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Rochelle Louis's Charge to the Class of 2016

Good Morning, President Harrison, Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, family and friends, and particularly the Class of 2016. This moment is for you. This moment is a chance to reflect back on all we have gone through, how far we have come, and how much farther we have left to go.

This moment is a time to remember the doubts and fears that threatened our progress, and for the times it felt like it was all too much and we just wanted to give up or give in. This is for the all-nighters, and the seemingly infinite number of papers, exams, and assignments that we completed. This moment is for every time you got back up when you stumbled. For every obstacle that you were able to overcome and for every step that you took that led you to exactly where you are today – a college graduate.

Reaching this milestone has not been easy for any of us. Four years ago, we came into a new environment, strangers to each other, many of us far away from home, and for the first time in our lives we had to take full responsibility for ourselves. There were no rules or curfews, or someone telling us how or when to do our work. It was up to us to go out there and accomplish our goals.

For some of us, adjusting to college life came naturally but I know, that for many others, there were struggles. Some of us faced social difficulties, while others struggled academically, and most of us struggled to find a balance between school, work, and maintaining a social life. And of course, as great as it is to live with friends, day and night for nine months of the year, it was also challenging. These times taught us that some of the most valuable lessons we learned on this campus did not occur in the classroom but in the relationships that we worked to maintain with one another despite our differences. We discovered that conflict could not be resolved by ignoring one another, or by burying our feelings. We learned that those nights that we never made it to bed because we were trying to mend broken bonds were worth it. Gaining the courage to speak to one another and open up in order to get through conflicts, as well as the maturity to listen and understand from the perception of another person, are the experiences that have contributed to our personal growth during our time here.

But along with the personal and academic struggles of undergraduate life, there have been numerous great moments. During these years, we have formed friendships that we will hold onto for a lifetime, and met amazing people that we wish we had known from the beginning. Some of us fell in love, although I wasn’t so lucky in that department. We have had the opportunity to travel, study abroad, go to conferences, perform, lead, and inspire. We have met wonderful people, and had historical moments, such as when President Barack Obama came to our school. The excitement of that moment, was palpable throughout the entire University as we felt the honor of such an important figure addressing our student body. And so it is these instances, frozen in time, that should bring us great pride. We have had so many opportunities to learn things that we had not known existed, to discover our talents, and find our passions, all of which now give us a new sense of purpose.

In college you begin to realize just how big the world is, how much there is yet to learn, and as a consequence the opportunities we have to enrich our communities. It is easy to feel insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but all of our actions and interests, can make a difference even if only to a small group of people. And maybe that is the important thing to remember, that it is not necessarily about changing the world by ourselves, but understanding how making a small difference using all of the skills that we have learned during our time here, can help us to change the world together. As has been said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” (Margaret Mead)

So today I congratulate all of you on your accomplishments, and for making it this far despite the stress, heartaches, and losses that you might have faced. Let us celebrate the strength and will that you displayed during trying moments and remember this day forever as a reflection of your character, that you are and will always be capable of accomplishing anything you set your mind to. No matter what your next step is, whether it is graduate school, starting your career, travel, internships, or whatever it is you may choose to do, I know that you will be successful. The world is yours to take and to take care of.

To the professors, and staff who we have encountered during the past four years and who have guided us along the way, thank you. We think of the people who were always there for us not only during the good times, but more importantly during the difficult times when we needed support, love, and understanding. So to everyone who has shown us kindness, concern, and mentored us, we all are forever grateful. And lastly, to everyone who has come out to celebrate this day with us, mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, friends, and family we love you, you’ve been missed and we’re looking forward to spending some time with you before we embark upon the next great journey of our lives!

Congratulations Everyone!