Rollins

Heart, Courage, and Wisdom: Marybelle Doe’s 2022 Commencement Address

May 11, 2022

By Office of Marketing | Video by Simple Thought Productions

Marybelle Doe ’21, the Hamilton Holt School’s 2022 outstanding graduating senior and one of the first graduates of Rollins’ Pathway to Teaching Program, relates her journey to discover wisdom.

Good morning, class of 2022, friends and family, esteemed faculty and staff, board members and guests, and everyone along the way who has supported all of our endeavors, challenges, and successes during our time here at the Holt School.

Let’s also take a moment to acknowledge all the mothers here today for Mother’s Day weekend with a round of applause.

Today is the first day of the rest of your life—a new beginning. You are now a different person than you were a year ago, a month ago, and even a week ago. The person who entered college is different than the one you are today.

One of my favorite stories of all time is L. Frank Baum’s best-selling children’s book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

The reason why this story resonates with so many is that like Dorothy, we are all on a journey to discover wisdom, just as she did when she embarked on a journey to seek the great and powerful Oz. My journey to the Land of Oz, also known as the Holt School, did not begin on a yellow brick road.

The tornado in my life wasn’t one single storm. It was a series of life events that pushed, pulled, and turned me until ultimately dropping me on the yellow brick road, which happened to be my first day at Rollins.

On her journey to seek wisdom from the Wizard of Oz, she encounters the tin man longing for a heart, the cowardly lion in search of courage, the scarecrow who only wishes for a brain, and of course Dorothy herself, who was trying to make her way home.

I feel like I am Dorothy.

In the famous words of the great and powerful Oz, “a heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others.” The heart in the story, for me, symbolizes my family.

The sacrifices my grandparents made so that I could be here today. Everyone here has someone near and dear to them, either in the audience supporting them, or watching on our livestream, or smiling from above.

I, like many, was born into a family that didn’t have much and didn’t need much except each other. My grandparents had a dream that they risked everything for when they left their home in the Dominican Republic. Their dream was that their children, their children’s children, and all future generations would unravel the opportunities that America offered and go further than they had ever imagined.

This is one of the proudest moments I have ever had! I am a first-generation Hispanic American graduate. And I am extremely proud to say that I will be receiving the greatest Mother’s Day gift tomorrow when I watch my daughter graduate right here. And in 2024, my son will follow in our footsteps.

Funny enough, my daughter first attended Rollins about a year before I began. I was left asking her a huge question: “Is it cool to hang out with you at Dave’s Boathouse?” Really I asked for permission because as parents we tend to place the needs of our children before our very own, and I really didn’t want to invade her space. I know how important that is to college students.

I am honored to know that there are two generations that will have already left a legacy of hope in our family. I’m pretty certain that my grandparents are looking down smiling from above.

Next came courage. In my case, Rollins took a chance on believing in a group of eager, dedicated, passionate—but equally terrified—aspiring teachers and believed we were worth the investment through the Pathways to Teaching Program.

We found the courage to return to school to further our education. After going through life—acquiring multiple jobs, investing in retirement, and having children—we weren’t satisfied with where we were, so we actively did something to improve ourselves. Every person in the Holt School defied complacency.

Dr. Wellman constantly reminded us that every adventure begins with the first step, and so not only did we take that first step, but we took a leap of faith and sought the wisdom that was bestowed upon us by our professors.

From the first day we stepped into Dr. McLaughlin’s classroom in the Cornell Social Sciences Building, we were shaping ourselves to become global citizens. In any major you were in, you were also becoming a global citizen. As I know many of you were, we were making a difference.

We would never have imagined that on that first day, our cohort—from different cultures, different backgrounds, different ethnicities, and diversity of thought—would become a family.

We sacrificed endless nights after working long days. We bonded and learned from one another and from our life experiences. We hung out at Dave’s Boathouse and the Olin Library many nights to push each other to succeed. We pursued what we knew we always wanted—to become teachers.

