May 2012 Commencement
A total of 230 graduates (59 master's students and 171 undergraduates) earned their degrees at Stephens College's Commencement ceremonies on Saturday, May 5, 2012, in John and Mary Silverthorne Arena. More than 180 graduates participated in the ceremonies.
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In the News:
- Columbia Tribune: Stephens, Columbia colleges award diplomas
- Columbia Missourian: Appreciation dominated Stephens College commencement ceremony
Anita Parran '73 :: Jessica Beasley
Anita Parran '73, keynote speaker
Anita Parran '73 is the associate state director for public affairs at the AARP Missouri, which is based in Kansas City, Mo. She is also the owner of KK Charles Communications, LLC, which specializes in media and public relations, communications consultation and professional writing.
Good morning and congratulations to the Stephens College Graduate Class of 2012.
I thank Nancy Cornwell, Vice President for Academic Affairs, and her colleagues for inviting me to address you today. To President Lynch, trustees, staff, sister alums, families and friends, I extend greetings.
To the graduates, you are not graduating from college. Life will be your college and you will continue to earn CEUs for many years to come.
When Nancy asked me to address this class, I have to admit I was at a loss of what to share. When you’ve attended life’s college as long as I have, there are too many experiences and thoughts that focus on success and its meaning.
But, that’s what I would like to address today: the meaning of success, and your continued success in all of your endeavors.
I’ll share with you today is something that was shared with me by a Stephens alum, and I thought it appropriate. It is titled “The Pencil Parable.”
This parable is appropriate for this occasion because it speaks to the best that I know each of you will achieve, no matter what life cycle your are experiencing.
Imagine that you are a pencil – a plain and standard #10 yellow pencil with an eraser. Listen closely to this parable and determine what meaning it has for you as you plan your today and tomorrow.
In the beginning, the Pencil Maker spoke to the pencil saying, “There are five things you need to know before I send you out into the world. Always remember them and you’ll become the best pencil you can be.”
First: You will be able to do many great things, but only if you allow yourself to be held in someone’s hand.
Second: You will experience a painful sharpening from time to time, but this is required if you are to become a better pencil.
Third: You have the ability to correct any mistakes you might make.
Fourth: The most important part of you will always be what’s inside.
Fifth: No matter what the condition, you must continue to write. You must always leave a clear, legible mark no matter how difficult the situation.
The pencil understood, promising to remember, and went into the box fully understanding its maker’s purpose.
Now, replacing the place of the pencil with you, always remember - and never forget - and you will become the best person you can be.
One: You will be able to do many great things, but only if you allow yourself to be held in your spiritual guide’s hand. And allow other human beings to access you for the many gifts you possess.
Two: You will experience a painful sharpening from time to time, by going through various problems, but you’ll need it to become a stronger person.
Three: You will be able to correct mistakes you might make or grow through them.
Four: The most important part of you will always be what’s on the inside.
Five: On every surface you walk, you must leave your mark. No matter what the situation, you must continue to serve.
Everyone is like a pencil…created for a unique and special purpose.
By understanding and remembering, proceed with your lives on this earth, having a meaningful purpose in our heart.
Graduates, you were made to do great things!
The Pencil Parable inspires us to do our best and to strive for every success. I couldn’t resist, however, to seek various definitions of success.
My method was to query a number of friends and professional colleagues who I considered to be some of the best “pencils” I have encountered. I asked each to share their definition of success. Their varied backgrounds and professional positions held a common theme.
I received responses, in part, from a senior vice president in Private Banking; senior vice president of human resources; vice president of global communications for a national insurance company; life coach, author, and radio personality; graduate student; attorney and shareholder in a large law firm; founder of an organization that nurtures girls and young women; and independent contractor with a focus on strategic management.
Here’s a sampling of what each said:
Janet, the banker, said that success is having a strong network of family and friends who in an instant will come to your aid if you are in need - and vice versa. Janet added an aside to her response, “Anita, I would jump through hoops for you!”
The insurance company vice president, Dawn, measured success as achieving evolving personal and professional goals.
Vasavi, life coach, author and radio personality, defined success as being at peace with yourself and being of service.
