Text of my Commencement Speech

Here it is! – Geoff

Good evening, everyone.   I want to congratulate all of my fellow Lincoln Tech graduates, and I want to thank the Lincoln Tech faculty and staff that helped make this possible.  And all of you, friends and family, also deserve our thanks for all of your support.  As Thurgood Marshall once said, “None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody – a parent, a teacher, an Ivy League crony or a few nuns – bent down and helped us pick up our boots.”

Most commencement speeches are full of quotes by famous people, such as Dr. Seuss.  Don’t get me wrong, I think Dr. Seuss is ok, but I just don’t really see this moment as an “Oh the Places You’ll Go” sort of moment.  It is a time to acknowledge how far we have come, and also how far we have yet to go.  Most of you are not like me – you are still young.  But like me, I am pretty sure that you did not have an Ivy League crony to help you out.  I dare say that Lincoln Tech does not have a legacy admissions policy, and I am quite glad that is the case.  All of us made it here today by the sweat of our own brows.  Many of us have endured the sorts of issues that those ivory tower country club kids have never even heard of: enduring long-term unemployment (19 months in my case); working part-time or even full time while attending classes here; struggling with health issues; worrying about how to pay the bills; having to raise children alone, not speaking English as a first language.  Many of us spent years learning at the so-called school of hard knocks, being educated by the reality of our lives.  As New Bedford native Herman Melville once said, “A whale ship was my Yale College and my Harvard.”   I dare say that none of us ever hunted whales with a hand harpoon, but many of us have worked construction, or retail, or food service, or security, or served our country in the military.  And none of us have let life deter us from trying to improve our situations, despite numerous obstacles thrown in our way.

Looking at some of you here, I am reminded of some stories from my own family.  My grandfather, who finished his GED when he was older than I am now, never stopped trying to better himself.  My aunt, who got married and raised three kids, went back to college to finish her degree while in her forties.  I have seen some of you work night jobs and then come in to class the next day.  I know a fellow NCIS student who, despite major medical issues and nearly becoming homeless, made it to class every day without fail, and still managed to keep many of us laughing despite his own considerable pain.  Just as our pasts have helped lead us up to this moment, our classes and externships have helped lead us to the next phase of our lives, which for some of us has already begun.  After being unemployed for so long, it feels great to finally be doing the sort of IT job I have always wanted to do.  In March I started working at Northeastern University as an IT Security Analyst.  It is, quite frankly, one of my dream jobs.  And do I feel any sense of regret, having not reached this goal until I was 40 years old?  No.  Even if I could, I am not sure I would change anything, because the sum of my experiences, good and bad, has helped make me who I am now.  Yes, I have a great job now, but I have not always had a great job.  I have been a construction worker, a landscaper, a janitor, a waiter, a stock boy, a pizza cook, a security guard, and a machine gunner in an infantry platoon.  I have worked in a video store, a garden center, an electronics store, a bookstore, a cell phone kiosk, and a grocery store.   Some might look at a list like this and shake their heads, wondering where I went wrong.  My reply would be that I have not gone wrong at all. Is it better to go through life having everything handed to you on a silver platter, never having to confront adversity?  Or is it better to learn from your experiences, good AND bad and thus become a stronger, wiser person, ready to take a swing at whatever curve balls life decides to throw at you?

One of my favorite writers is Concord native Ralph Waldo Emerson.  In 1841 he published a book of essays that included an essay called Self-Reliance, in which he said this:

 If our young men miscarry in their first enterprises, they lose all heart. If the young merchant fails, men say he is ruined. If the finest genius studies at one of our colleges, and is not installed in an office within one year afterwards in the cities or suburbs of Boston or New York, it seems to his friends and to himself that he is right in being disheartened, and in complaining the rest of his life. A sturdy lad from New Hampshire or Vermont, who in turn tries all the professions, who teams it, farms it, peddles, keeps a school, preaches, edits a newspaper, goes to Congress, buys a township, and so forth, in successive years, and always, like a cat, falls on his feet, is worth a hundred of these city dolls. He walks abreast with his days, and feels no shame in not ‘studying a profession,’ for he does not postpone his life, but lives already. He has not one chance, but a hundred chances.

Make no mistake: Emerson is saying that any of you, who struggled against many obstacles and adversities to get here, is worth a hundred trust fund kids.  I will take any of you over them any day.  And I am proud to say I am one of you.

So congratulations, my fellow Lincoln Tech graduates.  You have most certainly earned it.

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4 thoughts on “Text of my Commencement Speech”

  1. Beyond marvelous. I only wish I could have been there to see the result of your honest eloquence in the eyes of your fellow students and their support.

    1. It was nice. I got a lot of positive responses. People I didn’t know came up to shake my hand. Even people in the audience. So I guess it made the impression I hoped for when I wrote it.

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