Congratulations, Graduate!

We’re attending a graduation today. Perhaps you are too—there are plenty of students graduating this month and next.

At all those thousands of graduations, thousands of graduation speakers will be thanking their parents, faculty and school administrators for their help and encouragement. They’ll comment on how hard everyone worked to get to this point, and they’ll offer advice for the future. Perhaps they’ll tell their classmates that learning doesn’t stop, just because their formal education is over. Or they’ll encourage them to press onward for a higher degree (a popular choice in the current dismal job market).

Andrew, whose graduation our family is celebrating, didn’t take an easy route to get to this point. There were major detours, times when achieving even this first college degree seemed like an impossibility. Yet his outstanding success at this point illustrates the fact that it’s never to late to change directions.

He’s not stopping here. Eventually he aims to earn a PhD in his chosen field of counseling psychology. Much of his motivation comes from his desire to help others who, like himself, found out early that life isn’t always either pleasant nor fair.

Along with several classmates, Andrew was asked to compete for the chance to be this year’s graduation speaker. The administration considered the potential speeches the candidates submitted, and chose one. We were all disappointed when the winning speaker merely repeated the same platitudes that have been uttered at graduations since the dawn of time. (Of course, we’re also probably just a teensy bit biased.)

I believe Andrew’s speech is deserving of a wider audience—more than a few close friends and some professors. With much love and respect, I’d like to offer his thoughts in his own words on what this day means to him:

In 1999 I graduated high school, my academic record halfway between a bad joke and a nightmare. I received my diploma in the mail, considered myself a failure, and began drifting from one meaningless job to another. For eight years I struggled with the fear that college was out of reach, before a close friend finally convinced me to enroll at Mesa Community College. I anticipated rejection; what I found instead was hope, and a future.

I am confident that I was not the only one who entered MCC in the shadow of doubt, or who even tonight feels some uncertainty. Even as we stand here victorious, we have all examined ourselves and questioned whether we can rise to our next challenge. Now that I’m finished with school, will I finally find my dream job? Can I keep my grades up for my bachelor’s degree? How can I use what I have learned here to impact my community? Yet as we consider the roads ahead and the sacrifices necessary to see them through, we remain resolute—for such concerns, though honest and natural, will not dictate our futures.

Marcus Aurelius, the great philosopher and Roman emperor, said that “if you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.” I am proof of this. We are proof of this, here today. And in 2010, you and I will rise to the occasion and lead our society into the new decade. We will leave here tonight, confident and fully prepared to represent Mesa Community College in our families, our careers and to every university worth our time and tuition. We will harness those fears and turn them against mediocrity, channeling strength and success; and when we look back we will do so only to remind ourselves of everything we have already overcome.

I congratulate each and every one of you for your perseverance and dedication, and I encourage you all to continue your education. Thank you for allowing me to stand here with you tonight; it is an honor to graduate as one of you.

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