Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Just Keep Swimmin'

It wasn't exactly one of the most important speeches of the 21st century, but I was pleased with how my commencement address turned out. See the full text:

"Good afternoon. Bishop Finn, Father Curran, members of the Board of Trustees, members of the faculty, proud parents, and my fellow graduates thank you for allowing me the opportunity to speak to with you today. I am proud to be able to reflect on our experiences over the years as we move forth into the next phase of our journeys.

Those of you who know me well know that I am a big kid at heart. I believe in the power of laughter, the joy of smiling, and the excitement of conversing with my peers and sharing stories and experiences. I also enjoy cartoon movies; in fact, I am a huge Pixar geek. Perhaps my favorite Pixar movie is “Finding Nemo.” Oddly enough, I’ve always been able to identify with the characters Marlin and his sidekick Dory.

Dory
They faced some pretty tough challenges as they embarked on an elaborate journey to find Marlin’s son Nemo. In the face of these hardships Dory had one simple rule,“just keep swimmin’, just keep swimmin’, just keep swimmin’.” It is in this simple credo, their perseverance, and their commitment to their purpose of “Finding Nemo” that I find parallels in my own life.

We live in a culture of instant gratification and constant contact with one another; we want it all and we want it all now! We have Instagram and instant messages on our iPhones and are seldom separated from our smart phones and tablets, and don’t we absolutely hate when our devices fail us? Well, my college journey was not instantaneous; in fact it included several failures and required a great deal of perseverance. Permit me to share major stops of my college journey with you.

I graduated from high school this very day 10 years ago. My GPA was 3.0, my ACT score was a sweet 16, I had applied to 11 universities, and was accepted to none of them; my college journey was not off the best start. But I learned early on that when life gives you lemons you go back to the store and keep shopping and that’s exactly what I did.

I enrolled in Johnson County Community College in the fall of 2004, and dropped out after one year while working full-time.  At the time, working was not optional for me as I played an essential role in helping to support my family.

I then transferred to UMKC and crashed and burned after 3 semesters and went on to enroll in online classes at the University of Phoenix; this, too was a dismal showing. At this point, I was awakened to the power of purpose and passion which marked a pivotal turning point in my life. My purpose is to use my deep respect for people and my affinity for politics to change the world by fighting for justice for disadvantaged and marginalized communities. Alas! I had discovered my own “Nemo” and had the determination to pursue this purpose without fear of faltering. Now, whether that meant pursuing elected office or becoming a high powered executive with a reputable company I did not yet know, but I knew I would have a hand in crafting policies that would make easier the lives of people from communities with which I could identify and empathize.

This awakening helped me realize that God had placed great talent and responsibility within me to be a vessel of change in the world but I knew that before I was to step into this role, I had to finish my education. I had to prove to myself that I could rise above my shortcomings, have the strength to persevere, and “just keep swimmin’.”

It was with this epiphany that I renewed my commitment to my education and scaled back my work schedule. After 3 semesters of hard work and dedication at Penn Valley Community College I completed my Associates Degree and transferred to Rockhurst University, a choice that I regard as the best decision I’ve ever made.

Delivering the undergraduate address
In a world where second chances are hard to come by Rockhurst offered me redemption and enabled me to pursue greatness. When I arrived at Rockhurst I was smitten with the sense of community that enveloped the entirety of the campus. The warm and pleasant smiles that we exchanged on campus conveyed a sense of family that subtly connected us to one another and this great institution. This bond was only strengthened among us as we cheered on our sports teams, supported our organizations and participated in service events that left an indelible impression on our community and the world.

The core values that Rockhurst has taught us are demonstrated through the sense of family that has touched each of us. Think about the congeniality of the Sodexo staff especially Jane from “The Pub;” her bright smile and warmth has become an iconic staple on our campus. Recall the reliability of the Rockhurst Security, our ROCKO’s, and the courageous actions they take to secure our campus despite giving the occasional parking citation.

