As you look around, you will see that you are surrounded by hundreds of people who have their own unique story. Somewhere, they intersected for the chapter in our lives spent at the University of New Haven. Aside from the fact that we were all students, our stories are filled with experiences as members of organizations, leaders, teammates, employees, interns, researchers, volunteers, travelers, and the list goes on and on. Our courses enabled us to expand our knowledge and think more critically about the world around us. We made memories and we gained connections and relationships with people that will be cherished forever. Every element of our experience has become part of our story, and has helped shape us to be the people we are today.
Prior to the experiences and opportunities I had during my time at the University, I was a completely different person. I could not see my true potential because I was blinded by fear, anxiety, and very little self-confidence. Throughout my journey to discovering my potential, I’ve had incredible people in my life who supported me and believed in me when I did not believe in myself. I am so grateful for every single person who invested time and energy in my life and who helped me discover things within myself that I did not know existed. I cannot express how much I appreciate their continued support, encouragement, and inspiration. I hope to make you all proud, and I will strive toward helping others as you have helped me.
During my time at the University, I pushed myself further out of my comfort zone time after time, and I went on to do several things that I convinced myself I was incapable of doing. But that transformation did not happen instantly. If you reflect on your own unique transformation, from who you were when you first came to the University to who you are today, you may agree that it was not instantaneous, nor was it an easy thing to accomplish. To be the people we are today, we experienced many proud and defining moments. We also endured many challenges and hardships. Despite those difficulties, we overcame them all, and now, we are here.
We have proven to ourselves that we are stronger than we think, more intelligent than we know, and more incredible than we can imagine. Our presence here at this Commencement ceremony is evidence that our resilience, hard work, and dedication can enable us to achieve any and every goal we set for ourselves.
In this moment, we are all feeling a wide range of emotions, and we have many different thoughts going through our minds. Some of you may feel excited, nervous, joyous, or full of fear. Some of us are extremely excited to embark on this next chapter, or sad that this chapter is coming to an end. Some of us have a plan in place; others are still trying to figure out what is next. Regardless of how you are feeling or where you are in your journey, above all else, I hope that you are proud of yourselves. All of those late nights, early mornings, and long days spent working toward making it here are about to pay off.
I hope you all know that you now possess a great deal of skills, talents, insights, and experiences that you have developed or acquired at the University. These are not only assets for you, but to the world around us. Every experience, every lesson, every failure, and every accomplishment is a building block for the foundation of our success that started at the University. And today, we must decide if we are going to move forward and continue to build upon that success.
That process may not always be easy, but you have made it this far, and I know that you can go further. Moving into the next chapter in our lives, we will have to work harder than we have ever worked, and we may face challenges more difficult than those we have faced in the past. We must dream bigger dreams to achieve higher goals. We must not make room for fear or anything else that will take space away from the excellence and potential we have inside of us. Once we truly embrace our potential and decide to commit to our success, I believe that we will indeed succeed. With all the potential we have inside of us, we owe it to ourselves, to those who currently stand beside us, to those who came before us, and to those who will come after us to decide to continue the success that started here, allowing the greatness we have within to radiate everywhere we go and in everything we do.
As we celebrate the people we are today, we must also celebrate the people we will become. I believe that you all have the power to decide who that person you will be. The poet Nikki Giovanni once said, "I think we are all capable of tremendous beauty once we decide we are beautiful."
Those words are so powerful to me because it makes me think about all the incredible things we are capable of once we decide who we are. Once we decide who we are and embrace what we are capable of doing, we are so unstoppable that nothing and no one – not even ourselves – can stop us from doing the extraordinary things we are destined to do in this world.
As this chapter of our lives comes to an end, a new chapter will begin. We will continue our unique stories and achieve many great things, if that is what we decide to do.
Congratulations to my fellow graduates on all that you’ve accomplished, who you’ve become, and who you will decide to be.
Thank you, President Kaplan, for that warm introduction. And to the University for giving me this honor today. And thank you to everyone who has come today for your support, and to those who were unable to make it, as well.
