December 2019 Morning Commencement Address - Sarah Janne LaPidus

As we're all aware, it's hard to do college homework. As some of you may guess, it's even harder to do college homework from a hospital room- but a hospital room may be where you need to be. And by looking at me, you wouldn't know that I have plenty of experience with hospital rooms. I am both autistic and bipolar, a combination which makes functioning at a university nearly impossible. However, I wouldn't call it impossible at all- it's entirely possible. In fact, once I asked for help, it was much easier. That's the meat and bones of what I have to tell you today- how important it is to ask for help.

It's not easy- in fact, it was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do in my life, and that includes making it through my four stays in psychiatric wards for my bipolar disorder. But before those even happened, I had to accept that I had a problem and decide that what I wanted to do was get help for that problem. I began this process alone and afraid- struggling with the most severe and frightening symptoms of Bipolar one disorder and clawing my way through the day with my intense sensory problems due to my Autism. At my best, I was depressed and unable to function. At my worst, I spent days in bed, unable to find the love I knew was hiding somewhere deep down for my favorite classes that I desperately wanted to continue taking.

In the end, I had to take a year off for mental health reasons, and it scared me. This choice- to leave school- was a daunting one. I didn't want to leave my favorite place, this wonderful university, for the unknown of a year of intense therapy and hospitalizations, but with the aid of my parents and the school counselors here at Memphis they convinced me to go, and a year later I came back flourishing, with better grades than ever and a GPA of 3.68. Now I'm even Magna Cum Laude. When my father almost died in January of 2019, the entire university community once more offered their help and I took another semester off to help him, and the rest of my family, heal. I owe it to the University of Memphis, especially the anthropology department and the Disability Resources for Students office, for their great help.

As the great poet John Donne once said, we are not islands- we are tigers! And tigers are brave, tigers are strong- but strength is nothing without acknowledging and understanding weakness. Your weakness is nothing to be ashamed of. With the help and assistance of your friends, family, peers, and colleagues, your weaknesses and problems can be worked on, cared for, and taken care of until you stand as proud and strong as I am, here, on this stage, speaking to you. The greatest wisdom I can give you as a friend and a graduate is to ask for that help that you need- not just because it will help you get better, but because it is always there for you, without a doubt. Someone is there to offer it to you. Take advantage of it, and you won't regret it. All you have to do is ask.