Graduate student Sarah said success is knowing that your purpose has been fulfilled: love in abundance, peace in challenge and storm, and authentic joy that inspires.
Anita, attorney at law, said success is that place where joy finds its voice, peace of mind calls home, and passion quenches its thirst and refuels itself as necessary.
Girl organization founder Chantell defines success as achieving personal goals and helping others get to the top as well.
My dear friend Elaine, the strategic management expert, told me that success is seeing the vision that you hold become a reality.
As you can see, the definition of success is truly an individual assessment.
Odd that it is, I found my personal success philosophy articulated on a room accessary while shopping the clearance aisles in a Target store. It is, “Success is not measured by what we have. It is about what we give.” Each day that I wake, that is the first thing I see on my television stand that is in my bedroom.
Graduates, your definition of success will depend on your goals and objectives during your life search. But I am confident, because of the milestone that you celebrate today, you will be the best “pencil” in the box and determine your success philosophy.
Congratulations again. You are to be applauded for your dedication to learning and perseverance in achieving this success of many to come.
I wish you well and I close with the words that my first-grade teacher wrote in my memory book:
“Good, better, best, never let it rest,
Until your good is better, and your better best.”
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Jessica Beasley, class speaker
Jessica Beasley of Columbia, Mo., earned her Master of Education in Counseling.
It was very difficult for me to decide what to speak about today. All of us, including our families, have probably been through at least two or three of these ceremonies. What message could I express that wasn’t feeble mimicry of something we’ve all heard before?
As my friends and family already know, I have difficulty doing something without intense study. Even the birth of my son became a research project. I’m one of those annoying few who can honestly say they’ve enjoyed reading a textbook. So what did I do when I was asked to give this speech? I searched like mad for an idea to inspire my colleagues and hopefully keep them awake while I was talking.
And while these searches inundated me with words both humorous and heartfelt, nothing seemed quite appropriate to honor our accomplishments and serve as guidance in the future. I noticed in my reading most commencement speeches are designed to encourage and enlighten graduates as they enter the “real world.” In the end, I think this phrase was at the heart of my dilemma. How can I talk about us entering the real world when we’re already there?
None of us are fresh out of high school. Most of us are already married, have children, and figure out how to pay our bills each month. We’ve experienced heartbreak, frustration, and at times even despair. The real world a cynical place. A place where the black and whites of our idealism can so quickly fade to gray. We get up, go to work, come home, feed the family, go to bed, and do it all over again…sometimes it’s easy to become sucked into the daily grind. I think we’ve all had a time when we couldn’t see further than the day or week ahead of us, a saddening tunnel-vision in which we let opportunities pass us by without so much as a backwards glance.
If that’s not real enough for you, I’m not sure what is.
So I’m not going to talk any further about the real world. You don’t need me to tell you about something you already know. Instead, after you walk across this stage, I entreat you to enter a better world. A world full of hope and the potential to be better than it was the day before. A world in which you have faith in yourself and others to be agents of positive change. A world you embrace unconditionally, rather than look upon with a critical eye. Hold tight to your dreams, act with conviction and passion, and put back on those rose-tinted glasses once in a while.
I am not asking you to forget the real world and all of its difficult truths. Rather, I’m asking you to temper this knowledge with a healthy dose of innocence. Regain the ability to see things as they should be, rather than simply as they are. Being cynical is easy; it’s being an optimist that’s difficult.
I believe we all have the potential to make the choice for a better world. In fact, we’ve all started on that path already. No matter what our individual reasons were for furthering our education, it was not an easy decision. The idea of spending money so you can take on more work and have less time with your loved ones frankly sounds a little crazy. Yet, by making this decision we all said a resounding yes to hope. The hope that we can make a better world for ourselves, our families, and perhaps those we have yet to meet. Through our experiences in this program, we learned we possessed the perseverance to take on difficult tasks and be successful. We learned we could be stronger, wiser, better people than we thought possible. I know I did.
In closing, I would like to read a quote from the historian, activist, and playwright Howard Zinn:
“TO BE HOPEFUL in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.
What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.
And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”
Thank you and I hope you will all join me in a better world.
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Jasmine Johnson, class speaker
Jasmine Johnson of St. Louis graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology.
