Student Commencement Speech
May 9, 2015
During my college admissions process, I really considered myself quite the catch. In high school, I made great grades, excelled in leadership roles, and grew from challenging life experiences. Even the senior picture I attached to my applications was a snapshot captured while I laughed, making me appear really genuine. I thought that when my application was fished from the college admissions pool, it would be marked with a gold star.
And then I came to Furman.
You all really shocked me.
On one of my first days on campus, I complimented a fellow freshman, a fantastic athlete and great student, on his shirt. He responded that he sold them to raise funds for an organization that built wells in Kenya–an organization that he founded.
This moment was my point of no return. I envisioned his senior picture, taken amid well building somewhere in Africa, muscles shining with sweat. I realized that undoubtedly I had gotten into Furman by the skin of my teeth.
As a senior, I have now encountered classmates who have worked with NASA, and I have close friends who have used Furman-provided internships to work with the US government leaders, as well as Lithuania’s. Friends have traveled the world with Furman’s Study Away programs. Classmates enter from almost every continent and visit almost every country. And you know what? Most of them can produce a genuine laughing smile on cue.
You all are full of passion, drive, vision, and obviously possess an incredible multi-tasking ability. I am positive that you are some of the most accomplished people I will ever meet.
However, I am no longer shocked by your talents, as I was as a freshman. As a Furman student you have only expanded your phenomenal accomplishments, and I have no doubt that your growth will continue beyond Furman’s gates and into our world.
The world is changing, becoming smaller, hotter, more crowded. Despite this, or because of it, we disconnect. We put up a front of perfection and appear confident and capable at all times.
I am no longer shocked by your abilities. I am no longer shocked by the perfected image of yourself that you market. I will not be surprised when you become the CEO of Fortune 500 companies. I will not be surprised when you are promoted because of your hard work, or when you create beautiful families. I will not be surprised when you run a marathon, and certainly not when you participate in a juice cleanse.
By living and working amongst you all for the last four years, I know you will reach heights far beyond these, and that your resume will be impressively stacked. I would challenge you to really push yourself, but I already know that you will.
Instead, I challenge you to sometimes let life get in the way. Of course, work hard and earn your success. Make money, become a CEO, eat only quinoa and kale, but do not run life all the time. Occasionally, let life run you.
Feel hurt, sadness, or embarrassment. React to it in love, kindness, and honesty. Make mistakes and let them become just as much a part of you as your successes. Watch a sunrise and don’t take a picture. Stop to help someone and let that be the most important part of your day.
We have pushed ourselves. We have accomplished great things. We are not afraid of challenges. But we must not be afraid of our vulnerability. As we navigate this next chapter of our lives, vulnerability will allow us to grow. Tough job adjustments, tested relationships, and identity crises will mark the next few years. Use them.
We have all realized how quickly four years can change a person. We are all the better for it. So let’s not hesitate to experience or feel anything. Surprise the world with your resume and your personal branding. Surprise your friends and family with your flexibility and growth.
And while you do all of this, please surprise me with genuineness and vulnerability. And if obsessing over the smile, the great abs, or the charitable cause hide those markers of humanity, I would suggest leaving them here at Furman.
Thank you class of 2015 and all of you who supported us getting to this genuine, vulnerable moment.