Stephens College May Commencement 2010
Stephens College conferred 184 bachelor’s
and 57 master’s degrees upon its graduates during two Commencement
ceremonies on Saturday, May 15, 2010. Approximately 205 graduates participated.
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Read remarks from this year's commencement speakers:
Graduate, Online & Non-Credit Programs
Rose T. Dunn :: Kirsten Burnfin
Rose T. Dunn, keynote speaker
Rose T. Dunn is the past president of the American Health Information Management Association. This year she is retiring after teaching 20 years in Stephens’ Health Information Management program, the nation’s first distance learning HIA program. Dunn is a founder and chief operating officer of First Class Solutions, Inc. of St. Louis. In 1997, Dunn was awarded AHIMA’s highest honor, the Distinguished Member Award, and the 2008 AHIMA’s Legacy Award.
Good morning Class of 2010!! Finally, graduation day! I know many of you are adult and second-career students, which means that for you to be here today you had to do a lot of juggling. Correct? Well, congratulations to you all!
Well, I am thrilled and humbled to be here today to offer some thoughts on this very special day for all of you.
I reflected back several decades to the time of my graduation. First, I was not an adult or a second career student. I attended SLU directly out of high school—a high school where only a dozen of us pursued a college education. I chose SLU because I qualified for a scholarship and I thought it was the University of St. Louis.
Little did I know that it was Saint Louis University – my parents were thrilled that I would finally get some religion!
I was excited about being in my medical research program and took all the prerequisite classes during the first two years. It was not until my junior year after the medical science courses that I found out I was not in medical research but rather in a medical records program.
It was about that time I heard the story of a girl in her room with piles of horse manure everywhere. She was thrilled to be there …. because with that much horse manure, there had to be a horse somewhere!
So my choices in early in life were happenstance, at best and, yes … I found a horse of sorts early in my career when I became Medical Records Director at the then 1200-bed Barnes Hospital overseeing 100 people—many of which had been employed longer than I had been alive.
Being asked by President Lynch and Dean Sharp to be here was especially an honor as this was my last semester teaching for Stephens after an enriching 20-year stint with the “Without Walls” Health Information Management Program. But today is not about me. It’s about you. Today is your commencement.
What does commencement mean?
Yes, commence means to start, initiate, begin. Today you will be beginning a new life. A life where evenings, early mornings and Sunday afternoons will not be devoted to your homework assignments…but rather spent with your spouse, family, friends, and significant others doing what you wish to do…not what you “must” do.
When you leave this room today, you will hold in your hands a piece of paper that represents one or more years of your self commitment to achieving excellence. That piece of paper will tell your current and potential employers that you have the initiative and staying power to improve your stance in life regardless of the hurdles you had to overcome. And I know all of you experienced some challenges along the way.
Today, we are all challenged by a fragile economy, political division, unrest in the world, war, environmental disasters and needless loss of life from terrorism and crime. Some of you may have had classmates that fell victim to one or more of these events or you yourself may have experience the pain from them. It's easy to be distracted by these events. They are in our face every time we turn on the radio or television or read a newspaper or electronic clip.
But, it is days like today that you need to focus on to reassure yourself that the world you’re entering is not all dank and dreary.
During these trying times, many of us have renewed our faiths, found that we can enjoy time with our families over a pizza baked in our oven rather than going to a restaurant, discovered that the library still does exist, and learned that walking will shed some of the pounds that were gained while being couch potatoes in front of our once cable television. In the mid-1800s, 7-year-old Orison Swett Marden and his two siblings had lost both parents. He said “most obstacles melt away when we make up our minds to walk boldly through them.” You have proven that you can walk boldly through today’s obstacles.
Some of you will be pursuing new careers, taking a first job or new job, or assuming management positions. You will be entering a diverse generational, religious, and ethnic environment that requires each of you to apply the fundamental concepts you learned in your classes to real life. So I ask each of you to take the hand of the person next to you ---look at them---and commit to them that you will take the knowledge you gained here at Stephens to make your community and your place of employment a better place--to live and work. As Gary Lew said, “This is your world. Shape it or someone else will.”
