Thank you, Dean Hazlett, for that beautiful introduction. Good morning, everyone, and welcome. My name is Jyra Jones and I’m extremely humbled to be standing here before you today. It’s a privilege to speak with you about my experiences, and I hope that what I have learned throughout my time at Franklin & Marshall College will encourage you to, as Professor Crannell said, “go deep” in ways that are true to each one of you. Before college, I often ran from challenges, due to self-doubt and the stress of dealing with life’s obstacles. I chose to avoid the things that frightened me, like getting on this stage and speaking to you, but F&M has not only prepared me to confront my fears, but also to transform them into powerful opportunities to grow. These are often the moments that shape us the most, that allow us to become more self-aware, and I’d like to tell you about a few of mine.
I remember taking my first plane from Memphis to Philly in 2015 and being extremely nervous. As the youngest of five children, I have been babied all my life, and while I’ve never sought to be dependent on anyone, my family’s presence was comforting, and the thought of moving by myself to a new place was intimidating. As a freshman, I had a difficult time adjusting to the new environment and balancing my own personal issues. One of those issues was the questioning of my religion. Like many others who come from religious families, I slept, breathed, and ate my religion up until my sophomore year. If a person wasn’t a Christian, I foolishly assumed that I could not be close friends with them, and that they would be completely different from me. This idea was debunked once I began to listen to my peers of different faiths. These were good people, and our conversations challenged me to dig deeper and question my knowledge of the religion that had consumed me my entire life. Our community here will challenge you to open up. It will help you learn the importance of stepping away from what is familiar and being eager to hear about experiences and perspectives that are not similar to your own.
This is a piece of advice that has stuck with me during my time at F&M: Allow yourself to be open-minded and to explore. A lot of us come here thinking we know exactly what we want to do, what our majors should be, and so on. But even if you wind up doing exactly what you thought you would do, try to use freshman year to explore. Choose courses and clubs that sound interesting and even challenging to your perspectives. Take advantage of events like Common Hour that will expand your knowledge of other cultures and identities. And get your hand up! Participate in classroom discussions, because the whole learning dynamic will change for you when you participate. And, don’t be afraid to yell out the wrong answer or ask a question. No question is a stupid question, and I’m pretty sure someone else in the class probably has the same question. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. It may feel like a risk, but it is always worth it to ask for help.
In college, there is constant pressure to step out of our comfort zone, to be outgoing, and to be heavily involved. It’s always stressful thinking about how we will set ourselves up to have a job after graduation. We all want our resume to be popping, right? While these are important priorities, there is always room to cultivate your character and deepen your values. When seeking new opportunities, try to ask: Will this contribute to my personal development? Will my perspective be enhanced and broadened? Yes, a detailed resume is good, and money is even better, but don’t forget to enjoy the experience and learn some things about yourself during the process. College can be extremely demanding, but make a promise to yourself from the beginning that you will not forget what matters most: who you are as a person and what you hope to gain from any experience. No matter where we land after college, knowing ourselves and our personal strengths and weaknesses will help us navigate professional careers.
So much of this advice has come out of the guidance of my professors, and that’s because professors are people, too, who have lived and grown and are ready to share what they have learned with us. I have been blessed to connect with my advisors, Professors Roncolato and Willard. They have both been unselfishly invested in my future and success and I am truly grateful for their mentorship and unconditional support. They instilled in me the importance of my voice—to let my perspective be heard. There’s one moment with Professor Willard that I remember quite well. During one of her classes, she asked us to do what she calls “streaming,” which is a kind of spontaneous writing you do to see what ideas come out. She made me read one of my streamed passages, which, looking back, really annoyed me—but I did it anyway. It’s hard to say no to Professor Willard. She then asked me to read it again, and I did, and my classmates became interested in what I wrote and how I wrote what I wrote. They begin to ask me about the structure of my writing and the ideas I was expressing. It might not sound like much to you, but for me, at that moment, I realized that Jyra had something to say, that her perspective and what she contributed to the classroom was valuable. I thought to myself, “Wow, that was a really good passage,” and from that moment on, I knew that I had to stop doubting myself. Others saw the value in my words, even when I didn’t.
It is my hope that you all will believe in yourselves. Be unapologetically you and be proud of where you come from. Challenge yourself. Be open-minded and take risks. Allow yourself to grow and explore who you are as a person. Take note of your strengths and weaknesses. Know that it’s okay to take a step back and have some personal time when you’re overwhelmed. Find people and a space on campus that make you feel comfortable. After all, it will be your home for the next four years, so make it worth your while.
As a closing question, I would like for you to think about what you hope to gain, how you hope to grow, and how you plan to contribute to our community. F&M and society need us, and we have so much to contribute—and those contributions begin with self-discovery.
Thank you for your time, and congratulations to you all.