Leandre Waldo, Director of Media Relations
Phone: (802) 923-6195
President Laackman, Members of the Board of Trustees, Members of the President's Cabinet, Distinguished Guests, Faculty, Staff, Family and Friends of the Graduates, and Members of the Class of 2016, it is an honor to address you today on this amazing day.
Graduates, Your determination and initiative + Our radically pragmatic education = Career success.
If this sounds familiar, that's because it is on the Champlain College website. It is the essence of Champlain. Now, I'm not a big fan of mathematical equations, since I'm a Professional Writing Major, but let's break this down.
I had to exercise this before I even considered coming to Champlain College. In addition to being a Pell Grant recipient, which has to do with your socioeconomic status, I am also a Vermont First recipient, which means that I am the first person in my family to seek higher education through a four-year degree.
This means that although extremely supportive and wonderful, my family could not really helpme when I applied for college. I had to find that drive.
As a teenager, I had to take the initiative to take my ACTs, study for them, get good grades in high school, fill out college applications, and write college essays. It was my responsibility to get those essays edited, to figure out how to get my transcripts, and to apply for scholarships in that little blue book that they hand out.
Now, I am one of the few women from my graduating class in high school who grew up in the Old North End of Burlington who can walk across the stage and receive a college diploma.
Today, I am proud, but I am also cognizant of those who did not have this opportunity. I am aware of those whose paths took a different turn. The journey to and through education is different for everyone.
When I was in Entebbe, Uganda on a service trip at the Malayka House, which is an NGO focused around children, I was developing a photo essay on women's empowerment.
One of the questions I asked the girls was: "Do you think school is important?"
They all replied something along the lines of, "Duh, of course it's important."
I can tell you that the look of determination that this question inspired transcends girls and women of all ages.
But when I asked them if they wanted to go to college, not all of them were sure.
After interviewing the girls at Malayka House that day, I was laying on my cot staring up at my mosquito net.
I remembered the chill day in November 2011 when I tore open my acceptance letter from Champlain College. "Congratulations!" it said.
I was thousands of miles away, hot and sticky when I fully realized the essence of what this meant for my family.
For a second, I wondered why I get to do this. I empathized with the lack of sureness that the girls from Malayka House had, but not the lack of access. I had to work extremely hard to get here today, but I always had access.
That is not the case everywhere.
I have traveled to a different country every year I have been at Champlain. Uganda my first year with the Center for Service, my second year, Nepal, my third year, Nicaragua, and then back to Uganda this year.
Now, all of those countries are very different. But something they all hold in common, and something that is true worldwide is the pure, untapped, human potential. There are children everywhere who want to learn, who are capable of learning.
In Nepal, you would see schoolchildren hiking up what we would call a mountain (and they would call a hill) to go to their classroom. They did this every morning. When I asked our host about it, he said some kids will walk miles just to go to school. Can you imagine the things you would have said to your parents if you had to walk up a mountain at 7 in the morning?
Although the quality of education in Nepal is increasing, there still aren't many who get to benefit from higher education.
In Nicaragua, when we visited Grenada, a man came up to me while I was taking photos, and he said, "Look at my feet," so I looked at his feet. They were bare and dirty. His pants were torn at the bottoms and caked in mud. He said, "I am a college student here, and my family can hardly afford that, so I cannot afford shoes." I don't know about you all, but no matter how bad things have gotten, I have always had shoes.
In Uganda, girls, in particular, have it rough. They are often harassed by male teachers and on the streets. Many of them dread going through puberty because they know that the harassment will increase exponentially.
Once they do hit puberty, many of them miss school. But the girls I talked with, they keep going. They just keep going. And when they told me about their hopes and dreams for the future, it was like watching a bird take flight.
When I asked Nomatovu, who is 23, she didn't even look at my eyes.
She looked somewhere far beyond me, somewhere that no one can see except for her.
Keep in mind, when I tell you this, that Nomatovu came from difficult beginnings. She was forced to leave an orphanage with her two siblings after the abuse became too much to handle. Since she is the oldest, she had to make the call to leave the only "home" they had ever known.
"Where do you see yourself going from here?" I asked her. She answered quickly, "I see myself as a strong lady, a famous lady. Doing many things. Creating things, businesses, and jobs for other women."
