Colorado College Commencement, May 19, 2003 -- Senior Address
By Quana Rochelle,
"How do We Continue to Make Meaning of Our Lives?"
Now that I have invested over $120,000 into my wonderful college education,
the local McDonald's is going to embrace me with open arms. I will critically
reflect about my job as I flip burgers -- I will deeply engage with customers
as a cashier -- and even though I'm only making $6.75 an hour, I will make meaning
of my experience. Isn't this the promise of the liberal arts education? Making
meaning? Prior to arriving at Colorado College, I was working at McDonalds as
a high school student, to support myself and to save money for college. As proud
as I was of my job, I set goals to get a college degree and to pursue my bigger
dreams. But after attending college for 4 years, I'm afraid that I'm not going
to achieve my dreams. And I'm afraid that I'm going to disappoint my parents,
family members, and friends who want the best for me. I don't know about the
rest of you, but I feel awful when people ask me "What are you doing after graduation?"
-- Because I feel guilty for saying "I don't know" or "I'm going home for now."
I hope I didn't just scare the parents, but I wanted to acknowledge the fact that many of my classmates and myself are frustrated. We are frustrated, because we are a group of dreamers experiencing difficulty in making our immediate goals happen. It's hard to not get discouraged, when you feel like you have a better chance of finding the pot of gold, at the end of the lucky charms rainbow, than finding a decent job. The current economy is rough.
However, even if we don't have some amazing job opportunity lined up right after graduation, we can continue to make meaning of our lives. This brings me to the focus of my speech, "How do we continue to make meaning of our lives after Graduation -- especially given the difficult economy?" When I first started thinking about this question, I turned towards my great grandma Eva, because she is wise and always gives good advice. But, before I share with you her wisdom, let me give you a little background about her. My great grandma Eva was born in 1922 and grew up on an old plantation in Georgia, where her father was a sharecropper. She only attended school for a few weeks a year, because she had to spend most of her time, picking soybeans and cotton, to help her family make ends meet. As a young black woman in the 1940s, my great grandma Eva worked as a domestic servant for white people, because it was the only work available at the time. During WWII she sewed tents for American Soldiers, and throughout the 1950's and 60's, she struggled with the intense problems of racism.
I have a deep admiration for my great Grandma Eva, because of her outlook on life. Despite all the hardships that she has lived through, she still says, " I have been blessed and I have lived a good life. It's been hard, but it's been good." One day, I was complaining to her about my endless job searching and my fear of being a failure, since I didn't have some extraordinary job lined up after graduation. And she said, "Quana, you'll fall, but you get back up again. If you get started on your dream, and it's not working out as you planned, keep trying." So when making meaning of our lives after graduation, we must remember not to lose sight of our dreams. Because sometimes we will fall. And sometimes there will be obstacles (let it be a poor economy, not getting into your graduate program or not receiving the fellowship that you worked so hard for. But despite the obstacles, we must learn how to "get back up" and to "keep trying."
The first time I really learned this lesson was when I was in 6th grade. My friends and I were talking about our dreams of going to college. And some of my friends mentioned how much money they had in their college funds. Since I was naive, I just assumed I had a college fund too. After school, I went home that day and asked my parents, "How much is in my college fund?" And they looked at me kind of funny and said something along the lines of, "Baby, you don't have a college fund. Most people can't afford it. You'll have to work for it." Hearing this, devastated me and knocked me down.
Now, I could have given up on my dream of going to college, since I didn't have the money. But, instead I got back up and I kept trying. I promised myself that I would work as hard as I could, to earn good grades, so I could get scholarships for college. And you know what? That promise motivated me to be my best throughout junior high and high school, and helped me get to where I am today. There will always be roadblocks or things that discourage us. But sometimes they are mixed blessings that allow us to become stronger.
I know that most of you are worried about your futures, but we need to remember what we are taking from our liberal arts education. We are leaving CC with the tools of critical thinking, great communications skills, performing well under pressure and adaptability. But most importantly, we are leaving with a mindset that allows us to dream big, to see the world as a place of opportunity, and to reflect and grow from all our experiences. This kind of mindset gives us confidence that we can change the world and hopefully one day say, "I have been blessed and I have lived a good life."
Seniors are also concerned about this transition, because we are challenged to define a "meaningful life" for ourselves -- this can be difficult to say the least. For most of our lives, the structures of academia have dictated our identity and definitions of a meaningful life. We have evaluated ourselves in terms of grades, extracurricular activities, and partying. And most of us have always looked towards society or other people -- let it be our parents, our friends, our coaches, or our teachers -- to define success for us. But graduation represents a significant transition. For the first time in our lives, we must play an active role in creating the structures that will reflect our identity and goals. We must honestly ask ourselves, "What is the definition of a meaningful life for me?" And "How do I define success?"
As a philosophy major, I'm partial to the Socratic method, and have learned to answer a question with more questions. Thus, in order to know what a meaningful life is to you, ask yourself the following: "Who am I? What kind of person do I want to become? What are my gifts? And how do I want to use these gifts to make a difference?" The answers to these questions will help guide you in creating a meaningful life.
Building community will also help you make meaning, after graduation. Throughout my life, I have learned that your relationships with your friends, family, loved ones and neighbors, is what makes life rich and helps you get through difficult times. Wherever your journey takes you, become apart of a community. Strive to not only enjoy the benefits of a strong community, but also contribute to it. Make it better. The people here have been the most powerful part of my Colorado College experience. I'm sure that we are all grateful for the friends and inspirational teachers who have made a difference in our lives by attending college. However, often times we take those people for granted. So, before you leave, tell the people who have made a difference in your life here "Thank You," because you never know what the next moment will bring.
Once again, "How do we continue to make meaning of our lives after graduation?" By keeping sight of our dreams, defining success and a meaningful life for ourselves, and fostering community wherever we go.
Congratulations Class of 2003 and may you be blessed!