Good Afternoon President Lynch, Trustees, and guests.
Thank you to the distinguished members of faculty, staff, and administration for taking the time to get to know the Class of 2012 as individuals. Your passion for Stephens and the students here is truly inspiring. To all of the family, friends, and loved ones, thank you, and to the Class of 2012, congratulations! I am deeply honored, humbled, and grateful to be here with you today.
Classmates, you are some of the most creative and dynamic individuals I have ever known. You have choreographed numerous dance pieces, produced films, started organizations, competed in rigorous horse competitions, designed full collections, won awards at various conferences, completed full business plans, competed in sports, and the list could go on. Additionally, you have worked several jobs while completing your coursework. I cannot help but be overwhelmed by the dreams that are brimming over our mortar boards, and I am excited to see where they will take all of us. Seeing all of you before me is inspiring. I may be giving this alone, but please know that I am encouraged and strengthened by you.
As we leave Stephens today with a degree, we also take our places in the world among the fortunate. Some of us come from households where education is expected, and others have had to go through many obstacles to get here. Today you may be the first in your family to graduate from college; what an amazing accomplishment! But no matter where we started, we all have tremendous opportunity when we leave here today. When we came to Stephens we each had a dream, an aspiration that brought us here, but over time some of us realized that what we thought we were supposed to do was not necessarily what we are meant to do.
Stephens is a place where we learned to take risks and try out new ways of working with each other. At times we fought against self-proclaimed incompetence and the negative thoughts that said we could not. At times the coursework and self-reflections were painful, but all a part of what was meant to happen here at Stephens. We learned that tough times will show us what we are made of, and differences among individuals are not barriers but opportunities for growth.
Nelson Mandela, an anti-apartheid activist and South African politician once said, “Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor. It is what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another.” I really learned what this meant while reading “Half the Sky” by Pulitzer Prize winners, Sheryl WuDunn and Nickolas Kristof in Dr. Tina Parke-Sutherland’s ‘Gender across cultures’ class. In the book, the authors assert that the fundamental moral challenge of this century is oppression of women and girls around the world. Their book is a global call to action to give women basic human rights.
Compared to these women, we are privileged in the United States; we are closer to achieving equality under the law. I imagine that Kristof and WuDunns’ dream is a place where women globally can act authentically, refusing both limitations and laws that dictate their freedoms. Stephens is a place that embodies Kristof and WuDunns’ dream, and it encourages its students to pursue that authentic life. Here we are encouraged to create authentic and active selves who move in the world in original and independent ways. In some of the stories in “Half the Sky,” the women do not have that encouragement, but some of them reject their worlds’ attempt to tell them who they are. They demand a life of who they want to be, instead of accepting who they are told to be. They should be honorary Stephens women!
“Half the Sky” is not purposely a happy book, but it is a beautiful one. It is a critically important story of smart and strong women for those women and for women in general. The mission of Stephens College is to “prepare students to become leaders and innovators in a rapidly changing world.” I ask that we open our hearts and use our talents because the world needs our talents. Our dreams and our visions are not just our own, they are to be used to empower others to find their own dreams and visions. Our Stephens education is an engine, an engine that has created strong, intelligent women in a global society that still supports inequalities endorsed by many systems of oppression.
We are leaving today with so much more than a degree. This is our moment. It is more than we think, more than a piece of paper, more than getting 100% on exams, more than sitting in global ethics class taking notes as fast as Candace Korasick can talk. It is proving to ourselves that we can go beyond, it is about being sleep deprived, and about crying because we do not think we can make it another day. It is about our friends, our college family who will always pick us up. It is about the chances we have been offered here and wanting to do so well. It is about wanting to quit, wanting to breathe, and wanting to start over. It is about sitting in classes where professors challenge us to step out of our comfort zones, and professors telling us “I believe in you,” “You can do it.” It is an opportunity to learn something we did not know we had, whether it be strength, courage, confidence, power, wisdom, abilities, and privileges we take for granted; it is about accomplishing our goals. It is caring about those women in “Half the Sky” and those suffering in other countries, states, other cities, Columbia, Stephens, someone sitting in our audience.
This is our moment, right here, right now. We are leaving today with so much more than a degree. Thank you and Congratulations!