So I know that this is a bit late, but it was a crazy holiday! Some of you may not know, but I applied to be the student speaker at Eastern Kentucky University’s Fall 2012 Commencement. I was one of three finalists, but inevitably was not chosen as the speaker. Although I believe the speaker chosen did an excellent job, I do wish that I would have been able to tell my story to an audience of my peers. So in that spirit, I wish to share my speech with you. I must say that this is an abridged version – the full biography would fill much more than four minutes!
So here goes…
In the spring of 2002, I went to a professor to ask for help. I was studying as hard as I knew how, but I was still coming up short on my grade in the class. I told him that I wanted to do well, and I asked him what I could do differently in order to do better. He asked me if I partied a lot, or if I was homesick. That, to him and his perspective of me, was the only thing that made sense as to why I was failing his exams. He told me that some people just didn’t have the capability of excelling as a Pre-Veterinary Major, and perhaps I should consider other paths.
I was utterly devastated; being a veterinarian was the only thing that I had ever wanted to do. I spent my childhood taking in stray dogs and helping cats give birth to their kittens. I knew so much about animals, and truly loved them with all my heart. I asked myself the same question almost every day after that – what is it that I’m supposed to do?
As the years past, I slowly lost myself day by day. I changed my major many times, lost interest, and eventually quit school all together. I found myself on a path that I had never envisioned. I was working in a restaurant as a server, barely making ends meet and drinking almost every single day. Alcohol had taken over every aspect of my life. I planned everything around drinking, and before I knew it, I had hit rock bottom.
I want to thank my family – my mom, dad and sister for being the ones to stick with me, and hold my hand through the darkest days of my life. I feel confident to say I wouldn’t be alive today, standing here in front of you, if it weren’t for them and the grace of my Lord and Savior.
I found my salvation on a hilltop graveyard in the heart of Appalachia. I cried to my grandmother, and promised her that one day she would look down upon me and be proud.
From this promise came great struggles. I found a job in sales, and eventually worked my way into a company that gave me the benefit of paying for my college education. I came to Eastern Kentucky University in the spring of 2011, with the hope of finally becoming a college graduate.
Last spring, I was given an unusual assignment of writing my own obituary. I honestly thought forecasting my life, and death, was a morbid and challenging task; yet, when I sat down to write, the words came so naturally. As I read and re-read the words on my computer screen I couldn’t believe it. All the trials and tribulations of my past led to me to this very moment. The moment when I realized I could still be who I wanted to be as a child. I could still be a doctor, and help both animals and people.
Although my future seems so clear, some of you may still be overcoming obstacles, and as I stand here I must tell you that they will always be there. I stand up here as a girl who let someone else tell her that her future wasn’t possible, and it took me 10 years to get back on track. Don’t ever stop seeking who you are; don’t ever let anyone tell you that you aren’t smart enough or strong enough.
Today we will walk from this stage proud college graduates, but I ask that you don’t stop there. We must serve as advocates to those uncertain in their paths. Through our successes, we show others how hard work and knowledge paves the way to greater things. Together, we serve as exemplars of higher education. Together, we are the future.
I hoped that these words would inspire an audience, but I am confident that actions speak louder than words. I walked that stage on December 15, 2012 with tears in my eyes and a smile. To God be the glory.