May 2018 Graduation Address by B. Jack Wyatt

To the University of Memphis' graduating class of 2018, one assignment at a time, one exam at a time, one class at a time, one semester at a time, today May 5th 201, our time has come! If you are graduating with your bachelor's degree, you are part of only 33 % of Americans who had what it took to achieve such an accomplishment. If you are receiving a master's degree, you make up only 11% of the population that was willing to go the extra mile, and if you are obtaining your doctorate degree today, you are in the top 3% of the highest educated individuals in America. Congratulations to all of you!

Degrees are not awarded they are earned
College can be rewarding, but it does come with its challenges when obtaining a degree. Those of us graduating today did not feed into the notions we often hear such as, "I don't have time to go back to school", "it would take too long", or "I can't afford it." Instead of coming up with excuses, many of us have sacrificed countless time with our friends and families, traveled long distances to get to campus, raised children, and worked full time jobs while attending school. We know all too well about sleepless nights, the anxiety of studying for exams, being homesick, trying to manage multiple tasks, meeting impossible deadlines, and the financial hardships that come with college life. While our friends were out having a good time on Friday nights, we were curled up on the couch with a textbook and a highlighter. Degrees are not awarded, they are earned.

My Story
7 years ago, because of many years of bad decisions and a debilitating substance use disorder, I was a high school dropout, homeless, unemployed and living on the streets. I attempted college a few times, but because of my substance use disorder, I failed many classes and continued to drop out of school. On July 9th, 2011, I entered into long term recovery and decided to give life one last chance. When I first started back to college, I was living in a homeless shelter and my only transportation was a bicycle that I found in a dumpster. However, I was determined to go to any length for my recovery, to get an education and to change the ending of my story.

Through a lot of challenges, hard work, determination, and the support of The University of Memphis, in 2016, I graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in Social Work. Today, I have the honor of receiving a Master's degree in Social Work. I am a proud member of the Adult Student Association and currently serve as the President of the Phi Alpha Honor Society graduating with a 4.0 GPA.

While earning my bachelor's degree, I went to work for a project funded by the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services where I was able to create many recovery programs, help100's of individuals get off the streets, and to advocate for social justice.
Last year while in grad school, I was promoted to become the Executive Director of The Memphis Area Prevention Coalition where I help organize the alcohol and drug prevention efforts in Shelby County.

The Reason
Each and every one of you has a unique story of the challenges you had to overcome to obtain a college degree. I share my story of going from living on the streets to obtaining a master's degree for one reason...that everyone here students, faculty, friends and family will hear a message of hope. That message is this...If at any time in your life you find yourself in a place that you don't want to be, you do not have to stay there. You have the choice to rewrite the ending of your story. I believe that everyone here has a purpose in life. For me its social justice, for some of you its business, education, nutrition or hospitality. Whatever it is that drives you, from the core of who you are, that is where you find your purpose. For some of you, that purpose led you here today. For others, you will find that purpose as you leave here and start the next chapter of your life. But please remember this, when you find what you were meant to do in life, you owe it to yourself and to the world to become the absolute best at what you do. If you don't, you not only miss out on finding your place in this world but you change that simple twist of fate that would allow countless others to benefit from what you have to offer society.

The most valuable lesson I've ever learned is, "you are the company you keep." To the students, staff and faculty of The University of Memphis, you are the best company I could have ever asked to encounter on this journey. I am honored to be able to celebrate the accomplishments of each and every one of you.

Driven by Doing
Our motto here at The University of Memphis is "Driven by Doing." It means something different to all of us. To the graduating class of 2018, I want to leave you with this. We are the future of America. May we always keep the words "Driven by Doing" in our hearts. Let us take that same hard work, determination and perseverance it took to overcome the challenges of obtaining a college degree and let's go out and change the world. Let us not leave here today looking to simply start a career but instead let us leave here today and look for opportunities to change humanity forever simply by becoming who we were always meant to be. Thank you and God Bless.