Student Commencement Speech
May 5, 2018
One morning this year, I was walking to class when a friend called me to inform me she had lice. I immediately started scratching my head, convincing myself that I would not be a victim. In my natural state of panic, I drove to the nearby Lice Centers of America where my worst nightmare was confirmed. I said “No, you don’t get it, I go to Furman. I’m a senior in college, not a preschooler. I can’t get lice.” To which I was told “Well, you share so many things with students on campus, it’s just a product of college.”
Suddenly, the Furman Advantage—that we were guaranteed an experience unlike any other college—seemed like the biggest lie I’d ever been told.
A few tears and a very expensive de-licing treatment later, I realized just how close you and I were. I realized I shared a lot of “products of college” with you.
Later in the year, I was visiting a church when a pastor gave almost an entire sermon about fire ants. Now, I know there is a grandparent in the audience right now thinking, “oh no, this girl is just going to talk about bugs the whole time”—but stick with me. The pastor said that during a flood, fire ants come together, linking arms and legs, for layer upon layer, to create what she called “floating death rafts.” I had a reaction that was audible and potentially blasphemous. She went on to explain how the ants on the top of the raft get to float, while the ants on the bottom have trapped enough air so that they can breathe underwater.
Now this is strange, but I can’t help but think about Furman, and our class of 2018. For many days, we have operated as a normal colony of ants, leaving our hill, going about our daily routines, and returning with gained knowledge, skills, and relationships.
But, I know that as individuals or as a class there have been times when the flood waters rose far above our heads. When we stayed up all night during midterms week, when we stood in solidarity fighting for rights of those around the world, when we grieved the loss of a teammate, classmate, and friend. One by one, we linked arms, and we floated. Bringing to the surface those who, without a raft, would have sunk too deep. Perhaps over the past four years you have been a raft ant, providing stability and encouragement to those around you. Or perhaps you were the one that needed the lifting.
Maybe you feel like you missed departure—like the arm that was supposed to link with you fell through. But today, the symbolism of this event means you too were a part of the raft. From different backgrounds and different experiences, Furman has given us a common time together. We certainly shared some challenges. But we also shared excitement: we shared the growth of Furman’s study away program, we shared the Solar Eclipse, we shared athletic victories, we shared professors, we shared meals, some of us shared other things, like lice—we shared community.
Today marks the day when, in a sense, we unlink arms. We scurry off and join other colonies. But as you go, you undoubtedly take with you experiences that have shaped you, challenged you, and strengthened you. As you reflect on all that you learned over the last four years, better yourself so that you can take your turn as the ant on the bottom. Humble yourself so that you can take your turn as the ant who needs lifting.
Wherever you end up, my encouragement to you is to remember your time at Furman. And when the waters rise, look around, link arms, and float.