A couple of weeks ago, I asked President Kaplan for advice on commencement speeches and he told me to "keep it brief and funny." Mine is neither.
How serendipitous that my honor society stoles should be red and white – and if anyone’s willing, I could borrow a blue one – because I’d like to go back to the beginning, even before college, back when my family first immigrated to the U.S. from Turkey. I was 4 years old, and I spoke no English. I went to school, but I had no idea what was being said around me. When the class got up to leave, I had no idea if we were going to another class, gym, lunch, or on a field trip (and half days were especially confusing). It was normal that I would bring my packed lunch with me to computer class or gym, or that I would forget it in the classroom when we actually went to lunch. As a child, I didn’t feel embarrassed by those incidents, so it didn’t bother me at first.
For several years, I struggled to learn the language, the social etiquette, the culture, everything. Cartoons were nothing more than colorful action sequences with gibberish noises. I would go home to my Turkish family and friends, and we would act a certain way. I would go to school, and everyone would act a different way.
Time passed, and eventually, I learned English – those cartoons paid off. But with great power came great responsibility. I spoke English, but my parents did not. So, I needed to translate for my parents in our day to day lives. I tried to explain all the papers that got sent home, but sometimes, the words were too big. I recall having to translate in person in real time. I would whisper in their ear what they had to say, what was said to them, and correct their mistakes. Something as simple as asking for extra ketchup at a McDonald’s was a daunting task.
And yet here I am today. Standing before all of you, giving a speech on my origin story. It’s nothing like Batman’s, but it’s mine. It was Batman who once said, "It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me." We do what we do is because of what we are, and we are what we are because of the difficulties we’ve had to go through. I think Batman would agree.
Closer to the present, several years ago, we all immigrated to the University of New Haven. We were tested, filled out paperwork, and anxiously waited for good news. We headed out with only our necessities to a land we might not have ever been to but had heard good things about. Once we arrived, we had to adapt. Our social lives were different, and the people and resources we’d once relied upon weren’t nearby anymore. We were in an unfamiliar environment with mostly strangers, so we formed little groups of friends. The rules were different, the people were different, and the culture unique. But we sought to better ourselves, so we dealt with it. And we couldn’t have done it without our community and the guidance we received. May we all be guided throughout our lives as we have been at the University of New Haven. Thank you.
For weeks, I toiled over what to say in my speech. I talked about it with my friends, my parents, my coworkers. I even tried to crowdsource content. But on the night before the deadline, I came to the harsh realization that all I had were some generic phrases and chicken scratch. And I hated all of it.
I opened up my computer and stared at a blank page. I don’t think I can do this.
As I stared at the empty page in front of me, many gave the same advice, "You can do it. Just think: what do you want to say to everyone?" This only made it worse.
I didn’t sleep last night. I’m too tired. I can’t do this. I made a mistake.
But here’s the thing: I didn’t make a mistake. I knew I wanted to be standing here. But what was I going to say? What would be meaningful to everyone in this room? What did I want my grandma to hear after I didn’t even GO to my undergraduate graduation ceremony?
This would be big. I wanted it to matter. And I was scared that it wouldn’t.
But here’s the problem with trying to come up with a flavor that 5,000 are going to like: you’ll end up with water.
And so to keep this speech from being a watered-down version of what I think everyone wants to hear, I’m going to speak my truth to you today.
There were many times when I did not feel good enough over the last two years. Whether that was in class, having known very little about organizational psychology, at my internship, or even in my personal relationships.
I saw this self-doubt as my enemy, as something I had to overcome. I believed that I wouldn’t be able to live freely or happily as long as I carried it with me. But that simply isn’t true.
Last year, I read a book by Steven Pressfield, an advocate for creativity and overcoming the type of resistance that always follows the moment one decides to pursue their passion.
To paraphrase: Fear is good. Fear tells us what we have to do. The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more certain we can be that we have to do it.
