December 2019 Afternoon Commencement Address  - Andrea Baird

College can be rewarding, but it does come with its challenges when obtaining a degree. What is an
important take-away message you could provide to the entire, diverse, student body?

I shouldn't be here today. For me education was never a priority. But I'm hungry to learn. Survival was
my goal, and the school of life taught me that in order to survive I had to work harder than anyone else.
When I was 17, I had an awakening and realized that education was my escape. A few years out of high
school, I landed a stable job for over a decade. I gained experience, confidence, and an understanding
that I was gifted with a strategic mind. For the first time in my life I was headed for success.
Unfortunately, I had yet another lesson from the school of hard knocks. Despite, my dedication, hard
work, and sacrifice I was passed over for a promotion. It nearly broke my spirit, but it was a blessing in
disguise. Had I gotten that promotion I would not be here today, graduating with my Executive MBA.

Most people enroll in college when they're 18 but my life's dance was never quite in rhythm. I was 30
when I finally finished my associate's degree in business and I dove straight into my undergrad – a
bachelor of arts in social science. My hunger to learn opened up a whole new world. A world where I
had a purpose and direction. Did I mention that I was working full time, attending undergrad fulltime, all
while caring for my three children? I had my hands full sure, but I had momentum. The only time I took a
break from work was to focus on my first Masters, during which time I had my 4th child. Those
experiences carried me through the darkest time in my adult life.

As if the stars began to align, I was presented with an opportunity to serve youth and families in the field
of mental health. While it was rewarding, I yearned for more. I began working with homeless veterans
and their families to house, educate, and empower their lives. Educating others to change their story
helped me change mine. There is such exquisite beauty in an educated mind, one where no other living
person can strip it from you. Education... has been my salvation. While hard, stressful, waning, and at
times debilitating, education, and this degree, has empowered me... it breeds my desire to empower
others. Throughout this process I've come to know me. I am a changemaker and truth teller. And the
truth is, I shouldn't be here today getting my Executive MBA from the University of Memphis...if you
only knew the whole story.

As you begin a new chapter in your story, here is some advice from my own. First, stay hungry to learn
and you will continue to evolve. Second, when you think the worst thing is happening to you it might
actually be the best...so, don't be discouraged. And finally, share your knowledge with others because
education breeds empowerment.