December 2017 Graduation Address by Lauren Elizabeth Stracener

First and foremost, I would like to thank the Commencement Committee for allowing me the opportunity to address the faculty, staff, family, friends, and graduates at this evening's commencement ceremony. It is such an honor to be a part of this unforgettable declaration of accomplishments.

I want to use the short amount of time I have this evening to inspire you. I want to inspire you by pointing out a few things that you do well. Recognizing those strengths, however, also comes with recognizing the challenges you've overcome to get here. I don't know about you all, but one of the most challenging things about earning my degree has been deciphering and remembering acronyms. So, in the spirit of learning, I will teach you one. WATESSP. W-A-T-E-S-S-P. (Just trust me.) It stands for, Willing and Able To Embrace Superhero Status Pressure. You heard me right folks, I said superhero. Today, as graduates, we all become superheroes with full-blown superpowers. Now hold it right there, guys. I can look around the room and see you starting to think about what your bright spandex outfit would look like, and what your superhero name would be. You can rest easy, because you already have a name; well a couple actually: graduate, daughter, father, grandma, mentor, Bob. A pretty cool guy named Stan Lee once said, "With great power comes great responsibility." Starting today, we all have the responsibility to share our superpowers with those around us. So, you may not be able to fly, or lift cars with your mind (or maybe you can and nobody knows) but either way there are a few things that you CAN do. You can be an example for future generations to come.

The best part about your first superpower is that you've all nearly mastered it. Instead of viewing challenges as moments in your lives that halt progress, you've turned them into moments of opportunity for learning and growth. You've used that thing inside your head to get you here, you know, your brain. People are watching you (in a good way), and while you may not know it, they want to be in your shoes. They look up to you, and look to you for advice and encouragement. Since you've got that down, let me tell you about your second superpower, learning how to be human. Being a superhero isn't all about doing everything by yourself, or proving that you're the strongest kid on the block. Being a superhero involves developing humanity, which is a necessary trait to possess if you're serious about this whole superhero gig. Think about your time here at the University of Memphis. How many instances have there been where you needed help from a classmate, friend, family member, or professor? Admitting that you need help helps all of us. It helps to create an environment where collaboration is valued, teamwork works, and peace is encouraged. I don't know how you all feel, but sometimes I just need hugs, and affirmations that I'm doing a good job. It is nothing to be ashamed of, we've all been there. Take that superpower with you, though, out into the real world so that others may see it and be inspired. Empathy and compassion can go a long way. Be that superhero that's imperfectly human. The most important superpower that we all gain here today as graduates, is being able to change the world with the knowledge that we've gained. Knowledge is power. Now, don't think about power in terms of being able to control your boyfriends mind (although it would come in handy, right?). Think about power in terms of contributing new ideas to a world full of opinions. Maybe your career will consist of researching innovative cancer treatments, running numbers for a major corporation, creating TV ads for Nike, or managing your own resort. Whatever you set out to do, you take with you the knowledge that you've gained here at the U of M. You take your ideas, expertise, cultures, and personal swag. Use that power to be a leader in your field. Don't wait for others to make a difference, because you ARE the difference. Use your superpowers. Embrace them. Since knowledge is power, it's our responsibility to use it in a way that empowers others to recognize their true potential.

I leave you with this. Today is the day that we celebrate our shared success. Today, we overcame challenges and turned them into opportunities. Today, we embrace our full superhero status. We are all WATESSP! Congratulations Class of 2017! Continue to be Driven by Doing. Go Tigers!