Saturday, May 15, 2010

My Commencement Speech for Sierra College

Congratulations on all that brought you here today—family and friends; teachers and mentors; those late night study sessions and lots caffeine…And kudos to that place inside you that pushes you to finish that project, write that paper, go to the class…especially when you really didn’t want to. Today you see it all come together. Today you graduate. You leave here to continue your education---at universities, in the workforce, and hopefully throughout all aspects of your life. My great grandma used to say as long as you have options you are doing OK. Graduating today gives you options. Where you go, what you do with those options is up to you. No one can take away from you, where you have been or the accomplishments that led you to today. But let me remind you that with your degree you also earned a responsibility. You have something that people around the world fight for, something many of you had to fight for…you have an education. No one will ever be able to take that away. But for that education to really serve you, you must also pass it on.

As I was preparing my remarks for today I came across a quote from Tom Brokaw who said about graduation, “You are educated. Your certification is in your degree. You may think of it as the ticket to the good life. Let me ask you to think of an alternative. Think of it as your ticket to change the world.”

We often look to leaders for inspiration. They are the icons who created change and fought for the opportunities we benefit from today. Whether enduring hunger strikes to protest unjust laws like Gandhi, or being the first to picket the White House like Alice Paul who stood up for the belief that women should have their voices counted, or empowered workers to fight for fair and safe labor practices as Cesear Chavez and Delores Huerta did in organizing farm workers, or marched, organized, and motivated masses like Martin Luther King Jr. who fought for a dream of seeing and treating one another as equals. These are the legends that we look to for vision and hope.

But what do all these people have in common? Whether fighting for freedom, equality, or justice they are all people who believed in a vision of a just society. Who decided to take a stand. To use their voice. To put their passion into action. They were each ONE person who inspired another. Who then inspired another and another, until change happened and justice was realized. You each have this possibility in you. Poet and activist Audre Lorde said “Our visions begin with our desires.” What is yours?
You may already have your passion—maybe you discovered it while here at Sierra. Some of you are still searching…but it is there. You just have to listen.

You graduate Sierra College today with a greater knowledge than you had coming in—the knowledge of your disciplines but more importantly the knowledge of yourselves.
Where ever you go from here, whatever you do, you take with you a better you. Among you are the Alice Pauls, Martin Luther King Jrs….. of this time. As Eleanor Roosevelt once said “the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” What is your vision? What will you do to create justice, equality, and a world that is about us all? How will you lead the way? What is your dream?

I leave you with this….Nelson Mandela said “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” This is your chance. May you use your experience from Sierra College as a foundation. May you have the courage to find your voice, use it, and make a commitment to bettering the world.

On behalf of my fellow faculty, and of Sierra College, I celebrate you today. We can’t wait to see the world you help to create.
Happy Graduation.

May 14, 2010