You’ve benefitted and grown during your years here at Stephens. You’ve made new acquaintances—some will be lifelong; others you may be saying to yourself “good riddance;” You’ve heard the perspectives and opinions of others—you agreed with some, others you did not-- but all of which made you think whether they were “right on” or not. You also have learned new concepts—you’ve applied some of them to your work, some to your community activities, and some to your every day affairs. All of this has prepared you for a new stage of your life.
While you may think that life after Stephens will be “Easy Street” I share this final thought with you. Life can stagnate quickly without forms of nourishment to grow. The decision you need to make now is whether you will continue to live and grow old or whether you will continue to learn and grow up.
Growing old takes no effort …. it will happen regardless of whether you do anything. Growing up requires the constant pursuit of knowledge—be it informally by participating in professional organizations to shape the profession for future changes, or altruistically volunteering in your community and experiencing the satisfaction of doing something with and for others to improve their existence, or continuing your formal education to build upon the foundation you have established.
You have demonstrated perseverance…after all you made it this far. Continue to challenge your mind and nourish your life. Don’t let this day close the door on further personal growth. Today is just the commencement of many new beginnings. Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.
Congratulations and good luck in your pursuits.
Kirsten Burnfin, class speaker
Kirsten Burnfin of Gladstone, Mo., graduated with a Master of Education in Curriculum & Instruction. She is a third-grade teacher at Gordon Parks Elementary in Kansas City, Mo. She earned a B.S. in Elementary Education from Stephens College in 1999.
Good morning President Lynch, Board of Trustees, members of the faculty and staff, members of the 2010 graduating class, families and friends. I am so honored to be speaking today and, on behalf of all the accomplished graduates gathered here, congratulations.
My journey began at Stephens fifteen years ago, when I came here as an undergrad. I would love to say that I arrived full of promise, ready to take on the world, and delirious with the knowledge of all the things I would accomplish. In truth, I was terrified. I am absolutely positive I set some kind of world record on crying, and I am lucky my parents didn’t disown me when they saw the phone bill. I thought I had made a terrible mistake, and every day considered leaving for safer pastures, for home. But my parents kept telling me to stick it out, give it time, wait and see. My mother would send me little cards for comfort, and the one that helped “turn the tide,” so to speak, was the one that read, “You’ll make it…you always do. Don’t you hate it when people tell you that? But it’s true honey! It’ll all work out, everything will be ok and you will be happy. I promise.” I have this hanging in my classroom to this day, and take a glance at it every time a task, a day, my life, seems insurmountable.
It is with this sentiment in mind that I want to speak about what “keeps us all going”—perseverance. Every day in my classroom we have a “quote of the day,” and we speak quite a bit on perseverance; or, as one of my students defined it, “doing what you need to do, over and over and over and over again, even when you don’t want to do it.” As Longfellow said, “Perseverance is a great element of success. If you only knock loud enough and long enough at the gate, you are sure to wake up somebody.” None of us would be here if it weren’t for perseverance, for determination, for the sheer will to succeed and commit ourselves to helping others do the same. Last year, for my (gasp) ten year reunion, I was fortunate enough to attend a presentation that just happened to mention a graduate program here available for teachers, a program unique in its approach and the sweet promise of lasting only twelve short months. I had been toying with the idea of grad school since, oh, my first graduation from Stephens, and had yet to do anything about it. Yet here it was—opportunity, promise, my alma mater, and as nervous as it made me I decided to give it, for lack of a better phrase, “the old college try.”
I arrived back at Stephens, ten years older, a little less terrified than the first time. It was better than I could have expected; it was like coming home. However, three days into the program, I received the news that my mother—that champion card writer, that constant voice in my ear—had died suddenly, at the tender age of 51. I cannot begin to describe the utter devastation of this news and, strangely enough, I thought about my first year here and that overwhelming urge to quit, give up, and go home for good. So I considered what my mother would say, what she might write to me in a card if she still had the opportunity. The thing that came to mind the most, besides “quitters don’t get Christmas presents,” was perseverance. Just holding tight, refusing to let go of what I had been so determined to accomplish. And so, with the support of my family, friends, my cohort group and the staff here at Stephens, I was able to do just that—persevere.
