Commencement 2017 Speech Excerpts

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren
Commencement Speaker

"Our democracy depends on you. If democracy for you simply means leaving it to others and letting others set the terms of the political debate, and surrendering the policy decisions to people in faraway Washington, then our country will work better and better for a smaller and smaller number of people. But if democracy for you means connecting up, studying, making thoughtful decisions, and defending them with intelligence and commitment, then this country will flourish."


Noting that Wheelock was founded in 1888 as a training school for kindergarten teachers, Warren said "People were taught to deal with unruly five-year-olds—we could really use that experience in Washington today."


"According to the official White House crowd counters there are over 14 million people here today and I want to thank you all."


Warren noted Wheelock's location within walking distance of Fenway Park, then added, "The Green Monster is the only wall I would like to see in this country."


"I wanted to be here in part because this was an opportunity to honor someone who changed my life: my second-grade teacher, Ms. Lee," said Warren. "One day, she took me aside and told me I could do something with my life. No one had ever told me that before....After Ms. Lee told me I could be a teacher, I saw myself differently."


Kyra Thomas
Undergraduate Student Speaker

Welcome Friends, Family, Faculty, Staff, Alumni, Trustees and Distinguished Guests; thank you for being here today. Class of 2017, both undergraduate and graduate, we did it! All of those late nights and early mornings have paid off because look around you, you have made it to Commencement.

If you would have asked me eight years ago, when I graduated from high school, if I pictured this moment, I would have told you yes, but as time progressed this moment seemed more and more unobtainable. Did I think at 26, I would be holding this degree in my hands proudly saying I am officially a college graduate? Did I think I would be standing here giving this speech? No! Did I think I would have done any of the life changing things I've done since stepping foot on this campus? No I didn't but I'm here and I did it. We did it! E.E Cummings once said, "It takes courage to grow up and become who you truly are." The day I applied and got accepted to Wheelock College as a transfer student, after struggling to find my way and finish community college, was the day I decided it was time to grow up. I sometimes tell people, I decided to transfer schools to avoid taking Statistics. The truth is that may have been true when I decided to leave my old school, but once I was here, I knew I'd made the right choice. Before I came here, I struggled in community college. I excelled in my individual classes but I couldn't see past that moment. I felt like I was stuck what seemed like a forever. I remember feeling like I was a character in a black and white cartoon, sitting at a desk, getting nowhere.

My story has chapters that are told freely, and others that aren't so easily verbalized. Interestingly enough, I smile. At this moment, I smile, because I'm here and I'm alive. Most of my life, I have been told by my support system that I am capable of great things. I didn't always feel that way about myself because self-doubt has always been my biggest enemy. Yes, my support has pushed me, but it was the courage and strength I had to find on my darkest days that pushed me to get out of bed when I felt there was nothing to get out of bed for. I remember days when my hands or my legs hurts so much because of the winter snow and spring rain that I struggle to physically function. I look back and realize it took a lot to be here, in this room. But I'm here! Throughout my life, I've learned having strength and being resilient can be sometimes hard, but having an example of what that may look like in others can point you in the right direction. I look back and think about how homelessness, domestic abuse, depression, anxiety, and many other things seemed to blur my idea of a future. There were times I couldn't even conceptualize this because my mind seemed to be overwhelmed with so much but my support system showed me what resilience and strength could do. Many times, many of you were my support system.

From staff and faculty supporting my educational growth, to my friends and family holding my chin up when I felt like all I could do was look down. Being here at Wheelock has taught me a lot in the classroom, but it has also educated in so many other ways. Here, I pushed past my own expectations and what I believed I was capable of. I learned that I don't have to carry the weight of the world, my world, on my shoulders alone. I learned to go beyond the barriers created by others and myself. Wheelock gave me the desire to inspire. I can't say where I will be in 10 or even 20 years professionally or personally, but I hope it is somewhere inspiring others and creating an impact, as I have been impacted by so many in my time here.