Consider the way the Center for Arts and Letters contributes to our cultural and intellectual development by sponsoring Visiting Scholars, Midwest Poets, and the film series that has made us more culturally aware and well-rounded individuals, central pillars of a liberal arts education. Or, reflect on Bill Kriege and Campus Ministry and the delicate and sensitive manner in which they’ve provided us opportunities to grow our faith and guide us spiritually. 

Indeed, the friendly and compassionate nature of our professors cannot be overstated. Each of them challenged our intellect and understood the demands associated with striking the balance between being a student and, for most of us, working a job. I can’t tell you how many times a professor or staff member stopped to tell me “slow down Quentin” or “please take care of yourself." The compassion they conveyed for us extended beyond their roles as professors or administrators and ventured into mentor, friend, and family. This aspect of Rockhurst we will surely miss, but will pass on through our own acts of compassion and care.

I would be less than honest if I said that I did not beat myself up for my shortcomings and the extended time it’s taken to complete my education. My internal clock told me that I was supposed to be a White House Fellow by now and on my way to a promising career in public policy. However, I learned to stop comparing my imagined self to my actual self, thanks to the core values of Rockhurst University that have transformed each of us. Core values such as reflection and discernment and finding God in all things enabled me to realize that all of the setbacks in my collegiate journey were divinely placed.  They were tests of my faith.  They also allowed me to appreciate my Rockhurst experience and achieve the wisdom that I needed to progress in the world.

Reflection and discernment meant accepting my past shortcomings and finding value in those setbacks, applying those lessons to my life, and enabling others to learn from my mistakes. I, too, realized that there was beauty in my journey; and where there is beauty there is God. With every failing grade we’ve received, every stumbling block we’ve encountered or every tear we’ve shed there was beauty because there was a lesson to be learned; there was some despair to rise above which led us to this milestone accomplishment today.


In my zone
Finding God in all things enabled me to accept the things out of my control and view them differently, it’s like my father would always say, “when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change." This wisdom fueled my drive, strengthened my resolve and enabled me to “just keep swimmin’." I would venture to say that if I had initially been successful in college that I would not have learned as much, nor would my life have been as transformed as it has because of my time here at Rockhurst.

So, this is my story and while it is unique to my experience, each of you has one defined by your own hardships and triumphs. Among us, we have some 700 commencement addresses right here in this room. Now the question becomes what are you going to do with your story? Might I make a recommendation? Go forth and share your story in your work, in your play, and in your families and allow your story to touch someone’s life the way Rockhurst has touched all of ours. We have been equipped to go forth into the world as conscientious, capable and compassionate individuals that can identify turmoil in the world and apply the lessons of our education to make the world a better place. Be reminded that the change we hope to create in the world will not happen as instantaneously as a Facebook message or an Instagram post. But have faith that in due time the collective good of our works will manifest and be quite a monumental accomplishment much like graduating today.

On behalf of the entire graduating class, I just want to say thank you Rockhurst University for changing all of our lives. For awakening those of us graduating to the promise we each possess and steering us in the right direction to be women and men of service. And as we embark on this journey to be women and men of service, be resilient. In the face of uncertainty, rise above; when you fall down, get back up; when the going gets tough “just keep swimmin’.”

Thank you."

/qms/

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Graduation Day: The End of a Journey

I woke up the morning of Saturday, May 17th, in a state of disbelief. Could it really be possible that the day had finally come, the day I would walk across the stage as a college graduate? Well, it had and I could not believe it.

The journey had been a long arduous ten years since I embarked upon it and, I honestly, would not have changed a single thing about it. My journey and the hardships it encompassed made me the intellectual that I am today. It enabled me to learn how to learn and fueled my deep passion and affinity for education.

The morning of graduation my sisters and I went to the grave site of my beloved step-mother to honor her memory and place a graduation announcement on her grave stone. Without a doubt, she would have been front row at my ceremony screaming, hollering and beaming with pride. The speech I delivered at commencement was dedicated to her memory.


Following that I returned home and started getting ready. I took my time and danced around the house to my favorite tunes, still in a state of disbelief and subtle excitement. I put on my fancy new suit and headed to the auditorium for sound check. As I approached the stage and looked out onto the empty audience the reality of the day was starting to set it. The subtly of this feeling was solidified when my classmates started to arrive. I waited backstage, in the staging area with my favorite professors and other faculty members until the ceremony started.

