After a year of patiently waiting, the SMBHC hosted our Honors and SMBHC Scholars at the 2020 Honors Commissioning ceremony at The Pavilion at Ole Miss on May 6, 2021.
Thanks to all those who were able to travel back to Oxford, and for those who were unable–we celebrate you, too!
Trip Johnson delivered the Welcome; Leah Davis gave the Keynote; and Savannah Day provided the Charge. Hannah McCowan served as Class Marshal.
(L-R) Hannah McCowan, Savannah Day, Leah Davis, and Trip Johnson (Photo by Jennifer Parsons)
Trip Johnson’s Welcome
Good afternoon to the families, friends, faculty, and, most importantly, the graduates, who are both here physically and virtually, and welcome to the ~slightly delayed~ version of us celebrating the official recognition of this being the biggest group of nerds on campus.
If someone would have told me six months ago that I would be addressing you all today in person, I would have called them a liar. But yet, here we are, and I couldn’t be more thankful for that. Today’s celebration is just as important today as it would have been a year ago. This celebration commemorates a culmination of milestones and personal feats such as earning a certain amount of honors hours or defending a thesis. I have a feeling, however, that if we surveyed this group in front of me, these achievements wouldn’t cover half of our most favorite memories. Moments such as deciding to get a Cookout milkshake for a study break, getting unexpectedly invested in a class discussion, and wandering the halls of the honors college with friends are just some of the memories that first come to mind when I think of my experience with the honors college. These small intangibles don’t fit on a checklist, and that’s okay. The unexpectedness of these small moments are what make them so special. These four years were covered with small moments that seemed to be everyday occurrences, but looking back, they are what made all the difference.
It wouldn’t be a proper graduation speech for the Class of 2020 without giving a shout-out to COVID-19. There are lots of things this virus has taken away from us, but one thing I am certain it has taught us is to appreciate the small things just as much as the big ones.
So, as we go forth throughout this celebration, I hope you recognize that this achievement still matters. Life may have moved on, but we can still take the time to reflect and be proud of our accomplishments. This is not the closure any of us expected when we started our last spring semester, but now, a full year later, any form of closure is valuable. This moment allows for us to say those goodbyes we assumed were guaranteed, to take pride in seeing friends start their careers or move to the next form of schooling, or simply appreciate the sense of normalcy returning. I want you to capitalize on these opportunities because do-overs are hard to come by.
I say to you, Class of 2020, Hotty Toddy. I am so thankful we all chose to Rush HOCO. Thank you.
Leah Davis’s Keynote
To all the present senior administration, to our beloved DSG and the SMBHC faculty and staff, to my fellow graduates, parents and friends, good afternoon. It is an honor to stand before you today to celebrate a long delayed but nevertheless special occasion.
The last question that the Honors College posed to the Class of 2020 was “What unites us?” I do not think that at the time when that question was posed, we realized how fitting it would be. I struggled to figure out what to say to you today. What could I say that would inspire you? What would be different from all the inspiring messages that you’ve been inundated with? At this time last year, my response to that question would have been cliche. (talk about Ms. Penny and pulling all-nighters in the HOCO) There is a shared affinity for this institution, its people, and the opportunities it gave us.
However, Kiese Laymon answered this question in February of 2020. In his answer, he reminded us that in order to be united we must be willing to address what is divided.
It is no coincidence that our class was tasked to address the concepts of division and unity. When we started our freshman year, the flagpoles were bare and divisive political ideologies were detracting from the efficiency of our student government. As we, the class of 2020, received the charge to be citizen scholars, We made strides within the different campus communities that we engaged with. We wrestled with the hard questions in the classroom, and in our internal selves, we tackled the systems that perpetuated the division. This is not all due to us, as we realize the shoulders we stand on. but every single member of this class has left an indelible mark on this campus. And now the landscape looks different. Greek life, student leadership, the Lyceum circle, it all looks different.
That’s because beyond the shared affinity, and “the spot that ever calls” we realized that revision and the constant strive to always be better, is the only way to be united. “We owe it to each other to love and insist on meaningful revision until the day we die.” – Kiese Laymon.
The education and the perspective that we received from the honors college was not just a four-year commitment. It is who we are.
Here we sit a year later as a devastating global pandemic has raged, the political and moral divisiveness has intensified, a summer of brutal awakening and social uprisings has passed. We have remained steadfast, we have remained strong, and we have remained committed to constant revision. The SMBHC class of 2020 has remained at the forefront of local, national, and global conversations throughout this last year.
You, my fellow classmates, and everyone else in this arena, have survived one of the toughest years known to man. You survived because of who you are, the internal grit and fortitude, and the constant strive for common good and to always be apart of something bigger than yourselves. The Honors College was an integral part of that development and provided the refinement for those skills, but remember that the Honors College is only as strong as we are, and we are only as strong as our revision and search for answers to the crucial questions that weave throughout our society.
Amanda Gorman, the inaugural youth poet laureate, commissioned a poem in March 2020 titled “United Way.”