We are all great champions of perseverance here today. Despite our collective hardships, frustrations and personal tragedies, we have arrived to celebrate our ability to overcome and persevere. It is this unique quality, within each one of us today, that brings us to this monumental step forward into our futures; our first, second, even third beginnings. After all, we do not “soldier on” because we think the worst is behind us; we do so because we know we can triumph over it. I did not arrive at Stephens full of promise, ready to take on the world, delirious with all I might accomplish—I left it that way. And here today, I get to do so again. All of us do. Congratulations, Class of 2010. Congratulations and good luck.
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Dr. Dianne Lynch :: Alexandra Abrams
Dr. Dianne Lynch, keynote speaker
Stephens College President Dianne Lynch delivered the keynote address at the request of the undergraduate class.She became the 24th president of Stephens College on June 2, 2009.
When I was informed that you had elected me to serve as your Commencement speaker this year, I was humbled by the honor and awed by the responsibility.
I give a lot of speeches – it’s true – But this one is different, more important, it’s supposed to matter.
So I decided to do what I always do when I am confronted by a challenge: I did my homework
I read at least thirty of the best commencement speeches in recent history, starting with the Dalai Lama and moving through JK Rowlings, Bill Gates, Toni Morrison, Steve Jobs, and Barack Obama.
They were great speeches, no question about it, but none of them came close to what I wanted to say.
I thought about the speaker at my own commencement. I not only can’t remember a single word he said; I can’t even remember who he was.
That may be because I was worried about other, more pressing things – Things like whether I was going to be able to sneak my golden retriever puppy into my new apartment, and whether a particular boy was going to show up at my graduation party, and whether my summer job at a local newsroom was going to pay enough to cover my rent. You know, things that mattered – Much more than whatever pearls of wisdom the guy up on stage was tossing out into the crowd.
The truth is, he may have been brilliant; I have every reason to assume that he was.
But he wasn’t giving me what I was looking for at that moment in my life, sitting there, with twenty thousand dollars in college debt, a summer job that might or might not cover the bills, and a sinking sensation that all this grandiose talk of my being the change in the world I wanted and living the life I had imagined wasn’t going to be all that helpful.
The life I was imagining that afternoon was one in which I could keep my dog, pay my rent, and date that really cute guy -- who actually DID show up at my party.
In other words, what I really needed was hope …. hope that things were going to be as inspired and promising as he was suggesting, that I really was going to live a happy, successful, fulfilled life.
I wanted direction … I wanted somebody to tell ME – not those other 10,000 graduates sitting in the stadium BUT ME -- what I should do next, where I should go, how I should proceed.
And I wanted assurance…assurance that all of my hard work and student loans were going to have been worth it, that everything was going to be OK.
So here I am this afternoon, determined to deliver to you what I wanted when I was in your place – Hope. Direction. And some measure of assurance.
Heaven knows, it’s always good to start with hope.
That’s an easy one. Just LOOK at you.
Take a minute and look at the spectacular women around you.
You are hope personified, the embodiment of all of the optimism and potential and possibility that life has to offer us.
And you are ready.
Some of you – ok most of you -- don’t feel ready. I get that. But you are. You couldn’t be more prepared.
After all, you have been heading toward this moment since you were five years old. That was the year you went off to kindergarten. Remember that?
You probably didn’t have any front teeth at that point, and you probably had weird pokey hair that your mom tugged into pigtails or if she was like my mom, who finally just decided not to deal, it was all cut off short so she wouldn’t have to fight with you every day to brush it.
And you probably were wearing shiny new shoes. Because shiny new shoes are a necessary precondition of attending kindergarten.
The fact is, shiny new shoes are a precondition of every major life event that’s worth experiencing – as evidenced by the extraordinary parade of them here with us today …. but more on that in a minute…..
