"Congratulations, class of 2015! To our MEC championship women’s lacrosse team and women’s basketball team, well done.
President Shipley, Board of Governors, esteemed professors and caring university staff, thank you for bestowing upon me such a high honor and for asking me to address this accomplished, decorated graduating glass.
What an engaging research project this was. I took my independent study quite seriously, beginning with the works of my favorite American authors and writers: Robert Greene, Toni Morrison, Napoleon Hill, Kendrick Lamar, Stephen Sondheim. In March, while on tour in China, Taiwan and Papua New Guinea, I studied footage of the most renowned commencement speakers in recent history: Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, President Obama, Jon Stewart. Upon my return, I concluded my preparation by absorbing some of the greatest storytelling of all time. You may know it as the 2nd season of House of Cards.
Class of '15, you have arrived at the open door of yet another lecture hall. The course is life, and yes, everybody’s taking it. In this phase of study, the roles of pupil and professor are yours to play at will. Act wisely. Life is both an art and a science. It is possible to create unprecedented wonders with elements of your education, but only if you experiment.
Families and friends of the graduates, hold your head high. Today, you also graduate, your deepest hopes and highest aspirations walking across this stage, accepting life’s single charge: to live.
I would like to thank my family and loved ones for being here today, in person and in spirit. Four years ago, my 91-year old great-grandfather asked me, “Carolyn, did you graduate”? I graduated in 2006. Careful not to dismiss the question as the synaptic misfirings of an elderly man with dementia, I looked into his watering eyes and weighed the question deeply. Suddenly, things came into perspective. I had recently received a Grammy nomination. While that in itself is an amazing feat, especially for an independent artist, my great-grandfather wanted to know when I would do something greater with my talents.
Graduates, today, I stand before you with the same charge, to do something great with your talents and with the lessons you have learned here at Shepherd.
I realize that my speaking to you is both uncommon and unlikely. For starters, I have no grey hair; my dream car, a vintage black Porsche, is still on the lot, not in my garage; I am still laying the foundation for the innovative empire that will, even when our time passes, continue to inspire, ignite and nurture the human spirit through music, one person at a time, billions of times, for that is my life’s mission.
My presence on this stage represents President Shipley and the Board of Governors’ solid belief in young people, in the promise of our untapped imaginations and nascent life journeys. I trust that you have felt their commitment throughout your time at Shepherd University, though their strategic implementation of new technology, the presentation of culturally immersive programming and, yes, even through the harsh grading of tough professors.
On that note, I never thought I would form my lips to say these next words, but, here goes… Dr. Darboe, thank you. I will always remember the number 15, the score I received on an essay quiz. My answers, though correct, were slovenly executed, and so I paid… dearly.
During my time at Shepherd University, I met several instructors and leaders who demanded my personal best. Dr. Kevin Williams encouraged me to do more than just think outside of the box. He taught me to obliterate the box with imagination and technology. The tools he gave me were software and, literally, years of tedious solitude in the basement of Knutti Hall. I emerged with music that would allow me to create my first recordings. From Monica Larson, I learned branding and structure, the importance of color, the power of imagery. Dr. Tom Segar taught me and each member of the Multicultural Leadership Team to consider the opinions of others with respect and compassion. He gave us space to dream; he held us accountable for the actions we took and for those we didn’t.
With confidence, I can say that I learned my hardest and most rewarding lessons right here, in the Butcher Center, as a member of the Women’s Basketball Team. I wore my Rams jersey with pride, though I rarely saw court action. But you should have seen my warm-up shots. I looked good out there.
Fear and fouls kept me on the bench. Coach Ford can attest to this. Basketball players, particularly those who play the 5 or the Center position, familiarize ourselves with a defensive rule called the Law of Verticality. I owed most of my foul trouble to this so-called law. The rule states that a defensive player is entitled to all of the space she occupies, plus all space above her head. To properly defend an offensive player en route to the basket, the defensive player must move quickly to firmly position herself, arms raised, between the offensive player and the basket. We spend countless hours practicing, drilling, perfecting our footwork, rehearsing the proper way to take a charge, how not to swat at an oncoming player. We are coached to “create a strong presence”. You could say that our training is the athletic equivalent of a peaceful protest. Now, call me rebellious, but the idea that someone should be able to come into my house and score without a show of force never appealed to me. In fact, it frustrated me. It still does. However I am grateful for the experience. In 2006, I graduated having learned how to hold my ground. In 2015, I still find the need to stand firmly, with raised arms. Instead of yelling “Shot!” with my teammates, I now raise my voice with millions, saying “Don’t shoot!”
Class of '15, your past experiences at Shepherd have prepared you to create a strong presence in this present time. Challenges will come. Stand firm.
I leave you with these parting words. Obliterate any box that stifles your creativity. Create the next disruptive tech. Engineer personal solutions with global appeal. Yes, think globally. Act locally. Reach out to other young leaders for support. When you get weary, stand together. Hold your ground and raise your voice.
Stand with me. Let’s give life everything we’ve got. Surely, life will return the favor.
Class of '15, are you ready to graduate?
Onward and upward!"