“We are the world’s neighbors
Making our communities brighter, greater
Fighting fore every person in the neighborhood
We, becoming of the common good
So there to care
To be hope-sighted, never divided
For when we live to give, we always live united”
Class of 2020 it is an honor to share this moment and so many other beautiful moments with you. I will cherish them always.
May we always live to give love to ourselves and to our community, to always give the opportunity for growth and grace, to always give back to those who gave to us, and to always strive to be united.
Savannah Day’s Charge
I wish I had a walk-up song for this like the baseball players get!
Well y’all, I’ve had over a year to write this speech. But I kind of thought it’d never happen, and last time I spoke to a crowd this large it was my election for high school junior class president. I left them with a Hannah Montana quote, and I lost miserably. So bare with me.
To those citizen scholars that came today, this is for you. It means a lot that you made the decision to show up a year later. That decision holds significant weight because some grads thought they were too cool or too busy to come. But you chose to show up for yourself, to show up for our supporters, for your family, for those who mentored us for four whole years in a way that’ll produce an impact for a lifetime. Perhaps you showed up for closure. I’ll be honest, I’m not sure if you’re going to get it.
Listen, I don’t want this whole ceremony to be feeding your ego nor aiding your pity party of this past year. We’ve had enough of that. That’s not helpful. We’ve moved on. All I want to remind you is that you made it. And there were probably a lot of times when you thought you wouldn’t — whether that’s grades related, mental health related, pandemic related. We’re here. And you made it. Take a deep breath. It’s okay if it’s different than you thought it would be. It’s okay if this weekend even doesn’t turn out the way you expect it to! Look, I’d like to say that I think expectations killed the cat, not curiosity. We are a curious bunch here, and we’re not dead yet. Try to keep that part of you alive. I’m sure the February 2020 expectations part of you is long gone by now.
Of course I wanted to tell you today something that’s memorable. Even if it’s horrible, it’ll be easy to remember. Because I love metaphors! And this one is about the five senses. Because my speech this afternoon is called “the charge.” I’m supposed to “charge” you with something. But I don’t have too much wisdom yet to impose, maybe ask me again in 15 years. Anyway , so here it goes, my metaphor. I charge you to do something that you do every single day anyway. Sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. But I charge you to do it a little differently.
If all you see with your eyes every day is your computer screen and you’ve never seen the sun set over some mountains or the beauty in someone’s dimples, I charge you to change the way you choose to see.
If all you hear is radio silence or useless blabber, I charge you to change the way you choose to hear. Listen to the stories of the people around you, and listen well, and find a specific album or species of birdsong that really fills your soul.
And it sounds silly but go to places that smell differently from yours. I did not enjoy the smell of hot trash when I briefly lived in New York City. But the smells did make me ask some questions I never had, and they taught me about what I took for granted at home. So I charge you to make the most of your sense of smell.
I charge you to change the way you choose to touch. There is something deeply human and rewarding about using our hands. So create some art, construct a garden, give a warm hug to someone you love.
And it’s time to taste things you never have. Expand your horizons, try something new. We’re getting older! I feel like old people get stuck in routine. Let’s not do that too much. Cook yourself or a loved one a nice meal next week in respect to my charge to change the way you choose to taste.
That’s what this past year has taught me. To make the most of every day and of this life by using my five senses. And during the four years with the Honors College I suppose I learned a few things too.
As a lot of us know, this is DSG’s last commencement ceremony as Dean of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. The SMBHC is forever changed by his service. And I feel honored to be a part of the momentous occasion. For all we know, he could be counting down the minutes. But considering the thoughtful DSG we know and love, I doubt it. I know he is hoping we are all soaking this in. I charge you to find a way to graciously give back to this man and all he’s done for this institution, and I think the greatest gift we can give him is to choose to live curiously and to do good. DSG fills his day with worthy thoughts and intentional causes. If we use our five senses to listen to stories, sniff out injustice, and see in brilliant colors, I believe we will lead our lives in a way that makes the most of every moment, and it will be a tremendous way to pay homage to what he has taught us about being fired by the life of the mind, committed to the public good, and driven to find solutions.
I’ll leave you with an abbreviated quote this time not from Hannah Montana, but my current favorite writer and essayist, Brian Doyle, and this comes from his fiction novel, Chicago. It is a wonderful and relevant post-grad read, published in the year we embarked on freshman year at UM, and I highly recommend it. This quote poignantly describes how many of us may be feeling about graduation.
“When I was a kid, I thought that the biggest moments in life would be trumpeted and highlighted and italicized somehow, that you would know when they were coming and could get your feet set to brace for them and you know they were upon you, and make satisfactory effort to memorialize and celebrate them, but it turns out that’s not at all how it works, and the biggest moments in your life just amble up behind you and suddenly are there without fanfare. It turns out the biggest moments are a lot like the smallest moments; just trundling and shuffling along one after another, each one utterly normal and absolutely the most amazing moment ever.”
Thank you, and Forward, Rebels.