Back then, when you were getting ready to go to kindergarten, you knew exactly where you were headed.
You were becoming a big kid. And you’ve been headed toward that horizon ever since.
Every fall, since you were five, you’ve put another notch in your big-kid belt. First grade, second grade, middle school, high school ….
Every single fall, ever since you were five, you knew the drill, you knew exactly what was going to happen next:
There was a desk and a locker and a place in a classroom with your name on them.
You mastered algebra, you played volleyball, you suffered your adolescence (is there anybody who DIDN’T suffer adolescence?)
Always aspiring to the next big-kid landmark:
Just wait … until I get a boyfriend, a driver’s license, an acceptance letter to Stephens College.
But the waiting is over.
And all of a sudden, for the first time in your entire life, nobody is expecting you anywhere come September.
There are no empty chairs waiting for you to come in and sit yourself down.
Nobody is going to call your name and mark you absent.
And that means, when the world full of little kids is settling down into yet another semester of growing up next fall, you can be anywhere you want to be.
You can do ANYTHING.
And that’s exactly what I hope you will do.
Here’s the thing:
Data shows that you will have at least fourteen different jobs by the time you are 38.
Fourteen. And ten of them haven’t been invented yet.
That means planning your career path isn’t all that rational an activity.
That means that the skills you need to succeed in this rapidly changing world include adaptability, entrepreneurship, communication, problem solving, and an ability to not only tolerate but embrace unpredictability and change.
That means – simply as a job skill – you should think about your undergraduate degree not as a guarantee of lifetime employment or an insurance policy but as a ticket to a world you haven’t yet visited and cannot anticipate.
You should think of it as a ticket onto a train that is about to leave the station.
And you can pick a train that’s going to places near and familiar – or you can pick a train that will take you anywhere in the world.
The other thing is, the other piece of good news, is that you’re traveling light.
Oh, you’ll pick up baggage as you go along – there will be relationships, and jobs, and children, and houses, and more debt …. Good baggage, some of it, but baggage nonetheless.
But right now, you have this tiny little backpack …. about THIS big.
It might have some student loans in there, your family’s expectations, and maybe a relationship or two, but the truth is, you are as unburdened at this very moment as you will ever be the rest of your life.
Now is the time to go train hopping.
Now is the time to travel the world,
To discover – and live – dreams you didn’t know you had,
To rejoice that there’s a seat somewhere with your name on it,
Knowing you have no idea exactly where that seat might be.
When I was a faculty member, I used to create a website for my graduating seniors that I called What if….?
What if, instead of going home and living in your parents’ basement, you got a work visa through the British Universities North America Club to work in France, England or New Zealand? Write that down. One of my former students did that.
What if you were a firewatcher in Wyoming?
Spent a Semester at Sea. I checked this week: there are eight pages of staff jobs open at Semester at Sea for next year….
The point is that saying yes to the unexpected is, in fact, the best way to prepare for the life you have imagined.
The point is, at this extraordinary, incredible, hard-earned and full of promise moment, you are poised to begin the greatest adventure of your life to date: It’s called YOUR LIFE.
And because you’re a big kid, you get to make choices – important, life-creating choices – about which train or trains you’re going to board.
You have the ticket in your hand: It’s your diploma.
You have the talent, the energy, the smarts, and the strength to go anywhere you want to go.
And that means you have every reason to hope that things really are going to be as extraordinary and full of promise as you choose to make them.
The second thing you need from me is direction.
No problem. That’s what presidents are for.
And I am talking to YOU. Each of you. Each and every one of you.
Here’s the truth:
In your heart of hearts, as you sit here surrounded by people who care deeply about your history and your future: You know everything you need to know.
If you stop for just a minute and you think about the people you respect and admire most you know what they have in common.
You know how to become the person you want to be. The rules are simple. It’s following them that turns out to be the hard part..
Here are just a few:
- Tell the truth. Trust is hard won and easily lost. Think about the people you know who DON’T tell the truth. They think you don’t know – but you do.