Steve was onto something. Because when we encounter a new challenge or opportunity that ignites something deep within us, that’s terrifying. The stakes are high, it matters so much. We question our excitement, we question our ability to do our work in this world.
So I ask you:
Where were you when you were wrapping up your application to the University? Where were you when you clicked "submit"? And I don’t mean what room of the house or what Starbucks you were in. But where was your mind?
Despite working long hours in a career that I wasn’t in love with, feeling intellectually stagnant and creatively stifled, I still doubted whether clicking "submit" was the right thing to do. After being out of school for two years and swearing I would never go back, I thought, Maybe I can’t do this.
Don’t get me wrong, I had a brief moment of relief – it’s out of my hands. They want me, or they don’t. But this feeling didn’t last long. Let a couple days go by not knowing if you’ll be renewing your lease, or finding a new job, or making new friends. And all of a sudden, that same relief is now complete terror. And instead: "eh, they want me or they don’t" turns into "but what if they don’t?"
The good news is, we’re all here because they did.
But I would bet that at one point, most of us weren’t sure if we were making the right decision. Most of us weren’t sure if we were good enough.
Self-doubt marks the edge of our comfort zone. It’s the caution tape that keeps us safe. It keeps us doing what we’ve always done. But it also keeps us unfulfilled.
By its very nature, self-doubt comes from within. My challenge to you is to not view your self-doubt as a barrier that you need to cross, or resistance that you need to overcome, but as a sign. A sign telling you what you have to do.
We can’t grow, we can’t learn, we can’t click "submit," or write a speech for 5,000 people if we’re resisting the signs. If we’re getting in our own way.
Let your fear guide you. Call upon the friends you made here. If you are lucky enough to be moving into post-grad life with less ambiguity, I promise you that at one point, just as before, your future will be unclear. You will ask yourself: Am I good enough? And you will say, I can’t do this.
The difficult and somewhat daunting role of student commencement speakers lies in the idea that commencement speeches are meant to be relatively inspirational and to convey some amount of advice and wisdom. When sitting down to write this speech, I very quickly realized a few things:
I am 21; which leads somewhat into number two,
I have very little life experience
I have NO experience in the world post-graduation; and finally,
I have almost nothing to offer in terms of advice pertaining to how to be successful, happy, adventurous, the list goes on.
So I was stuck. What on Earth was I supposed to talk about if I have no extraordinary advice or experiences to share? At that point, I did what any experienced college student would do: I stopped working and went to bed. But I realized, who better to speak to you at Commencement than someone who is in exactly the same boat? Someone who has also pulled all-nighters in the library, been both the overachiever and the slacker in group projects, and so much more. Collectively, these experiences have helped to form our college experience, and they have assisted in making us the college graduates that we are very soon to be.
Over the past few years, our campus has transformed; as have we. We’ve witnessed growth in ourselves that we didn’t think possible, and we’ve challenged ourselves every step of the way to push boundaries and exceed expectations. However, what we will remember from our time at the University lies in the experiences we’ve had, friends we’ve made, and memories we will cherish long after today is over. Since sitting down to write this speech, I’ve realized a few things.
I am 21; which means that I have a lot of living left to do – and there’s nothing wrong with that.
I have very little life experience, but my worth to society is not determined by what I have done so far. I have potential, I have motivation and ambition, and – thanks to the University of New Haven – I have opportunity to succeed in whatever I decide to do.
I have no experience in the world post-graduation; but my college experience has prepared me to tackle what is yet to come. I have developed skills in the realms of leadership, communication, resilience, teamwork, global and cultural awareness, and critical thinking – to name a few.
I have almost nothing to offer in terms of advice pertaining to how to be successful, happy, adventurous, etc., but I do have advice pertaining to how to move forward from here. Believe in your ability to succeed and to apply the lessons you have learned throughout your time here and never accept the idea that you lack ability, commitment, or faith in yourself.
At this point, we all have a choice. Will we choose to believe those who say we lack the drive to succeed, or will we leave this University equipped to show the world that we are exactly what they need? I know which path I will choose to follow, and I know that we – as Chargers and as the Class of 2019 – will leave together with the experience, knowledge, support, and NOW the degree to make all of our wildest dreams a reality.