The amazing thing is that she already does this. She runs the financial account for the Malayka House, their pizza nights and craft finances. She mobilizes the other girls that live there and empowers them to learn valuable and tangible skills, like leadership. Assertiveness.
Nomatovu was not bitter when she told me all of this, she was hopeful.
She taught me something that day.
There are a million different stories and places that we come from, as human beings. But it's what we do with those experiences that can truly make a difference in the world that we live in.
Up until that point, I had been asking the wrong question: Why? That "why" implies, "Why me?" And that limited my perspective immensely. Because it's not about me.
That's where "our radically pragmatic education" comes into play. I realized that I needed to start asking how. How can I make a difference? How can I be strong? How can I create jobs? How can I create? How can I make it so that every person in the neighborhood I grew up in has the opportunities that I have had?
How can we pave the way?
About 34% of people in the United States currently hold a Bachelor's Degree. This number decreases dramatically when we look at the world. Globally, 6.7% hold a Bachelor's Degree, according to Huffington Post.
This presents us with an imperative. We must use our pragmatic education not only to ensure our own career success but the human success of others. We must access that untapped human potential.
A world where only 6.7% of people have the privilege to hold that Bachelor's Degree in their hands, to walk across the stage in cap and gowns like we are today, is a world that is full of unfairness. It's a statistic that shows us that something needs to change.
We are graduating today to become many things. Some of us will become Public Relations Specialists, some will become Social Workers. Some will become Game Designers, and some will become writers. Some will be Business Managers, or Human Relations Specialists or Computer Programmers. Any way you map it, we are all going to be in that top 6.7% of the world.
You know, Millennials, we get a pretty bad wrap. In a New York Times article called, "What Happens When Millennials Run the Workplace?" We are referred to as having traits associated with: "A sense of entitlement, a tendency to overshare on social media, and frankness verging on insubordination."
But those are the things that we should be most proud of. In reality, we are challenging the status quo. We are questioning the authority that has been handed to us. We are asking "why" and our sense of entitlement often pertains to the inequities that we see and share on social media every day.
I am proud to be a part of our generation. I am proud because we ask these questions, I am proud because we challenge structures. I am proud because we are going to change the way that the world works. We already are.
That brings us back to our mathematical equation.
Your determination and initiative + Our radically pragmatic education = Career success.
What does it mean for you to have a successful career? Does it mean making $60,000 a year straight out of college? If you're going to do that, that's amazing for you. But what happens when we take away the dollar sign? What else are we going to do? How are we going to leave our mark on the world?
When you separate yourself from that mathematical equation, below it in bold letters, "Audeamus, let us dare."
In what ways will you challenge the boxes that we live in? How will you utilize your education to make the world a better place for your community? For your friends? For your colleagues, and classmates? For people who live far away from you on different continents, in different countries?
There are two kinds of people in this world: Those who dare to make a difference, and those who do not. One thing, in my young age that I am sure of, is that those who dare to make a difference often do, and those who never gave themselves a chance in the first place.
Across our college experience, we have been thinking about how we can take initiative, how we can develop professionally. We've been finding our own passions and developing initiatives. We've been traveling to Ireland, France, creating video games, having constructive dialogues in CORE classes. We've been creating clubs, organizations, and works of art. We've been filling LEAD credits, learning how to dress in interviews, thrusting ourselves outside of our comfort zones.
We've been going through these motions. But now, as we go out, it is up to us to ask ourselves:
How am I going to dare?
Founded in 1878, Champlain College is a small, not-for-profit, private college in Burlington, Vermont, with additional campuses in Montreal, Canada, and Dublin, Ireland. Champlain offers a traditional undergraduate experience from its beautiful campus overlooking Lake Champlain and over 90 residential undergraduate and online undergraduate and graduate degree programs and certificates. Champlain's distinctive career-driven approach to higher education embodies the notion that true learning occurs when information and experience come together to create knowledge. Champlain College is included in the Princeton Review's The Best 384 Colleges: 2019 Edition. For the fourth year in a row, Champlain was named a "Most Innovative School" in the North by U.S. News & World Report's 2019 "America's Best Colleges,” and a “Best Value School” and is ranked in the top 100 “Regional Universities of the North” and in the top 25 for “Best Undergraduate Teaching.” Champlain is also featured in the Fiske Guide to Colleges for 2019 as one of the "best and most interesting schools" in the United States, Canada and Great Britain and is a 2019 College of Distinction. For more information, visit champlain.edu.