Student Commencement Speech
Jacqueline Elizabeth Faustin
May 8, 2021
Four years ago, I sincerely doubt any of our wide-eyed, naïve, barely legal selves thought our college experience would pan out the way it did. I mean, how many people can say their time as a Paladin consisted of a history-making solar eclipse, Men’s basketball beating Villanova, and a global pandemic? It’s safe to say that this Furman Advantage is unique to us and us alone.
I remember when I moved into my Blackwell dorm freshman year, I sat upon my unmade top bunk bed, and I sobbed. I came to Furman not knowing a soul, like so many of you, and I was so uncomfortable with not being comfortable. Plus, I was a shopaholic living in the smallest dorm possible, but, that’s beside the point. But, you know, I wouldn’t change one second of that brutally uncomfortable time because that time resulted in growth. And succeeding in establishing myself at Furman, despite it being so far outside of my comfort zone, consequently expanded my comfort zone. It was then, that much easier to surmount the next scariest thing.
If you know me, you know how much I love to brag on peoples’ accomplishments. And that makes sense, because at a place like Furman, our peers’ successes are also our own. I’ll share some highlights from our class: Individually, we have given a Ted Talk on persevering with an autoimmune disorder. We have programmed and executed an entire summer camp for local children in the New Washington Heights Community. We’ve been awarded the SC Space Grant to study conditions on Mars. We have developed an English curriculum for Rwandan at-risk youth. We have fiercely fought Lupus in our last year of college.
Collectively, we learned to navigate a whole new landscape of what we thought our senior year would look like, we started a scholarship fund in honor of the first African American student at Furman University, and we are all here, in this moment right now, successfully graduating.
The list of both individual and collective accomplishments for our class goes on and on. But, what I want to denote is that none of those accomplishments were achieved easily, none of them comfortably. Most monumental things aren’t.
Our classmates’ stories differ from our own, but, at Furman, we all got to where we are from the support, inspiration, and guidance of our peers, professors, and mentors whom recognize the importance of collaboration rather than competition. It is our responsibility moving forward to transcend that ideology past Furman’s gates, continuing to help others seek discomfort and embrace growth outside of the confines of comfortability.
I won’t sugar coat it; our class persevered through many traumas during our time at Furman. We faced the harsh realities of racial inequalities in America. We steadfastly lived through the collective heartbreak of COVID-19. We experienced the devastating losses three our classmates: Reilly, Ava and Caroline. To say that these were the most difficult times of our lives would be a vast understatement. However, the gratitude I have that we went to a school like Furman is insurmountable. The way I saw my fellow classmates break social barriers and genuinely show up for one another during our lowest of lows was truly remarkable. I can only hope that each of us find communities in our next season that give us a soft place to land as Furman has done time and time again.
Furman University’s mission statement is to challenge and support life-long learners through rigorous inquiry, transformative experiences, and deep reflection. So, Dins, it is up to us to uphold that mission. To continue pushing outside of our comfort zones, embracing unfamiliarity. To continue asking hard questions (even when it’s uncomfortable), speaking out against injustices whilst still preserving our own inner peace. And, finally, to continue reflecting on ourselves, our areas of growth, our actions, and our trajectories. This will be uncomfortable, unsettling even, and that’s okay, because it is up to us and us alone to take complete and utter ownership of our individual happiness, relationships, and lives.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the people whom have invested in me the most. Thank you to my two tenacious, hard-working parents. I know I probably wasn’t the easiest child to raise, but it is because of you that I value empathy over esteem, principle over prosperity, and synergy over self-importance. Thank you for the courage to recognize that a life never feeling unsettled is a life that settles.
Paladins, I am so excited to see each and every one of you live out your purposeful truth.
Oprah Winfrey once stated, “Challenges are gifts that force us to search for a new center of gravity. Don’t fight them. Just find a new way to stand.” Class of 2021, if we have learned anything together, it’s that we are able to find new ways to stand, to truly persevere. And, you guys, we’re about to be challenged in this next season of growth. Let’s get uncomfortable. Thank you.