Ten years of 4-H public speaking came to my aid last week as I spoke in front of hundreds of people at my college convocation ceremony.
Several months ago, I was selected as the recipient for the Beth Sheehan Salutatorian Award for Grande Prairie Regional College’s graduating class of 2013.
On May 4th, I stood with thirty-eight other Bachelor of Science in Nursing graduates and many other GPRC students as we celebrated our achievements and officially received our certificates, diplomas, and degrees to cross the threshold from student to graduate.
After a long morning of smiling for photos, greeting family and friends, dress malfunctions, and cheering along with my classmates as we celebrated and walked across the stage to receive our degrees, I stepped up to the podium.
It was such an incredible honour to represent my classmates and the college as I gave my address. If you’d like to watch it online, go to https://www.gprc.ab.ca/livestream/archive.html. I begin my speech right around the 2:24 mark (2 hours, 24 minutes into the broadcast).
Hands shaking, heart racing, this is what I said.
Good afternoon honoured guests, alumni, faculty, families, and friends. On behalf of the graduating class of Grande Prairie Regional College 2013, thank you for being a part of our celebrations today; we are so blessed to have you here to commemorate one of the most important days of our careers.
You know, when I prepared for this speech, I made sure to do it in true college style. I procrastinated for a long time, stayed up really late, consulted family and friends on what I should write about, and ended up making a whole pile of rough drafts that just didn’t sound right. After all, what would college be if it wasn’t a whole lot of procrastination and trial and error? And I felt a little weird practicing this speech in front of my mirror and some houseplants and random strangers on the street, so it really is nice to be able to say it to all of you. You’re a much better looking audience.
My fellow graduates, congratulations! We did it. For the past four, maybe five, maybe ten years, we dreamed of this day. Perhaps not all of us looked forward to having to wear funky hats or sit through tons of speeches like this one, but we all anticipated having our name called as we walked across this stage, finally knowing that all the studying, hard work, and sacrifice was worth it. As we near the end of one era and the beginning of another, there are many things to look back on and many things to look forward to.
Someone once said that in order to know where you’re going, you have to know where you’ve been. Put yourselves in the shoes of your younger, less knowledgeable, less wiser self when you arrived here for your first day of classes four years ago. Remember the anticipation, the feeling of excitement and nervousness as you came here, scanned the crowds, registered for classes, and then practically promised your firstborn in payment for tuition and textbooks? You discovered a lot that day, including that these halls are really curvy and sometimes classroom doors like to hide behind plants or staircases or corners. It is beautiful, but can be more than a little confusing.
We didn’t know then what we know now. We have survived four years of obstacles and struggles, balancing life and family and work and school and maybe even sleep every once in a while in a sort of delicate, challenging dance.
From our time here, we’ve learned how to procrastinate, how to write papers the night before they’re due, and most importantly, how to take full advantage of Google and Wikipedia.
We’ve spent a lot of late nights with our noses buried in textbooks, memorizing the Kreb’s cycle and the difference between credits and debits, discovering all about the Civil War and the right way to paint with oils, balancing stoichiometric equations and learning the perfect response when students exasperate you for the hundredth time.
Our perseverance paid off as we gained a whole lot of knowledge, made great relationships with our classmates, got commendations from our instructors, and even sometimes made grades good enough to make the ever-elusive Dean’s or President’s List.
We’ve overcome financial worries and difficulties paying for school, whether we got bursaries or student loans or just ate a whole lot of Kraft Dinner. We’ve overcome fears that we didn’t even know we had, endured personal or familial disease, disability, illness, or loss. We’ve overcome separation from family and friends and loved ones, and most of all, we have overcome doubt and uncertainty and found out who we really were along the way.
However, we know that we did not overcome these things on our own. We have had the help and the support of incredible people who were committed to seeing us through to this day. We have had instructors who cared for us by sharing their knowledge, pushing us, and giving us confidence when we just wanted to quit. We have had the support of countless other staff who inspired us and taught us without ever stepping in front of a classroom. We have been inspired and cheered on by family members, spouses, children, and friends who never let us lose sight of our goal. To all of these fine people, on behalf of our graduates, I say thank you. We couldn’t have done it without you. I hope that someday you realize the difference you have made in our lives and in our careers.
And, after years of exams, deadlines, class potlucks, and Eureka! moments, we graduates have been through thick and thin together. We were good students, but we became even better friends. Thanks to you all for encouraging each other, having a lot of fun, and for making these past four years unforgettable.
We have learned much more within the walls of GPRC than simply what the course outlines describe and what our degrees on the walls tell us. We have learned the most about ourselves; learned how to learn, how to grow, and how to become the people we were meant to be. We will never forget where we have come from, or who has helped us along the way. Someday it will be our turn to encourage and inspire other students as they chase their dreams, maybe even following in our footsteps, through the halls of GPRC and beyond.
There are a few final things that I wish for my class as we graduate today. My friends, we have come so far and achieved so much. Now do not let your drive and your dreams end here. This degree and this graduation day is not the end, but rather the means to an end; it is a part of your puzzle, a thread in your tapestry, a brick in your road, where your achievements, dreams, and passions form the base for a life full of learning, growth, and adventure.
I believe that we can all make a difference in this world. We have influence and power, given to us not only by the new letters after our names, but also by the leadership, passion, and drive that we possess. It is so important to use that influence wisely but liberally for the right reasons, spending our time and our energy in ways that inspire, influence, and change the world around us for the better.
While we’re at it, enjoy the ride. As Miss Frizzle would say, “Take chances. Make mistakes. Get messy.” And in the words of Howard Thurman, author, educator, and civil rights leader, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”