- Take the high road. Follow the golden rule. A friend of mine would come in and say I’m wading in the shallow end of my personality. Swim with the dolphins, fly with the eagles, but avoid that wading in the shallow end of your personality thing
- Be there. 80 percent of life is just showing up. Arrive first, leave last.
- Plan. You end up where you’re headed. So set horizons and be sure that every decision you make takes you generally in the right direction. That doesn’t mean you have to track your life straight from point A to point B. It does mean that even if you’re zigging and zagging along the way, you're always headed generally toward true north.
- Get it done. Most people are oriented toward talking. Be oriented toward action. You can always decide again. You can always get on a different train.
- Smile. Be passionate about the work you do and the organization you’re a part of. I LOVE my job. I LOVE arriving at work every morning. I can’t wait to get here. Why else would I do it? I can’t imagine.
- Create a life. A job isn’t a life. Only time I ever lied on a job application is when they ask me for my hobbies. Truth is, I don’t have hobbies. I said reading…I read. I said knitting, then I erased it because if I were going to make something up, I figured it should be at least somewhat more interesting than knitting. So I said hiking… I walk across the parking lot into my office every day, that counts – right?
- Lighten up. There’s a reason I wear shiny red shoes every day. When I look up, I see the sky, the world around me, the people I care about. I see you. When I look down, where many people see the cracks in the sidewalk and the weeds in the grass, I see a constant reminder that the world can be a pretty goofy place most of the time, that whatever crisis or issue or fury I happen to be experiencing at the moment will pass, and until it does, it’s far better to laugh than to cry about it. (I told you: shoes matter)
That’s it. Those are my directions to you. Follow those rules and you will be perfect.
Aspire to following them and you will be the remarkable, well loved, and well-respected person you know you can be.
OK, so we have hope. And we have direction.
And finally, I’m assuming you want some assurance.
You want me to promise you that you’ll get a job.
OK, I can do that.
I seriously doubt that YOU are going to be the first college graduate in the history of the world who NEVER gets a job, who lives in your parents’ basement and is unemployed your entire life.
So I think it’s pretty safe to say that you can take that one off your worry list.
As a matter of fact, if there’s ANYTHING you should take out of this commencement speech it’s that you really need to just throw that worry list away.
Because worry is nothing more than the act of telling scary stories about the future and then pretending that they’re true.
Here’s the one thing I CAN assure you of:
You can’t fix yesterday. Whatever you did or said or didn’t do or didn’t say that you wish you had doesn’t matter. It’s over. Done. Kaput.
There’s no dumber emotion than regret.
And you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow.
Heck, you don’t know what’s going to happen in 10 seconds.
So the ONLY rational, reasonable thing to do is to recognize that Now is all we have, and the wisest person, the happiest person is the one who creates – and lives – her life one magic moment at a time.
And in this magic moment, this one, right now, right here, I want you to remember that you are Stephens women.
And we are here, your family, your friends, your community, your Stephens, to cheer you on, offer you advice, watch you grow, and yes, be sure you don’t go hungry.
And next fall, when the little kids are settling into their new desks and their new classrooms, and you feel like calling, just to check in, just to say hello, just because you’re SUPPOSED to be on campus because it’s September, for heaven’s sake we will be here so very happy to hear from you.
In the meantime, remember fire watching, and the endless possibilities that your train ticket affords you.
And buy yourself one very special pair of very shiny shoes.
And maybe, in honor of this very special day, in honor of all the adventures you’re about to take, just maybe they should be red.
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Alexandra Abrams, class speaker
Alexandra Abrams of Little Rock, Ark., graduated cum laude with a B.S. in Mass Media. She plans to pursue a career in media advertisement.
When I was awarded the privilege to speak to you today, I was extremely honored. But in all my excitement, there was a bit of worry. How do I properly address the family, friends, faculty and my graduating class without humiliating myself? I called my stepfather for advice and his response was to “K.I.S.S.” … Keep it simple, stupid. So that is exactly what I intend to do.
