December 2017 Graduation Address by Camille Rose Potter

Good morning Class of 2017. Today, your journey at the University of Memphis has come to a close. Your new beginning starts today. Not only have you proven that you had the intellect to master your course studies (through sleepless nights, exams, study sessions, group projects, 50 page essays, and extra credit) but also that you were able to persevere through any hardships on your path. Our journey to higher education was an obstacle course. That course was designed to challenge our abilities while raising our expectations. It came with roadblocks, detours, hurdles and other challenges to keep us from achieving our goals but we made to the finish line. Self-determination and endurance were the necessary tools to achieve this accomplishment and I'd like to share with you my personal journey on this educational obstacle course.

In the fall of 2001, I started my college journey as a freshman at the University of Memphis. Yes, I said 2001! Age- 18. Major- Undecided. Goal- Graduate. Everything seemed well until the spring of 2004, I hit a roadblock on my course. I had to withdraw from the university. It was just for one semester but that quickly turned into 5 years. Here I was; the college drop-out and life just got real. However, I did not lose focus. I had a dream so I had to persevere and complete what I started. I drafted a plan and returned to The University of Memphis in 2009 with the same focus. Age- 21. Major-Criminal Justice or Journalism. Goal- Graduate. I was now a non-traditional, part-time student. I felt discouraged that I was too old to keep up with my fellow classmates, but I didn't feel low for long because my GPA began to rise. Things were looking up for me, but then I ran into a detour. In 2014, I was forced to sit out for a few more semesters. I withdrew from the university again. It seemed as though my goals would never come to fruition. I knew I had to push through this barrier, but how?

I then remembered the words of my mother, who began her college journey at Memphis State University in the fall of 1966. She persevered and went through her own personal obstacle course to graduate in 1983. Her words to me were, "It is not how long it takes you on your journey; the destination is the same. Stay diligent on your course." So, I made another plan and any remaining doubt and shifted it into confidence. I had to refocus and understand that these obstacles were just the scenic route.

I knew I had options. I did my research and I looked for the best way to get re-enrolled. When I couldn't take classes on campus, I took them online. I spoke with countless individuals who helped guide me through the journey and used the resources such as the Experiential Learning Credit Program provided by this university to my advantage. As a non-traditional student, I had to work hard and prove to myself that I was capable of becoming a college graduate despite all obstacles in my path. I didn't think it would take 16 years to accomplish the goal of obtaining my degree, but that didn't matter. What mattered, is that it wasn't too late for me to pick up where I left off and that I have now completed what I started in the fall of 2001.

Spring 2017, I made the decision to complete the obstacle course I began 16 years ago. Age- 34. Major- Journalism with a concentration in Public Relations. Goal- Achieved. This message of perseverance is not just for my fellow peers. It is for the person sitting here today, with the same dream to start or complete their college journey. This is your moment. You can achieve your dreams of higher learning. With hard work, endurance, and self-determination any goal is attainable.

Classmates, as you continue the path onto your next destination, believe that you have the power to overcome any obstacles that may block your travels. In the words on General Colin Powell, "A dream doesn't become reality through magic, it takes sweat, determination, and hard work." I am so proud of each and every one of you for overcoming adversity and to achieve this moment we've reached together. Congratulations, University of Memphis Class of 2017!