My excited face
As we lined up and the Pomp and Circumstance music started I felt my tears ducts swelling with emotional expression. As I walked down the aisle I could here my family and friends screaming my name and professing their love for me, "my brother is better than yours," my sisters yelled. "We love you Quentin" shouted my mother. It was then that the tears flowed. I had waited so long to have this moment and here it was in its most pure and joyous form. I could not have asked for a better moment.

I walked onto the stage and saw my family squarely in my sites waving and blowing kisses and it warmed my heart to see that I had made them so proud.

When the time came for me to deliver my speech, the anxiety and nervousness that I thought I would feel was gone. It was like talking to all of my friends at one time. I, who is often too critical of myself, was pleased with the outcome and even provoked a few tears out of some people.

After the commencement ceremony my sister, my niece and I walked down to the Power & Light District for refreshments and fellowship with my classmates. I was conistenly approached by individuals who praised my speech and the message I delivered to be resilient and stay consistent in the face of insurmountable odds. I was moved by all of the positive feedback from the faculty, my peers and their families.

Stealing the show
My sister and I tried to get the party started by dancing to the music that the dee jay was playing and it did not quite go over had we had hoped. Instead we had a very enthusiastic audience that cheered us on and watched in excitement. I did not mind, I'm a theatre kid and always enjoy an audience, plus it gave me more room to dance. After a while a few brave souls joined us and thanked us for cutting loose.

All in all, the day was everything I could have ever hoped for, full of love, joy and happiness. I am so thankful for such an amazing day that will not soon be forgotten. As well, I am blessed an thankful for the people that love me and wanted to share the excitement of such an important accomplishment with me.

#SoGrateful

/qms/

Monday, July 7, 2014

Sunshine in the Month of May

Quentin and Shannon
Without fail, every year, the month of May arrives in the blink of an eye and serves as a reminder of how fast time is going by.

Personally, this past May was quite memorable. To start with I drove to Washington DC once I flew in to Philadelphia and got to visit with a dear friend of mine. This was especially exciting because I had never been to Washington DC before and being a political junkie it was a slice of heaven on Earth. I saw the Capitol Building and nearly collapsed in the street and I was pictured in front of the White House. As I stood in complete amazement the most jingoistic feeling came over me. I marveled at merely being in the presence of such an iconic building; the ultimate symbol of American democracy.


Left to Right: Andre, Ashley and Quentin
On a separate trip (back to Philly) I ventured north to the big city of New York, N.Y. Two of my very closest friends live in Brooklyn and we have been loosely planning for me to visit for years now. I took the Amtrak from Philadelphia for an hour and arrived in the heart of Manhattan. I ventured around Time Square and took pictures of all the shows playing on Broadway. Unfortunately, I did not have enough time to catch a show, but just being in that environment was fulfilling in it of itself.


I caught up with my friends for dinner and drinks, we laughed and cried and danced and wished time would slow down so that we could enjoy each others company longer, but as our visit drew to a close I headed back to the Amtrak station.

This is where is gets interesting.

I was dog tired as I boarded the train and was heading back to Philly. I plugged in my cell phone to ensure it was charging and listened to music on my tablet. No sooner than the blink of both eyes I was sound asleep. When I awoke two hours later, my heart was racing as I frantically realized that I was in Baltimore. In my fatigued state I tried to geographically place Baltimore in relation to Philadelphia in efforts to discover if I had missed my stop or not; indeed I had. It was midnight, the Amtrak station was closed, I had to be at work at 7 a.m. and I was stranded in Baltimore. Fortunately, the earliest train departed Baltimore at 4 a.m. and got me back to Philadelphia shortly after 5 in the morning; I made work on time. Talk about cutting it close.

