On April 4th, I nervously walked into a conference room to shakily deliver the first draft of a graduation speech. The idea came out of nowhere and I really hoped it would resonate with the commencement committee.
Almost six hours later I was selected as the 2016 College of Arts and Letters commencement speaker at Michigan State University. It is hard to put into words what I experienced on graduation day.
Below are a transcript and video of my speech.
Good Morning students, faculty, family, and friends.
Today is a strange day. It is strange for many reasons. For those of us sitting here with our green gowns on, with a white tassel hanging from our green caps, today we are no longer responsible only to ourselves. Come next week, next month, or early next fall we will all be deciding our next step, or walking into offices, schools, and skyscrapers with people holding us accountable.
And while this day is strange it is also comforting in a remarkable way.
Even though we will all be going to different cities across the country, and world, we will be taking one extraordinary part of our identity with us: and that is our identity as Spartans.
See, for several months at the beginning of the fall semester I remember seeing the Spartans Will campaign take over campus.
And I am sure you all did as well.
There were giant posters with professor’s faces that read, ‘who will take on the technology of our future world? Spartans Will.’ Or ‘Who will build a bridge to a better tomorrow? Spartans Will.’ Or even “Who will plant the future?” by the greenhouses Spartans Will.
And to be honest I laughed at first, for several months I laughed, because it seemed so odd for me to see a giant face on the side of a parking structure declaring all the great things Spartans will do.
The one that made me laugh the most?
The parking gates with the phrase: who will raise the bar? Spartans Will.
However, as each day grew closer and closer to graduation the laughter subsided. It subsided because I considered my identity as a Spartan.
Namely, how my identity as a Spartan is global.
I cannot count on my fingers the number of times I have personally experienced, or heard stories from family and friends, of strangers excitedly acknowledging the Spartan gear I was wearing while traveling.
I have been to places like Seattle, Denver, Chicago, London, and Paris. And in all of these places at least one person acknowledged my Spartan hat or sweatshirt. Suddenly these strangers became warm acquaintances solely because of my identity as a Spartan.
So, when you find yourself in the airport, or that new office building, or new school district, or wherever you may be going after today and someone acknowledges your MSU hat or tie remember what it feels like to be a Spartan. Remember the late night runs to Taco Bell, remember singing karaoke at Crunchy’s, remember those sweet victories over the Wolverines, and most of all? Remember the Spartans you shared those experiences with each year.
When you walk across this stage, and long after you leave this campus, remember we are Spartans, and that means so much more now as we embark on our own adventures.
So, while I stand in front of the dedicated and encouraging professors and faculty and the smiling and proud faces of family and friends I want all of my fellow graduates to remember this.
We are Spartans.
This does not end today after we shake hands, smile for pictures, and take off our cap and gown. Our Spartan identity will follow us everywhere we choose to go.
Which is why I say Spartans Will fill in the blank.
As students of the College of Arts and Letters, we Spartans Will write and edit with enthusiasm, we Spartans Will teach English and many of the other beautiful languages of the world with fervor, we Spartans Will design and create beautiful fabrics passionately, we Spartans Will eagerly direct and produce spectacular plays we Spartans will solve the issues that matter most to our society with integrity, we Spartans will maintain a global perspective on the history and cultures of the world around us with zeal, and we Spartans will masterfully create beautiful pieces of art with our paint brushes and pencils.
College of Arts and Letters Spartans Will fill in the blank. Everywhere we go and in everything we do we will always be Spartans.