It was my greatest pleasure to speak to the graduating class of 1999 at Shoreline Community College, particularly since I had just finished a Ph.D.  I was able to wear my purple graduation robes and the really silly hat called a tam that signifies a Ph.D. at the University of Washington.  My friend and colleague Dr. Mary Stone Hanley helped me as I agonized over writing these words.

Faculty Commencement Speech

Shoreline Community College 6.6.99

by Dr. Betsey Barnett and Dr. Mary Stone Hanley

HI! (Love the hats! What’d you pay for those cool hats?) There might be someone in the room who does not know I am also a very recent college graduate. (Did I mention I just finished a Ph.D.?) I paid eight years for this cute purple hat. Next Saturday, I will be sitting in the middle of Husky stadium with several thousand of my closest friends, trying to get closure on my own college experience, trying to figure out what it means.

I am thrilled to be here. I have been attending graduation ceremonies at Shoreline for almost 20 years, now, and I usually have noisemakers and whoopee cushions hidden in my robes somewhere. Today, however, I am on my best behavior, up here on the stage with the grownups.

Many of you know exactly what I want to say to you. It’s what I always say to you. I am very proud to know you. I have the most profound respect for what you accomplished here. I know, I KNOW, what you paid, in money, in time, in relationships, in sleep. I also know what you gained, in ideas, in skills, in experience, and in confidence.

There is an ancient American tradition that I want to share with you on this day of honoring your tenacity and perseverance; your success. More specifically this is an African American tradition, and it has two parts. The first part is that when you succeed, you must honor those who came before you, those whose shoulders you stand on. Contrary to what we tell ourselves in White American culture, people rarely succeed entirely on their own.

Most of us as students have some one who encourages us, someone who supports us, someone who will listen when we whine about how much work we have to do, how overwhelmed we feel, or how unreasonable our teachers are. If you have someone like that or many someones like that, take this moment to honor them. Make eye contact if they are here. This is the ASL sign for ‘thank you’.

I want to take the opportunity to thank those who went before me and showed me the path: First, to my students. Thank you for teaching as much as you learn. Then, to Yvonne Terrell-Powell, Jean Hernandez, and Andrea Rye, for loving me and believing in me. To Ken LaFountaine, who cleared the path and said, "walk this way".  I offer my love and my gratitude to those who most often watch my back, pick me up and dust me off when I fall down, and remind me not to take myself too seriously: My husband, George; my friend of 25 years, Lynn; my wonder-child, Lucas. Thank you.

Many of us also have people who tried to stop us, who tried to tell us we couldn't succeed, and in doing so, gave us an extra dose of determination or challenge, an incentive to succeed, if only to prove them wrong. Think of those people for a moment, and say ‘thanks’ and whatever other gestures seem appropriate.

Remember I told you this tradition has two parts. The second part is that when you succeed, you have obligations to those who come after you, who will stand on YOUR shoulders. In some Native American traditions it is said that what you do today will affect seven generations. I know you have often heard this, but today, as you celebrate your own achievements, think what it means. SEVEN generations! Long after you and I have moved on, what you have done and learned here will shape the lives of those who follow.

Close your eyes. Take a moment to imagine a child, far in the future somewhere, listening to the whisper of you from long ago. Your voice will be in how people of tomorrow treat each other, how humans treat the earth and its other creatures. How they take care of themselves, what they build, what makes them laugh, what they find beautiful, and so much more, will be shaped by your thoughts and actions today--like your thoughts and actions have been shaped by what happened seven generations ago. I hope you will be mindful of what you leave for those children of tomorrow. By your hard work, your commitment and your dedication, your tenacity and perseverance, you tell them that they are worthy; they are important; like you, they are a part of a long walk into the future, and they too must prepare for the next seven generations. And on it goes. I feel confident about leaving the future in your capable hands.

I am so proud to know you. Thank you.

 

 

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Last modified: April 27, 2010