"The Truth" Concert by Ledisi
Next was my 28th birthday. I had a pleasant day. In my mind I have just fast forwarded to 30 and often have to remind myself to enjoy the last couple years of my twenties. I had to work on my birthday which was not a huge deal. My co-workers all greeted me with birthday wishes and my supervisor brought in birthday cake and balloons for me; that was a very kind gesture. After work I treated myself of to a manicure and pedicure and did a little shopping. I was not any time table and was not rushing to get anywhere which was a nice break from my routine. When I got home I was greeted with a beautiful dozen of coral colored roses (one of my favorite colors), balloons, and tickets to see R&B songstress Ledisi in concert the following night. For a Wednesday birthday, I came out on top.

Left to Right: Mykoll, Quentin, Travis and Quincy




Later in the month, in what I deemed my graduation trip, I caught up with my besties for the most epic Memorial Day weekend ever in Chicago. The four of us had not been together in the same city in years and it was truly divine that it worked out smoothly. There was no shortage of quick witted banter, laughter, reflecting and, of course, dancing. I feel so comfortable in the company of this group because I know the bond is true and authentic. We all had an amazing time and were saddened when it came time to go back to reality, but soon enough we will surely be reeking havoc in a city near you!

The rest of the month was monumental because of the day that I had been waiting for for nearly 10 years...my graduation day! It was so special that it warrants its own post. Stay tuned.

/qms/

Friday, July 4, 2014

We're Not Gonna Pay RENT!

When it came to public health in the United States, the late 80’s and early 90’s were a time of great fear and uncertainty. A mysterious new epidemic was claiming the lives of thousands of homosexual men and intravenous drug users. We would later find out that the epidemic was not discriminatory and was also claiming the lives of heterosexual men and women as well as those who required regular blood transfusions. According to amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, by the end of 1992, more than a quarter million people were diagnosed with AIDS and approximately 77% of those diagnoses were dead. It was in the face of this devastation that Jonathan Larson was inspired to produce the rock-musical RENT.

RENT is based on Giacomo Puccini’s opera La bohème and recalls a year in the life of artists living in the lower east side of New York City during the dark days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in New York City. RENT debuted on Broadway in April of 1996, and would go on to win four Tony Awards and would eventually become one of the longest running shows on Broadway.

This past spring Rockhurst University Players and the Center for Arts and Letters presented “RENT” in the Mabee Theatre and I had the tremendous pleasure of playing Angel Dumott Schunard. Angel is a 19-year-old street percussionist and drag queen that has AIDS. She is a courageous and compassionate character that is regarded as the life of the party and it was an unforgettable experience to interpret the being of this character through my performance.

Yours truly as Angel Dumott Schunard

I could never have anticipated how this show would change my life. I tapped into a part of myself that I had been suppressing for a long time. I forgot that I am an artist. Maybe not in the sense of a painter or a singer/songwriter, but I am definitely an artist. I can channel the being of a
character through my interpretation of who they are based on my experiences and while exposing myself in a way that I don’t often feel the comfort to do. 

On a more personal level, I realized that life is so precious and fragile and that I have an obligation to live every day of my life unequivocally happy. Angel lived everyday as though it were her last and surrounded herself with joyous friends and fun people which made for the most substantive and fulfilling life, despite her passing at such a young age.

Obviously, I am speaking in retrospect and the show has opened and closed (to mostly sold out audiences I might add), but if you haven’t seen RENT feel free to check it out on YouTube. The final Broadway performance from 2008 is available, in it’s entirety, for your viewing pleasure.
The cast and crew of Rockhurst University's RENT

/qms/





Catching Up

My blogging has been incredibly sporadic since the start of the last academic year. Admittedly, I became overwhelmed and enthralled with the ensuing accomplishment of completing my undergraduate education and, as a result, my blogging has suffered. I apologize.

Rest assured that there is plenty to share and several stories to be told of both a comical and inspiring nature.

Since I last blogged, I have started a new career with Cerner Corporation. Cerner is a leading information technology provider to the medical industry. I accepted the position of analyst with them on New Year’s Eve 2013, indeed, it was a spectacular way to ring in the new year.

In my role, I am responsible for customizing the software based on the client’s needs and their
unique work flow. It is definitely a far cry from my studies in communication and political science but I am learning new things, nonetheless.