I want to be clear; I am only one person, a representation of this class, of our story. This speech is for every person sitting in this room today and those who aren't able to be here that pushed and found the courage and strength to finish, despite your specific barriers and hardships that made this moment seem impossible. You are here because you found the courage to keep going and the strength to go beyond the expectations set for you by yourself and others. Think about it; every time you had a final or a midterm you weren't confident about, or a 10-page paper you stressed about, it was you who found the strength to complete it despite the unknown outcome. You found courage the moment you decided, "I can do this!" You showed courage the moments when raised your hand in class even if you weren't 100% sure of the answer. That same courage flowed through your veins and became a force to be reckoned with when you decided to speak out against inequalities and injustices. Every protest, every petition, and every sit in or post that spoke out again someone being mistreated or unappreciated took courage. Your courage sparked and shone bright every moment you chose to be a leader, a friend, an ear, and many times a voice. You were courageous, and found the strength to get to this moment. I don't know everyone's individual story but know that they are all important. Your story is what pushed you, motivated you. College is one of the most exciting, confusing, and self-fulfill times in your life because you are finding yourself. Here you are learning the skills to be an adult, and to engage in the world. But just because this chapter is ending doesn't mean the next chapter isn't going to be just as significant. The question is do you have the courage to dive in? Do you have the strength to keep going when feel like it's easier to just stop or give in? I can tell you right now, you do.

Class of 2017, we are leaving here with the skills to create change, to inspire, to impact. Our motto is "To inspire a world of good," and our mission is "To improve the lives of children and families," and as I grown, in my personal and professional life, I will always strive to inspire, and create change to help improve the lives of children and families as I come into contact with them. Although I am here receiving a degree focused in Psychology, I take away skills in Social Work, Education, Art, Communication, Leadership, and many of the other fields that occupy this room. We walk away with a better understanding of what it means to strive for social justice, respect, diversity, global perspective, integrity, and multiculturalism. We now have the skills to collaborate and create a positive change for children and their support systems. This is the moment where we now begin to pass on our courage, our strength, our resilience, and our stories and use them to be a beacon for the world.

I'm going leave you with this; Pablo Picasso said, "The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away." You've spent the last four years finding yourself and your gift. This degree is only a piece of the gift you are now able to give to the world. Don't be afraid to share your gift, your fire, and your knowledge. Don't be afraid to be wrong, to learn. Don't be afraid of change. DON'T BE AFRAID TO SPEAK UP! Don't be afraid to inspire.
From this moment on, have the courage, the strength, and the resilience to embrace what comes next because you already had the courage to take the first steps.
Congratulations Class of 2017!

Wayne Peterson
Graduate Student Speaker

[Let's have another round of applause for Kyra. That was inspiring. I would like to start by thanking the faculty, staff, administration, board of trustees and distinguished guests. I would like to thank my family and my soon-to-be wife, Liz. Most of all I would like to thank my fellow graduates.]

As I stand here with you all and reflect on my time at Wheelock, the more I understand how privileged I have been in my life. I live with an unearned advantage everywhere I go. Aside from the obvious, I grew up in the affluent suburb of Winchester, MA and although I grew up without the money all my peers had, I had access to and benefited from the same education, the same afterschool programs, and the same safety that a small town provides. Whether I realized it at the time or not, (I didn't), I was in a better position and had more opportunity to succeed than millions of other kids my age based purely on where I grew up, it had nothing to do with how hard I worked or how much I volunteered in my community. I came to Wheelock as an undergrad in 2009, graduated in 2013 with a bachelor of arts in history and made the natural next step into the exciting field of Information Technology, right here at Wheelock. A couple of years ago I decided to continue my education and began to pursue my Master's in Nonprofit Leadership, a pursuit that if all goes according to plan, will be completed in a few minutes. I was not inherently better than anyone else, Yet I was in a system that was set as if I were.

Every one of us is privileged: we are the educated few. With this education, we have freedom and opportunity. But that freedom and that opportunity comes with responsibilities. We have a responsibility to help those without a voice speak and provide those without shelter cover. We must empower the weak and nourish the hungry. We must provide the sick child comfort and we must provide the scared parent solace.  Now is the time to use our privilege to balance the scales. To use our education to advance social causes because knowledge is not something to be hoarded but to be spread freely. Wheelock has taught us that supporting a cause is nice but living that cause is more rewarding.

It was Franklin Delano Roosevelt who said, "Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education". Education is liberty itself, the torch in hand-lighting the way through the darkness. Are we to give up now when those who express their choice have chosen irrationally? No, this is when we as Wheelock alumnus educate. Democracy can only succeed when it has an informed and engaged electorate. It is all of our responsibility to carry the torch and shed light on inequity and prejudice wherever it may exist. To provide relief to those trapped by darkness.

We are the educated and we are the educators, the social workers, the child life specialists using the privilege of our education to effect change at a time when it is more important than ever to stand up for what you believe in, to do what is possible to right the wrongs of past generations, to stop the drift of a Society succumbing to hateful rhetoric and renew the commitment to ideals that make this country great. The ideals of inclusion, acceptance and kindness. The very same principles we learn here at Wheelock. Thank you.

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