Congratulations to the SMBHC Class of 2016!
The honors college commissioning took place on Friday, May 13th, at the Gertrude C. Ford Center.
John Yi’s Welcome
Hello everyone. Welcome to the 2016 Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College Graduation. We are so happy to have each and every one of you here to celebrate this time with us at the University of Mississippi. I would personally like to thank every single one of you not just for being with us –tonight-, but also for being an integral part of our wonderful 4-year journey. So, to the teachers, faculty, and thesis advisors: Let me just say that you all are rock-stars. Without your help, we would not have found the appropriate direction for our studies. And to parents, friends, and family: You guys are the all-stars. Without your support, we would not possibly have been able to make it this far. And finally, to the soon-to-be Honors College graduates: We are the rising stars, NOT just citizen scholars, but also citizen leaders on the cusp of incredible civic distinction. So, before you’re on your way to becoming superstars, let me leave you with a thought from John Milton’s elegy, Lycidas. And it’s that…
“Fame is no plant that grows on mortal soil,
nor in the glistering foil
Set off to th’ world, nor in broad rumour lies,
But lives and spreds aloft by those pure eyes.”
So with that in mind, we are ready to kick-off this weekend’s graduation festivities. Will you please join me in welcoming to the podium our suspiciously and auspiciously energetic Dean of our esteemed Honors College: Dr. Douglas Sullivan-González. Thank you.
Maia Cotelo’s Speech
“Describe a risk that you have taken and discuss its impact on your life”
I remember staring blankly at the Honors College Application prompt back in 2012 thinking “What risk could I possibly write about… I’ve been doing the things I was supposed to do to get into college and now you are telling me you wanted me to take risks? Great.” I remember being embarrassed that I had not taken up a wild hobby or dropped out of school to go save the world, but comically enough it is that essay that I wrote in 2012 that I would like to expand on today.
In my essay, I wrote:
“My family’s move to the United States meant leaving behind my entire extended family and exchanging them for a place full of strangers that spoke a language I did not understand. The only weapon that the seven year-old me had …was the power of forgetting.”
It was easier to be here, in Mississippi, if I just ignored my past…left Spanish behind… forgot my Uruguayan culture and just focused on my present.
The summer before my senior year of high school, however, I decided to go to Uruguay for almost two months — the longest period of time since moving here in 2001.
“I spent seven weeks doing the things I had forced myself to forget with the people I had refused to miss. I submerged myself in the very things that I had once forced out of my memory in order to facilitate my assimilation.”
That summer… through that risk… I realized that while my willingness to assimilate and forget had allowed for the smoothness of my transition into this new country, it had also inhibited me from contributing fully to American society. I realized that I had much more to offer to you guys… to my community here by drawing from my unique background rather than pretending it did not exist.
See, I was never embarrassed to be an immigrant, I just didn’t know how to be both… how to balance the two parts of who I was. I did not know how to stay true to where I came from, while also embracing my new reality.
In a way, we are all about to face a similar scenario. College is over. We are leaving the Ole Miss undergraduate community, our family, our friends and entering graduate school, jobs, internships… unemployment… we are entering new realms with new rules, expectations, cultures, people and routines. We are about to have to create a similar balance in our new lives — decide how much of this experience we keep and how much we leave behind.
For those of us that will be leaving the state, the situations are even more similar. Quite frankly, I imagine that being a Mississippian elsewhere in this country will be quite similar to my experience here as an immigrant.
The majority of us are not leaving Mississippi due to a lack of love or passion for the state, but due to the fact that life is leading us elsewhere… that the opportunities that we seek happen to lie beyond this state’s borders.
Like most immigrants…while WE know the worth of where we come from… while WE know the beauty of our culture, the kindness of our people, the hospitality of our state… only a handful of the people that we encounter will know any of this… will have any real knowledge of Mississippi… just like I have had to explain repeatedly that Uruguay is not in fact Uganda and that I now live much closer to Mexico and eat many more tortillas than I ever did when I lived in South America, we will have to smile and politely let people know that no, we are not all racist and that yes we do own shoes.
We are going to have to be ambassadors for this university and this state… and will need to find the balance between being representatives of where we come from and being active members of where we are.
So, as we enter this new phase of our lives, it will be tempting to forget our past. It will often appear simpler to just ignore our background and accept our new reality fully.
But I challenge you to let your past here play an active role in your present, wherever that may be. I challenge you to remember that your time here… the discussions over the state flag… the frustrations over the battle between tradition and progress… and all of the other experiences that you have had on this campus… have given you a unique perspective that will allow you to contribute to your new reality in a way that no one else can.
As you move forward, I challenge you to take the Honors College, Ole Miss, and Mississippi with you. Accept the mark that they have left on your life and embrace it.
Sara Kiparizoska’s Charge
We admire astronauts like Neil Armstrong who have the courage to leave the only planet that humans have ever inhabited. We celebrate leaders like Malala who risk their life for education and moral principles. And we praise idols like Bill Gates who drop out of college and revolutionize technology.
But how are WE going to move the world? I challenge you to be the person that makes an impact. Take the radical risks and encourage others to think differently— and most importantly, speak up. Let’s stand up for new policies, new theories, and new habits. But don’t get distracted. My friends, let’s think for ourselves and stop this trend of the media thinking for us. Decide what issues are most important to you and don’t conform. Let’s solve the unsolvable. For the first time in history, let’s become that next generation that our kids won’t have to go up against.
Think of this moment now. Think of how much progress has happened just in the last 4 years in this great state of Mississippi. I encourage you to always keep this youthful mindset of progression. We will be the generation that breaks this chain of progressive oppression.
Most importantly, while we are busy becoming non-conformist, let’s always remember to be respectful to our relationships and reputations. Become givers to each other and givers to this earth. This is a daunting responsibility but I am fully confident we are the ones to do it.
We are all in this room together because brilliance occurs in bunches. Let’s invent the future. Congratulations Graduates, the world is yours.