Beloved classmates, dear friends and parents, members of the Board of Trustees,
administrators, alumni, esteemed faculty and honored guests:
It is an honor to stand here before you this evening. Before I begin I need to thank
one person—my mother—who happened to strongly suggest that I go to Randolph-Macon
College. It was 1978 when my mother graduated from Randolph-Macon, and she loved
her time here so much that she wanted the same for me. Now, more than ever, I understand
her perspective; I have fallen in love with Randolph-Macon. I suspect that many
of my fellow classmates feel the same way about this place and the people here,
and we would all like to thank our supportive families and friends for being here
on this special occasion.
Standing here today, I am flooded with conflicting emotions. Our graduation—the
completion of our undergraduate years at Randolph-Macon—is both a joyous time of
excitement and elation and a time of nervous anticipation of what is to come. Yet,
as we approach this long-awaited finish line, we recognize that today is also a
time of commencement, or rather, a time to commence—to begin. And
so I would like to remind you that "new beginnings are often disguised as painful
endings." Today I want to tell a story of new beginnings and new people.
For the graduating class of 2013, what seemed to be painful endings in the fall
of 2009 were in actuality new beginnings. We were newly minted high-school graduates,
leaving behind friends and family, homes and memories, stability and routine, in
order to start anew. Our hearts and minds were filled with the same competing emotions
that we feel today: excitement to enter a new phase of our lives and sadness about
leaving everything else behind. Yet, it was time for us to begin a new adventure
I say new adventure because we quickly discovered that our fears were misplaced.
Leaving our high-school lives behind was not a painful ending as much as it was
an exciting, new beginning. And it was the people here at Randolph-Macon who made
it that way—the people who eased our time of anxious transition. These are the people
who often go unnoticed but who make this campus a home—the people who took the time
to care about each and every one of us.
In case we haven't had time in the last four years to say our "thank you's," I would
like to recognize these often underappreciated people for their helping hands and
open arms. Who are these people? I am talking about the teachers whose doors were
always open to us, the campus safety officers who not only kept the campus safe
but stopped to ask us how we were, the generous alumni who contributed to the flourishing
of our college and who still come here today because they care, the RA's who were
willing to talk during a bad week, the organizations that let you in, the new friends
who quickly became our best friends, and the teachers who were willing to talk even
if it wasn't about school. I could name many more. Fellow classmates, who is it
that has made a difference in your time at R-MC— who are the people who made your
transition here into a wonderful new beginning? If I have failed to thank them today,
I invite you to thank them for us all.
These are the people who made Randolph-Macon our home despite our earliest anxieties.
I want to tell you how they did that for me through a few of my own stories.
In the spring of my freshman year, I impulsively signed up for a course that I desperately
wanted to take but that I was in no way prepared for. It was a 300-level religious
studies course, and at the time I did not even know what religious studies meant.
So, I show up to class on the first day, and my stomach drops when I see the syllabus.
Essays, tests, readings, and a major presentation by myself front of the class—I
thought, "I can't do this." Looking down in terror at this piece of paper, I suddenly
heard my professor, Dr. Wright, talking in the kindest, most cheerful tone I have
ever heard in someone at 8 in the morning. It occurred to me in that moment that
this teacher really cared, and it put my heart at ease. I said, okay, I am going
to be alright in this class—and thanks to Dr. Wright I was.
There have been many teachers, more than I can mention now, who have made my time
at Randolph-Macon worthwhile. Yet, there is one teacher who for me represents everything
that I love about this place. Dr. Wallace Martin has been my professor, my mentor,
my friend, and my inspiration since I started working with him in his lab three
years ago. I cannot thank you enough, Dr. Martin, for spending so much time with
me even when our experiments were not working, for never getting upset when I broke
things, and for helping me to find my niche in biology.
It is the little things, the everyday acts, that I remember the most about my time
here. While I was horribly sick in a foreign country, Dr. Headrick and the rest
of my class brought me yellow roses to cheer me up. When I needed advice, my boss
Dr. Bruce always invited me in her office even when I'm sure she was busy. When
I needed shadowing experience, and every door seemed closed to me, an alumnus, Dr.
Trivette, gave me his time and allowed me in his practice. When I was by myself
studying, campus safety officers always said hello. When I went into Estes, Ms.
Norma remembered my name. When it was late at night but I really needed someone
to talk to, my roommate Kelly was a listening ear and faithful friend.
Before I conclude, I have one more group of people to tell a story about. One day
I happened to wander into a room where the Ujima Gospel Choir was practicing and
singing the most beautiful song called "Total Praise." That song means everything
to Ujima, but I didn't know that at the time. I knew right then that I wanted to
join this group, but I had absolutely no musical training and I was not sure if
they would want me—I was not even really sure if I could sing. However, to my surprise
and relief Ujima welcomed me with open arms and no hesitation. What they don't know,
and what I never told them, was that a woman who meant the world to me and who helped
raise me for the majority of my life—she loved gospel music, and she had passed
away that year. In a world of exclusion, Ujima, your acceptance made a painful ending
into a beautiful new beginning.
My fellow graduates of the class of 2013, as we look back to four years ago, it
seems the new beginnings we once feared have quickly turned into our fondest memories.
Today, we again stand on a precipice—a sharp divide lies ahead between the old and
the new. We are struck by the great unknown that is before us in this moment; yet,
we should not fear the ending of our undergraduate years. For, if past experience
can give us any indication of what is to come—expect an exciting, wonderful, remarkable,
gratifying new beginning!