Ladies (and gentlemen), you might not know this, but I have always considered myself a bit of a loner. I used to think of myself as a one-woman wolf pack. When my parents drove off and left me with seven bundles of ten-pack plastic hangers and seven-hundred dollars worth of textbooks I said to myself, “What in the jiminy crickets am I doing here?” Yes. That is exactly what I said. Now I was a little too alone.
(And) Then I began to meet my fellow classmates, and my pack began to grow, one by one. I thought, “Wait a second, could it be?” (Because) Now, after four years, scores of papers and countless all-night studies, I look out and see that the wolf pack has blossomed. (For) There are now one-hundred and fifty-three she-wolves here in Columbia, Missouri, looking to fulfill our individual, personal goals as well as the collective goal of being one as this year’s graduating class. And by golly, we did it. So today I make a toast!”
Now, I say “toast.” This is not meant to be an inspirational speech. I do not want to drown the crowd in corny clichés and worn-out adages (written by people you and I do not know) such as “greatness is achieved only through excellence.” The women of Stephens have all achieved greatness and are already inspired. Otherwise, they would not be sitting here in these seats today. You can bet your tassels I won’t stand here and deliver to you parting words of wisdom, for I have often relied on the wisdom of so many of you over the past four years. Any advice I would give to you would be the collective wisdom we, as Stephens women, already have and then the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will leave that task to the remarkable faculty and staff that has guided us, put up with us, and inspired us these past four years at Stephens College.
And to that faculty here at Stephens: thank you for spoiling us. It has made us stronger individuals. That might seem a bit odd to some, but understand that what I’m talking about is not a spoiling of the hand-holding, pat-on-the-head type. I speak not in terms of comfort or an easy workload. No, we have been pampered with healthy criticisms and encouragement; with deadlines that challenged us; topics that intrigued us; the freedom to think critically and explore. We are empowered with ability to gain enlightenment whether it be amid a silent vesper service, waiting in a line at the grab-and-go, a bra-burning affair or some remarkable realization that blindsides us on some idle moment on a random week day. Although our instructors have not shown us who we are, they have helped us realize who we can and will be. For that, the women of Stephens are grateful.
I’m going to go ahead now and break my earlier promise by stating an old English saying: “Early to bed; early to rise: makes a woman (or man) healthy, wealthy and wise.” This statement is neither relevant nor important. After four years of Stephens, I am willing to admit that every single one of the graduates today is rolling her eyes at this proverb. I think we have all mastered the skills of note-taking, taking part in group discussions and even passing exams, while sleeping with our eyes open. Seriously, though, I know I speak for the entirety of the graduating class when I say that our experience here at Stephens has not been easy and today was not served to us on a silver platter with an instruction manual – nor should it have been. We have all endured our challenges, whether it be in the lab, at the stables, in the classroom, on the playing field, in the studio, in relationships or even just trying to figure out when we’ll sneak in a meal. We have watched and helped each other overcome these challenges and more. And it has been when these difficulties mounted up to beat us down that we have risen above, grown closer, built friendships and finally reached that goal that each of us set out to grasp four years ago.
I am not worried for what the future holds and where the world is headed, and let me tell you why. The mere observation that we have challenged ourselves to accomplish what it is we have today and ask ourselves what it is we can achieve tomorrow is an obvious conclusion that we have made the right choices thus far. Surely we will all have ups and downs – peaks and valleys. But there is a constant in all of us: desire and a sense of purpose. Some of us do not know exactly what our plans are after today. None of us knows with any real certainty where our paths will lead us, regardless of the plans we may have set. And that is okay. We are sure of what we have accomplished here at Stephens College. So, It’s okay to be unsure of the future.
Commencement means “beginning.” Today is not the end of college life, rather, the beginning of the rest of life. We will each wake up tomorrow morning feeling refreshed (or like P. Diddy!) and ready to move forward knowing that, regardless of the uncertainties, we are certainly capable women. The race is long, the end is assured, but the path is ours.
I thank my classmates, their families, our faculty and our friends for allowing me to speak today. It has been a once in a lifetime, rip-roaring ride, and we made it. Finally, please join me in congratulating the Class of 2010. They deserve it.
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