Millikin University – Decatur, IL – May 18, 2014
I have come 6,722 miles to be with you today. I did not really come to speak to you, or at you: my main purpose was to be here for this extended moment… you graduating from Millikin University, as I did fourteen years ago.
This time at a Millikin graduation, I have added this Masters hood I earned in the meantime and this microphone and 18 minutes speaking time.
As the first and only college graduate on either side of my family, you cannot imagine what this commencement speech is about to mean to me and probably to my parents and my husband sitting over there.
So, thank you. Merci. Shukran. [sign language for thank you] to…
-President White and Chris White
-Dean Laura Ledford
-Graduates and your families
-Staff at this Decatur Civic Center, including the sound board operator and those who will clean up when we file out of here.
-Faculty and Board of Trustees at Millikin University
-The university itself bcause Millikin taught me and changed me.
When I first arrived to Millikin in 1996, my style was exclusively “Goodwill.” No jeans or hoodies; because in high school I realized everyone wore jeans and hoodies everyday and I made a decision not to be everybody. I was stubborn. I wore scrubs and plaid a lot during my four years here. A smart girl who loved dance and international relations. No frills. Much Beck. When my parents, and best friends drove down from mid-Michigan and dropped me off at Millikin that Fall, we were all sad. I cried for a week and didn’t tell my mother. Later I realized she did the same.
Before I knew it, I was taking risks in critical thinking and choreography. With classes such as Ethics with Dr. Money, Spider Biology, and Modern Dance. Millikin was the perfect fit for me.
So yes, I came 6,722 miles to be with you today. Today is the most important word for me in that sentence. In Egyptian Arabic, the word for today is El Nharda. And Nharda is what I will give advice on today. Not going to cover your life or your grand future. Not even tomorrow. Nharda bas.
Are you ready?
First bit of advice…
- Sit up
During this ceremony, please sit up. And spread your wings.
2. Put some intention behind your Breathing.
[Lead audience in breathing exercise: 4 counts in, 4 counts hold, 4 counts out]
3. You will take a lot of pictures today. Photographers say they don’t take pictures, they make pictures. So when you are making pictures, remember that the light source comes from behind and you shine it on someone or something else. Also, hold your breath when you push the button to keep your camera still. So, the source comes from behind you… and you shine it on someone or something else [with gestures]. wink wink. I am not talking about life, just making pictures today, BUT the source comes from behind and you shine it on someone or something else.
4. You are also going to be the subject of many many pictures today. Here is some advice from my friends in modeling. Put your chin one inch out and one inch down. Both a little proud, and a little bit humble. Proud and humble. Practice it with me.
Let’s practice it all. Sit up. Spread your wings. Put intention in your breathing. Remember the source comes from behind you and you shine it on someone or something else. You are both a little proud and a little humble.
5. Today, I’m going to ask you to see things from another’s perspective. Think about someone else here. Maybe your parents, or a professor, your bored little sister dragged here for your graduation ceremony, or your doting grandma. Or President White. I wonder how you are feeling today. See today from someone else’s perspective. Just sit with them. Hold their hand, lay your head on their shoulder. I think they will appreciate it.
When I say walk, I mean walk! That is your only job today. It is the verb for this ceremony. Put your feet beneath you and stand up. Let’s practice that part. Ok, sit down. Today, you will walk! Listen and respond to the beat in your heart. You have options.
[walking option demonstration set to music: electro strut, laid back country stroll, confident We Are the Youth of the Nation power parade, know one knows the future wondering, or Egyptian Shaabi party]
Let’s practice it all. Sit up. Spread your wings. Put intention in your breathing. Remember the source comes from behind you and you shine it on someone or something else. You are both a little proud and a little humble. Put your head on someone’s shoulder. And walk!
6. The next piece of advice for today is to hold your diploma like a passport, not a trophy on a shelf. The degree you will hold today will allow you new experiences and opportunities: apply to them all, even those that seem outside your field or how you label yourself. Let your degree be your passport into the world.
7. Feel your feelings fully then move on. Here’s a story. I was teaching dance to preschoolers in Chicago. Lots of pink ballerinas. One of those 3 year olds was bald and wonderful. She loved to wear black. She was witty and compassionate. She had brain cancer. She taught me many lessons. I am ever indebted. She died when she was four years old. One of the things she taught me was to feel all your feelings and then move one. We don’t have time to wallow. She felt every needle prick, fear, joy, nervousness, every emotion fully. Then she moved on. We are all scared, President White are you scared? We will feel many things. Feel them fully and then move on.
8. Network and meet new people today. When you network, look one level up and one level out. Meet professors, deans, anyone you would consider one level up. But also meet people one level out: maybe students in another department, from another country, maybe the staff of the Decatur Civic Center. Network one level up and one level out.
9. This next piece of advice comes from music. Are any of you graduates musicians, instrumentalists? Please stand up. You will probably know this one. With an instrument, when you are holing a note, there are no laserbeams. There has to be drive behind the phrase. No note should stay the same. Build or drop intensity and volume. Today will be a long, emotional day. Treat it like a long note; there are no laserbeams. There has to be drive behind the phrase. Build and drop intensity.
10. My last piece of advice for today is to be active in the world. Buy a newspaper, go for a walk off campus, visit a community center. Be active in the world, don’t just visit the world.
Remember this is advice for today, not for life. [wink]
[with gestures] Sit up. Spread your wings. Put intention in your breathing. Remember the source comes from behind you and you shine it on someone or something else. You are both a little proud and a little humble. Put your head on someone’s shoulder. And walk! Hold your diploma like a passport. Feel your feelings fully and then move on. Remember there are no laser beams. And be active in the world.
Thank you for this speech.
Video to come soon.