May 2018 Graduation Address by Ashli B. Martin


Often in life, we dwell on how frustrating it is to face obstacles on a path that may have already been rocky. More specifically, we can all agree that we are here today with the feeling of relief because we have gotten through what may seem to be our very own Odyssey. I know that I have been a victim of the "let's get this over with!" attitude when it came to either sitting in my Biology lectures, being held hostage by the infamous train on Southern Avenue, or even thinking about my journey through college as a whole. But what is the merit in rushing to the good part to reap the benefits? If we were to fast forward to the ending of the fairy-tale without reading about the fear, helplessness, and heartache the protagonist experienced, the happy ending would not be of much value to us, would it? This relates directly to us as we are standing in the midst of our own fairy-tale right now. But it's not that simple. Our degree is not simply another accolade that collects dust on a shelf, but it is a reminder of our value through experience. To understand this concept, I'll dissect the true meaning of the word value.

The letter V stands for Vaccine. Dr. Carlos Estrano taught me in Virology how vaccines work. In a nutshell, you're stuck with a needle, and injected with the exact illness that you want to prevent. Your body then goes into battle mode by fighting the sample of the virus to condition its immunity against the sickness. Isn't this ironic? To be triumphant over a hardship, your comfort must be compromised first. However, the value that imbues your situation is only granted once you realize the outcome is more important than the struggle. Secondary to the epidemic of Senioritis, we have shown symptoms of stress, self-doubt, and procrastination, but because we conditioned our minds to invest in our futures, just like our bodies, we are stronger than ever.

A is for attitude. By definition, attitude is a settled way of thinking or feeling about someone or something, typically one that is reflected in a person's behavior. I know many of us have heard the quote "Attitude determines altitude." And why is that? It is because in order to make our bodies perform a certain way, we must demand our minds to believe it first. Yes, we are driven by doing, but in order to accomplish the great that is within us so that we may cultivate society around us, we must train our minds first. Instead of having buyers' remorse due to the stress of student loans, we have all adjusted our attitudes to knowing that we are investing in our future. This outweighs any hardship, consequence, and decision we have ever had to face.

The letter L stands for life. Often, we reflect on this word in a negative context. For example, when an unfortunate circumstance takes place, many would respond, "Welp, that's life." But this is not the perception of life that we were intended to have. Life should be exciting, emotional, and a mystery, but instead we lose sight on how valuable life is. Aubrey Drake Graham once said, "Everybody dies, but not everybody lives," so whether you are dedicating this walk across the stage to a life you are expecting, or a life you have lost, know that the steps you took to make it this far are what make this moment mean something special. And the best part about this is, we're not even done. Your new life starts right now.

U stands for unparalleled. There are over 7 billion people in the world today and there is only one you. Regardless of if you are the oldest of 14 grandchildren or an identical triplet, there is no one in the world like you. As good as it feels to know that right now, it took me until 2017 to embody that fact. College can sometimes create competitive barriers between the students that are further reinforced in society. We compare ourselves to others and when we don't match the standard society has placed on us, we feel incapable and small. I heard once that everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life thinking that it is stupid. Although there are many paths we take in life, the most important path to take is our own.

Last but not least, E represents empowerment. Every time I hear this word my brain automatically cues "Who Run the World" by Beyoncé. To be empowered means to be personally motivated to complete a task or accomplish a goal. Emphasis on personally motivated, because there are many outside factors that influence the decisions we make. As a natural competitor, I not only wanted to make straight A's, I wanted to make all 100's. I was more concerned with what I could physically gain from my hard work, rather than training myself for the work ahead. I made the mistake of allowing this numerical value to define me rather than allowing it to compliment who I truly was. Remember future alumni, the journey to this moment holds value because of the difficulties we have faced. What separates the mediocre from the great is one's ability to work not outside or around a predicament, but to work within and among the chaos to handle the unforeseen.

As we move our tassels from the right to the left, we must be empowered to continue to achieve the greatness within us. Surely, this is not the final stop on our academic journey, although there are many times where we wish it were. Continue to be empowered in order to spark motivation in others. As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously allow others to do the same.

Congratulations Class of 2018!

Thank you.