared to the sanctions on expressing one’s opinion in many places in the world.
Several months ago, I was approached by an acquaintance who told me: “I don’t understand why you are wasting your time by going to school. You can be very successful without a degree. My cousin is a millionaire and he did not even graduate from high school.” At first I was mildly annoyed, but then I thought – obviously our definitions of success are quite different… How do you explain the tremendous personal transformation you have experienced while going to school? How do you describe the value of the numerous windows that education has opened for you? How do you show the lifetime relationships you have built with faculty and students?
The diplomas we are receiving today are not the final destination; they are only a station on our journey to learning.
We have to remember, we did not accomplish this all by ourselves. Our families, friends, and coworkers were there for us, offering to listen, motivating us to go on, and offering their unconditional love and support. There were many sacrificed dinners, cancelled weekend plans, and lonely afternoons while we were attending classes or working on the next project. My husband had to listen patiently many times as I excitedly discussed a topic we had just covered in class. My nine-year-old daughter waited up for me every night to tell me how her day was and say good-night. My heart hurt to think I was missing important moments of her life, but it is all worth it when she looks me in the eyes to tell me she is very proud of me.
I think we are sending the right message to everyone around us by completing our education and continuing our lives’ ascent.
Some of us entered this college already knowing what field we would love to dedicate our lives to; others found that passion during our journey here. Don’t worry if you are not a part of either group – it is never too late to discover your calling. I think the most essential thing we walk away with as global citizens and responsible leaders is the importance of serving others. And if you have taken any of Dr. Bommelje’s classes, you know exactly what I am talking about. Once you find how you can best serve others, you have found your true calling. It was here that I found my inspiration for serving – a career in law. I now move on to the University of Florida College of Law and the rest of my life as a better leader, critical thinker, knowledgeable economist, and a better human being.
The diplomas you are receiving today are evidence that you can accomplish anything that you wish; they are your ticket to glorious deeds and passionate work for the rest of your life.
At the end of this ceremony, we will leave our beloved school, scattering to different career fields, cities, even parts of the world. We will proudly represent our school’s values anywhere we go and help Rollins alumni if the chance permits. This experience remains in our hearts forever, and I wish to say on behalf of the graduating class: “Thank you, Rollins!”
The box of colorful wrappers is now gone. I lost it somewhere during my many transitions. I have to say, I don’t think I need it anyway, since its contents are now deeply imbedded in my being as I breathe the air of a free country where anything is possible.