May we continue to learn, grow, and thrive - all the while remembering where we came from.
It’s such an honor to be here, President Kaplan, parents, family, friends, and the show stoppers of the day - my fellow graduates. I am so happy right now that I checked one thing off my bucket list. Yes, being a commencement speaker was on my list, and yes, I have a very weird list. As I share my happiness with you, I request every one of you to close your eyes. I promise you that I am not going to steal your stuff but please take a moment, get comfortable and close your eyes. I want you to take this moment to appreciate the things you have in your life, the people who stood by you, who challenged you, who believed in you, the hardships you faced that made you strong, your accomplishments, big and small. On this day I want you to thank everyone one who has touched your life in ways you cannot explain. I want you to be thankful and to appreciate everything you have in your life because someone out there is wishing to have at least half of what you have today.
To all those who sincerely closed your eyes, thank you, and you may open your eyes now. Like every commencement speech, I wanted to speak about great people and how they succeeded in life. So I picked a very important person and that is – you. Yes, to me, every one of us here is already great. How? Well, today happened because we believed that we could do it, and we did it against all the odds. Finishing college is not easy when life is very good at throwing curve balls at us. "Believe in yourself" is easier said than done. Yet it is the only way to move forward in life. If we want what we never had before, if we want to be where we have never been before, all we have to do is change the way we speak to ourselves with self-doubt and believe that we can do it. I attended a mandatory motivational session for student organizations organized by the Center for Student Engagement, Leadership, and Orientation. I do not remember the speaker’s name, but she asked us to write about "who we are." I started writing: I am a person, I am a human being, I am alive, and other lame things, like I am a shopaholic – to which many of my friends agree. I have serious issues with shopping. There I said it. It was funny at the beginning, but then I saw myself writing things like I am a woman, I am a daughter, a student, I am an achiever, a dreamer, I am successful, I am beautiful, I am kind, I am generous, and I am enough. That’s when I realized "I am" are the two most powerful words and what you put after them shapes your reality. At the end of the session, I felt pretty great about myself, that I am worthy of great things, and I can be anything.
I want in my life because I am everything I need to shape my future. I want you to believe the same – we are what we believe in and we are enough to achieve our goals and dreams.
Coming to the University of Haven has definitely given me a taste of the real world. It taught me that getting what you want and making the most of your time requires that you put yourself out there and step out of your comfort zone to succeed. It taught me how to see a finish line before one exists. That means that every second, every step of the way from where we are right now until we cross the finish line, depends on us, our unwavering will to achieve our dreams and make the right choices along the way. I want us to have a vision of how we want our lives to be. I want us to wake up every single day of our lives and know that we are building something incredible, that we are creating a masterpiece from the ground up. Nobody can see it today, and that is fine, but I want us to see it in our heads. All the successful people that we speak about and look up to, they have seen the unseen and they have worked to bring it to fruition. This, my friends, is the foundation for any person to become successful, to become great. My dad always told me one thing: Successful people don’t do different things, they do things differently. And remember great people are not born – they are made. As we take on our lives, I want us to make good choices, and right decisions. Don’t be scared of change. Don’t be scared to go out of your comfort zone. Let’s take bold decisions and take risks that set us – as a class – apart. Let’s remember that there is no wrong when turning in a right decision – even if it is against the world.
Before I set you guys free, I want to take this moment to thank my dad who must be proudly smiling watch this event live back home in India. Dad, I miss you. Just know that you are my rock and my true inspiration, and I hope I can become half of what you are. I wouldn’t be here if it was not for your faith in me, and I am really lucky to have a father like you.
Finally, I would like to thank all of my friends, classmates, professors, and mentors who helped me get to this point. You have all played an important role in this journey, and I am grateful for all of you for your support and encouragement.
Congratulations again, Class of 2019. Remember: "Be the change you wish to see in the world." Thank You. God bless everyone.