"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.
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’.”