Convocation Remarks as prepared
Good morning and welcome Class of 2017!
As I stand before you today at the beginning of your journey at F&M, I remember three years ago sitting in that same seat as you sit today. I was a little nervous and a little anxious, but overall I was very excited to begin the next chapter of my life.
Imagine for a moment that you're about to begin a four-year journey. While your final destination may be unclear, the only limit is your baggage. If you could take a four-year trip anywhere, what would you bring in your suitcase?
Watching many of you unpack this week, I’d say most of you, like I did, brought as much as you possibly could…I mean two U-Hauls… really? You'll probably then go out to buy even more until every nook and cranny of your room is so full that some things have to be returned home. You’ll make your space your own, and you’ll keep changing it and tweeking it until it becomes your home.
When we pack for an unknown trip we are prone to clutch to our comforts. The things that remind us of home, the necessities, the conveniences, the material things. But when we look inside our own suitcase what are we most likely to find? What keeps us grounded and connects us back to who we really are?
What worries us most about the trip we take to college is the presumption that what we pack in our suitcase will determine how we live here. We become so reliant on preserving ourselves that we look backwards, neglecting and failing to see the future. We judge ourselves even before we step foot in our new environment and we question: what will we make of ourselves in this new place?
I challenge you to let all that go; to be here in this new place and think about how you can contribute to this world. As Martin Luther King stated, "We are prone to judge success by the index of our salaries or the size of our automobiles, rather than by the quality of our service relationship to humanity."
In other words, what will you bring to carry on with you that will impact others and the road you take?
For me this was about getting involved in community service and volunteering in my new community. I noticed immediately upon arrival that F&M was not an ivory tower, walled off by fences. It is an open campus that was involved and intertwined with the larger Lancaster community. I was able to see that getting involved in the community might help me determine where I intended to go, and what new things I could bring along with me, and what things I could leave behind as a mark, a memory, or a gift.
I challenge you, transfers and the Class of 2017 -- to experience the feeling of impacting your community through service. Before you leave F & M in four years, experience what it is like to impact a life, to improve a community, to volunteer your time for a greater purpose -- because that is how we move forward, that is how we discover ourselves.
As an incoming freshman, I was fortunate enough to know that service was important to me but what I didn’t know was how much it would shape my life over the next three years.
During my first year I joined an organization called The Human Rights Initiative (THRI) that was dedicated to raising awareness on social justice and human rights. I learned about global human rights issues and once I opened the door to Lancaster I discovered that there were local issues here in Lancaster that were equally important and that I could have an impact on.
After my freshman year I travelled to South Africa to be part of the launching of the One Goal program, a student-run initiative that uses soccer as a tool to educate youth. After traveling to the Chris Campbell Memorial Soccer Field, started in memory of an F&M student, and working with the South African individuals there, I started to ask questions. My first was: where are all the girls? We had over 300 participants come to the field, yet only 10 percent of them were female. Returning to the states, I immediately started working on a grant for a Davis Peace Project that would allow me to launch 100 Goals For Peace, a follow-up program that specifically worked to empower young girls in South Africa.
After my experiences in South Africa, I was hooked on the idea of learning while doing! I took a community based-learning class, which is a course where you take your learning into the community to combine theory and practice.
Side note: everyone should do a community based learning class as soon and as often as possible because it will inspire you and empower you in ways you never thought could happen in the classroom.
I took an International Studies Community Based Learning class and worked with a family of six refugees from Burma. I was with them from the day they arrived in Lancaster straight off the plane from Thailand, and I helped the children enroll in school, helped the father find a job, helped them move in to their home and find some of their favorite native foods in Lancaster’s markets. I will never forget the look on two little girls faces when they tried ice cream for the very first time -- it was priceless!
This summer, through the Ware Institute for Civic Engagement, I participated in the Public Service Summer Internship program where I had a paid internship at the domestic violence shelter legal clinic where I was tasked with rewriting their language access policy, allowing them to receive more federal funding. While at the clinic I also worked one-on-one with clients, accompanying them to court and assisting them in filing for Protection from Abuse orders.
As you fill your F&M suitcase these next few years these are the types of belongings you will be putting in your suitcase as a student at F&M. All of these opportunities are available to you, but you MUST take on the challenge, you must seek them out and get involved. Don’t wait until your senior year to become a change-maker, because you can become one now.
I am not an anomaly here at F&M. Many people are involved in different areas of campus. I chose service through the Ware Institute for Civic Engagement, which is the hub for all service on campus, but others chose service through the research they do, athletics, or through the house system. There are many different avenues you can take.
Even if you don’t want to immediately jump into resettling refugees your first day of college, try just going to First Friday and heading down to Central Market. Discover our community downtown and embrace Lancaster and I promise Lancaster will embrace you back.
My biggest word of advice is DON’T WAIT to live a life of meaning; do something to get to know Lancaster and the community today.
You will be here four years and the time will fly by very quickly. You can impact a life and make a difference, even if it is in a small way. You are so fortunate to be at a school where students can confidently engage their community and amazing faculty. Your academic work will help you understand the world we live in and enhance the differences you will all make. That is what sets our school apart.
In closing, I just want to remind you to take that first step. As Martin Luther King stated, "Faith is taking the first step, even when you don't see the whole staircase."
Get out and volunteer, bring your questions into the classroom, but the theory into practice. Find something to believe in and fight for.
Thank you and good luck class of 2017 after meeting some of you this week I know you are all going to do amazing things here at F&M and beyond.