This was my application to be the Class of 2017 speaker at graduation. It wasn't chosen, but if I had to leave one last impression for my peers, this speech would be it, and I would like to share it.
Good afternoon everyone! As someone who has lived off-campus all four years, my biggest concern was always being well connected to the Rice community. Standing here today proves that yes, you can be OC and still be a part of Rice. As someone who has been able to see both the world inside and outside of the hedges on a daily basis, though, I hope I can give you something new or different to consider today.
Current students in the audience, I first speak to you. The four years you spend here is but a blink of an eye. It doesn't seem that way in the midst of program applications and continuous exams but it's true. And the most dangerous thing I've encountered during my time at Rice, which many of my classmates today can attest to, is taking for granted things like meeting other students on campus, professors' office hours, free events put on by cultural clubs, SpoCo or Shepherd, or the amazing monthly drinks at Coffeehouse. Sure, your academics come first and you're actually dating your resume, but some of the most valuable experiences and life lessons you will draw from this chapter at Rice will be outside of the classroom - unless it's a sociology classroom, you learn a lot of life lessons there actually and I highly recommend taking Intro to Sociology if you haven't yet. So make a new friend every day to learn what cool things they're up to because you never know how much they could inspire you, or go see very local art on Sewell Hall’s fourth floor during Open Studio. You can get a college education anywhere... it is the people you meet here and the opportunities you stumble across only through Rice connections that sets our institution and our student body apart.
To my graduating peers, I ask you to pause and take a deep breath. Forget post-graduation plans. Instead, I ask that you consider this question: what are my core values? Some examples are: Humor, Volunteerism, Creativity, Family, Spirituality, Integrity. Sometimes we focus too much on the future; we get so caught up in where we will end up that we forget that there is a process to get to the end, and that process is happening now. We place upon ourselves these timelines and lofty end goals: I have to be published by this age, marry and have kids by this age, make enough money to retire early but also cure cancer before then. Sure these goals are all great and you should plan and pace yourself, but you can also quickly lose sight of the present and forget why it is that you're doing whatever you're doing right now. This can lead to frustration and existential stress - you wonder if you are making any progress towards your goals or if you're really even meant to be doing what you're doing. Here is where the question about core values comes in. Though maybe cliché, recounting my core values has been key in putting a stop to my breakdowns. What am I doing right now? I am a community organizer, social media consultant, and content creator. What are my core values? Family, loyalty, community, and art. When I sit back and consider what I am currently working on, there is alignment. Never mind the fact that these are all "odd" jobs - they help me achieve my core values and that fulfillment is enough to keep me fired up and going. In a time when it is easy to feel overwhelmed by simple things like social media or complex things like solving access to clean water, it is important to keep yourself grounded and remember that Rice wasn't built in a day, Greenbriar Blvd is far from being free of potholes. But by nature of acting in accordance to your core values and focusing on the process - on the present - work won't feel like work and life feels meaningful; your passion will shine through and lead to success in achieving your goals. And one day, a smooth ride on Greenbriar will be achieved.
Over my four years here, I have seen great change in my peers. As editor of the campus fashion blog, I can safely say we have gotten more stylish - proving to people beyond the hedges that yes, we have more than just free t-shirts and gym shorts in our closets. We have also gotten more... angry, especially over the past year. There was a lot of joking about Rice apathy before, but, for a multitude of reasons, it seems that we are beyond the problem of apathy and now face a problem of being activists collectively and efficiently. I'm not speaking to any singular cause or group - I've seen multiple solution sessions hosted by different people but for the same problems! There have been efforts made to consolidate: a collective resistance Facebook group, multiple Facebook pages, listservs. Beyond the logistics, though, I think there is a need for each of us to individually consider where our passions and values lie, which problems we wish to tackle first, and then look to existing groups dedicated to these causes. A fear of mine is that all the great energy cultivated on this campus to make change and be activists might die upon graduation because there won't be student leaders and peers to foster this energy or events conveniently located on campus to pack lunches or do phone banking.
As we move on to adulthood and fall into the comfortable rhythm of a nine to five job or the busy work of graduate school, it will be easy to lose the fire and anger we currently have about social injustice, environmental destruction, or any other problem. Do not let the banalities of life distract or discourage you from continuing to make change. Change is not a monetary donation, though it can be. It is not immediate access to clean water for everyone in Flint, though it should be. Change is as simple as keeping yourself informed and voting. It is as basic as volunteering at an animal shelter or nursing home. It is as easy as separating your trash to recycle and reuse. Change is as comforting as a smile and thank-you to your custodian or local barista. The point is: we are more than our diplomas and impending titles. We are the visionaries, inventors, and reformers this world needs. You can be passionate about one or many things: human trafficking, healthcare, immigrant or LGBTQ rights. You can be in any realm: engineering, medicine, art, law, academia. But as contributing members of this society, you inherently hold power to make change.
My fellow class of 2017, let us not forget our core values, and let us stay angry and passionate. As Mrs. Potts from Beauty and the Beast says to her son: “You don’t lose hope, love. If you do, you lose everything.”