We worked hard for this degree. Like every single student here, we found ourselves putting in as much time into late-night studies as we did waking up the next morning and going to work. We immersed ourselves in our field of interest to gain practical experience, and we pushed ourselves to become the scholars we knew we were. We dedicated years to the pursuit of our degrees, and now we are here.

I intend to follow in many of your footsteps to advance my education and pursue a graduate degree like all of those here today receiving their master’s. Hats off to you. Let us give a round of applause to all those whose selfless vision made it possible for strangers to become family and realize their dreams and for our Holt Pathways to Teaching cohort. We did it!

Now, we can’t forget the scarecrow. The scarecrow’s brain symbolizes to me all of life’s experiences—the lessons learned and the ability to navigate life’s yellow brick road. When you get to my age, the beauty of my life experiences is my ability to share them in the classroom.

My experiences led me to find myself in desperate times. By definition, I was homeless, living in a motel right here in Central Florida. Although the odds were stacked against my family after being homeless, I would have never imagined in my wildest dreams that my daughter would graduate and my son would follow right behind her.

I made the best of the situation for the sake of my family. I allowed this experience to set me on the path to becoming part of the solution by creating change in our communities and equipping our young minds with knowledge in the field of education.

I knew I wanted to pursue a career in education but didn’t have the time or the means to make this goal a reality. I worked two jobs and raised two incredible children, so my priorities had been set.

No matter where you are in the middle of life, who you are, or what your socioeconomic status is, just know that it’s never too late to pursue your dreams.

In the story, when the curtain is pulled back to reveal the identity of the great and powerful Oz, they find a person who provides them what they were searching for all along in the same way we found and were given what we were looking for by the distinguished professors here with us today.

We were in this together. That’s what I love about the professors. I always knew that there was a support system waiting to help us flourish. They dedicated endless evenings, early mornings, and weekends to ensuring our success in this program.

They kept us strong even when we didn’t believe in ourselves. They encouraged us to excel to our highest potential. Every time I turned my head to celebrate our success, they were also standing right by our sides.

To all the professors who made themselves available and sacrificed their time so that we may be here today, please know you have our deepest appreciation and gratitude. Let’s take a moment to recognize the faculty and staff who became our version of the great and powerful Oz.

There are three things that I realized.

First, life is precious and there is a definite beginning and there is an absolute end, but what you do in the middle is the footprint and legacy that you want to leave behind. By clicking my heels together and saying “there’s no place like home,” I found my home in my very own classroom.

Secondly, the only person worth impressing in your life is that youthful version of you. The one who had no barriers, no boundaries, no fear, and for whom the world was their oyster. Looking back, I could remember being a young lady on a journey, like Dorothy, whose every twist and turn presented new opportunities, new challenges, and many chances for success—whose only dream was to do something good in the world.

I now stand before you and can confidently say that my younger self would be proud of the person I am today. And the person you should look up to is the person you will become tomorrow.

Thirdly, nothing in life is certain, so enjoy every single moment you have, and as cliche as that sounds, it’s true. I found that enjoying all of the fluctuations in life makes it much more meaningful. When you hit rock bottom, you can only go up.

No matter what your story or your background experiences, we proved resilience beyond any doubt.

Remember, success takes time and it isn’t a linear path. It is a windy path just like the yellow brick road. One thing all the graduates here have in common is the shared experience of remaining successful and forging ahead during a global pandemic.

I would like to leave you all with this last piece of advice. We all know that change is inevitable. Everyone speaks about changing and being OK with change, and they are correct when they say those things, but what most people won’t talk about are the parts of you that won’t change. Maintaining a strong foundation of who you are and what you want to achieve is one of the most essential parts of growing up.

So today, as you accept your diploma, remember it is a symbol. It symbolizes a passion for change. It symbolizes a commitment to excellence. And it represents the philosophy that anything is possible and no dream is out of reach. As Glinda, the good witch, tells Dorothy, “You’ve always had the power, my dear, you just had to learn it yourself.”

Congratulations to the class of 2022! Let us honor our past, celebrate our present, and best wishes for your future endeavors. Be the light that illuminates the world. Fiat lux.

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