Reply Hazy, Try Again (JMU Student Commencement Speech 2016)

I remember the first time I held a Magic 8 Ball. Remember those? It was like having the world in the palm of your hands. Now close your eyes, just for a second. Don’t peek. Remember the feeling of shaking it and not knowing what you’d get? The excitement? The uncertainty? The fear of what might appear in the deep blue dye? Now open. 

Shaking that Magic 8 Ball, I had no idea that one day, I’d be living in one. That we all would be.

As the semester began to conclude, the uneasy feeling of not knowing what’s next crept up on me. It reminded me of something that happened recently. One weekend I was returning to JMU. It was so foggy in the mountains that I could barely see more than a few feet in front of me. The road seemingly dropped off, and the haze was so thick that it completely obscured what was ahead. I began to panic. Would I crash? Would the fog ever end? Would I make it back before Dukes closed? WOULD I GRADUATE?

So I strategized, slowing down and focusing not on the fog, but on the few dashed lines right in front of me. I followed the yellow line along the edge of the road, and suddenly, everything seemed much less scary. 

Then, I did the absolute WORST thing. I couldn’t see much, but my favorite view of the mountains was ahead. I glanced to see the view of the valley—don’t try this at home. To my surprise, it wasn’t foggy like the road in front of me. The view was clear. There was green everywhere, and the mountains floated like dark mounds of brown sugar in the distance. There was no overarching fog, only patches of isolated haze scattered across the picture-perfect view. This moment made me think about my life. About our lives, our time at JMU, and today.

We are about to step out into the world—and I mean really step out into the world. This time, there is no set path. There are no more road signs made by others to tell us what’s next. Like the fog, the road ahead is shadowed and uncertain. The possibilities are endless. We may have jobs, grad school, summer plans, or no plans- yet! It’s a road we’ve never traveled before. And that’s terrifying.

But there is something special in these times. When you shake that magic eight ball, the best response you can get is “Reply hazy, try again.” You can shake things up and start anew. So do it.

Today, we graduate. This is not the first nor the last time we will feel simultaneously lost, confused, and excited. But when you feel afraid, remember not the haze, but the view of the valley. Zoom out and see the big picture. That haze—those moments of confusion—will always become clearer. Beautiful, even. Those times when we feel the most lost, we never really are. Beauty is born out of uncertainty. There is magic in the unknown.

Arriving at JMU on August 21st, 2012, the beauty we would experience here was unfathomable. We didn’t know late night pizza parties on dorm room floors would lead to life-long friendships. We had yet to experience the pure joy of throwing streamers in the stands, or of holding doors open for strangers. We’d never seen a Reddish Knob sunrise or spent a night downtown, lived a warm day on The Quad or a cold afternoon sledding across East Campus. ESPN College Game Day as our senior year homecoming hadn’t even crossed our minds. Those moments were yet to be born. And when they happened—they were even better than we could have imagined. Today, May 6th, 2016, is no different. The best days are still ahead.

JMU has equipped us with all that we need: knowledge to set us free, and tools to be the change. We are engaged, enlightened, and ready to take flight.

Close your eyes, once more. Can you feel the magic in the air at this moment? The love? The connectedness? Remember this feeling. Hold onto it tight. No matter where your road leads you, you’ll always carry the magic you made here. You will always be a Duke.

­The whole wide world is and always will be in the palm of your hands. Be kind. Be courageous. Give back. Never stop finding wonder in the world and never stop learning. Don’t let the haze scare you. Let it lead you to what’s next. Congratulations, Class of 2016. We did it!

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