Cerner is my first “corporate America” job and my first “for profit” position in almost five years. The culture is refreshing and the pace is far different than anything I have experienced before. I thoroughly enjoy the autonomy that I have and am not bothered with micromanagers. My team and my leaders are cool too! Everyone is really helpful and understanding. My manager is candid and insists on my maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

Certainly, the best part of my job is the traveling. Since April I have traveled to client sites all across the US in cities that I have never been to like Philadelphia and Tucson. The cherry on top has to be traveling to see friends in adjacent cities that I travel to. For example, when I traveled to Philadelphia I took the Amtrak to New York City to visit two of my closest friends. On a separate occasion I drove to Washington D.C. to see a friend that I practically grew up with that now, too, works for Cerner.

The challenge for me, at times, is that I have become so accustomed to the pace of being a student and that same pace is nonexistence in corporate America. Additionally, being that I have no clinical experience I find that most of the work I do is complex and difficult to understand and that’s not me! I am so used to grasping concepts relatively easily and mastering them, unless of course it’s math.

Despite these mild challenges I am sticking it out; I am not one to quit at the first sign of a challenge – it’s just not in my nature.

#IveMissedBlogging

/qms/

Monday, February 17, 2014

Resurfaced

I wish I could say that I have spent the last 3-months backing through Europe and exploring new exciting aspects of the world, but those storylines are typically reserved for Lifetime movies. I have just been adjusting to post-graduate life.

While commencement exercises are not until May 17, I have successfully completed my required coursework at Rockhurst and my degrees in both Political Science and Communication have been awarded; this slower, less demanding pace in life has certainly required some adjusting.

Since completing my coursework in December I have been lazy. Watching too much Netflix (I am kind of addicted to "House of Cards") and too many political documentaries via YouTube. I have been reading too, I started reading “Tip and The Gipper” by Chris Matthews; it’s pretty fun being able to read for leisure without the worry of taking notes for an exam. Of course, I couldn’t go to long without exploring graduate programs and standardized graduate entry exams.

I found a really cool online Master’s program in Communication and Leadership Studies from Gonzaga University. There were several aspects of this program that appealed to me 1) Gonzaga University is a Jesuit University and would further build on the Ignatian traditions I have come to learn through Rockhurst, 2) earning a Master’s in Communication and Leadership Studies would teach me skills applicable in a corporate work setting while still allowing me to find parallels between my interests in politics and communication and 3) it’s online, so I can work while embarking on the next phase of my educational journey, but I will probably wait a year or so before I start down that beating path.

That's the short of the long of it, there's tons more to catch you up on, stay tuned.

/qms/  

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Month Marked With Service

October was marked by my desire to serve and be of service and I found a couple of different activities to participate in that allowed me to give back to the world and reflect on my own life.

Missouri River Relief Team
First, I participated in the Missouri River Relief Project (I really like this service project, I did it last year). It is about as in tuned with nature as I get! This year we went out on to the banks of the Missouri River and cleaned up debris and trash and pollutes our water system and the nation's longest river.

This year was a bit more challenging than last because there was so much more forestry to maneuver beyond to get to trash and other debris.

This project always puts into perspective how blessed we all are and how often we take for granted our blessings. As I was lugging trash from the depths of the woods to the shore line I couldn't help but think about all the people in countries that do not have clean drinking water to consume or bathe in. It inspired me to treasure more dearly our environment and the resources it provides to bring my life greater ease.

Home Improvement
My second service endeavor this month was during fall break. Campus Ministry organized a trip to Moore, Okla. to work with the Central Oklahoma Habitat for Humanity to rebuild homes that were demolished by the devastating tornado that took place in early spring. We installed installation, caulked the framing and hammered hundreds of nails. Our collective contribution and progress was amazing. 

It is one thing to see the damage from a natural disaster on television, but to be situated in the heart of where such devastation occurred it truly humbling. The work we did made me so appreciative of everything in my life, my triumphs, my hardships and even my shortcomings. It also made me realize how fragile life is and how important it is to maintain a grateful spirit even in the most challenging of times.

/qms/