Good morning. On behalf of the class of 2012, welcome everyone to the Rollins College Hamilton Holt School commencement ceremony. To my fellow graduates: “We did it!” For many of us, this day was a dream that seemed unimaginable only a few years ago.
Francis Bacon once said, “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.” My life has been compared to books before. So much has happened in my 25 years, my life feels like a novel. Before I speak more, I want you to ask yourself a question: What is the title of your life?
Challenges in life are nondiscriminatory; everyone eventually encounters a challenge or two along their path of life. How we face and address those challenges is a measure of who we are as individuals.
In the eyes of Bacon, my life has been a book to be read wholly with diligence and attention. Due to my epilepsy and cerebral palsy, the doctors said that I would never make it out of special education classes much less graduate with a standard diploma. My family worked vigilantly with me daily. Year after year, I would surpass the goal that had been set for me. When I entered middle school, I was finally able to attend conventional classes. Not only did I reach goals, I exceeded them. When I entered high school, I found a passion for education and worked relentlessly to graduate at the top of my class with a standard diploma.
The doctors later told my mother that by the time I reached my 20s, I would not be able to walk at all. Yet, she never let that stand in the way of my grasping a life of full gratification. I now stand—yes, stand—in front of you today, having achieved yet another goal I set before myself: speaking to you as the outstanding graduating senior for Rollins College Hamilton Holt School. Education has never been something that I took for granted or dismissed as a luxury. To the contrary, it has been an asset slowly acquired every day through hard work and dedication.
I asked you before to think of the title of your life. I can tell you that, with all the challenges and disadvantages that have stood in the path of my success, the best title for me can be borrowed from the Reverend Charles S. Wing. I am The Little Engine That Could.
There is a Swedish proverb that says, “Fear less, hope more; eat less, chew more; whine less, breathe more; talk less, say more; hate less, love more; and all good things are yours.”
Fear is a funny thing. To succeed with your goal, you must have a greater desire for success than the ever-present fear of failing. Failure can act as a roadblock in your pursuit of this goal, or it can be the perfect stimulus to overcome the hurdles ahead. For many of us, our journey at Rollins was filled with fear—fear that we couldn’t rise to the required academic rigor, fear that it was not the right time to pursue a degree, fear that we wouldn’t fit in. Today is the day to formally rebut all our past fears because today we see that what they were only small obstacles on our voyage to this success.
Earlier this semester, Professor Armstrong asked my class if we believed that college had changed us. He then explained that if we answered no, believing we were the exact same person as our first day on campus, we had failed to seize the almost inescapable opportunity to transform.
Who we were at the beginning is not who we are today. We are the more aware, distinguished, and wiser version of our earlier selves. When we all applied to the Holt School, we were asked what must have felt like an ominous question: “Rollins College educates students for global citizenship and responsible leadership, empowering graduates to pursue meaningful lives and productive careers. What does this sentence from the Rollins mission statement mean to you in light of your personal and professional goals?” Today, we grasp the fundamental concepts of global citizenship as well as responsible leadership and understand what it means to our future.
In my second semester, I took Music of the World’s People with Professor Chuck Archard. In this class, we explored the origin and progression of numerous genres of music. Not only did this class support the Rollins College mission statement, but it epitomized the Rollins experience. We did not learn just with a textbook. We engaged all our senses through live performances and demonstrations. We learned that although each genre is distinct, they are all fundamentally linked.
Looking around this morning, I am reminded of the unique demographics of the Hamilton Holt School student body. We are a tightly woven patchwork quilt. Each one of us has our own distinct story. Many of us worked full time while also going to classes, some even with two or three jobs. In a way, we’ve lived the lives of superheroes, fulfilling one role from nine to five, but transforming every evening into students who are 100 percent dedicated to our education. I know students who have taken this journey with their siblings, students who have taken this journey in tandem with their adult children, students who met their partners, and students who have started families while pursuing their degrees at Rollins. Recently, the book of my life began an exciting new chapter. I am so lucky to call fellow Rollins graduate Cary Haynie, my partner in life. We began as good friends here at Rollins, and I look forward to growing and discovering new things with him.
None of us has not taken this journey alone. Look around. We are surrounded by our families, friends, professors, and staff members, who have all helped us reach our goal. For many of us, our professors have become our friends and our friends have become like family.
I want to thank everyone who has helped me reach this moment. My mother, Pam, for never giving up and believing that I could reach any goal I set my heart on and for supporting me endlessly. My grandparents, Jim and Jeannie, who devoted much of their personal time to helping me through school. My sister, Kelly, for having a drive for education like no one I know. My scholarship donors, Alan and Kelly Ginsburg, for their friendship and financial support. I especially want to thank my daughter, Lily. To me, it is significant that tomorrow is Mother’s Day. Lily wants to go to Rollins when she grows up, and my story is repeating itself in her. I know that she can achieve her goal, that she will be another little engine that could.
Years from now, most of you won’t remember me or what was said during this unforgettable day, but I want to ask you to remember the pride in your family’s eyes and in those of your peers. Remember the support of your friends through the long nights of studying. And most importantly, remember how you feel right now. This electric feeling you have, remember it, bottle it up, and use it as motivation for your future. We have achieved what might have seemed unattainable to us. We refused to let hurdles stand in the way. We faced the good as well as the bad, we fell down, made messes, and broke things, but we learned that our story is never over. We carved our own paths, and we transformed, we evolved, and we achieved! We feared less, we hoped more, we loved more, and all good things are ours. Congratulations, class of 2012!