'Still, you kept going'
"When you walk across this stage and get your diploma, it is not just a piece of paper that you will hold in your hand: It is who you are now. A graduate who believes in yourself no matter what anyone else thinks or says or does."
English professor Lisa Mahon was the recipient of the 2019 Elaine Marieb Chair for Teaching Excellence Award. As such, she carried the ceremonial mace and led the procession into the MassMutual Center arena for Commencement on June 1 and gave the faculty address to the Class of 2019. Below is the full text of her remarks:
Good morning! Board of Trustees. President Royal. Esteemed faculty, staff, and guests. Families and friends of our graduates.
We are all here at this graduation ceremony, celebrating this moment of your accomplishments.
To the graduating class of 2019 – You did it!
But how did you get here? What was your journey?
We are all here and got here by different paths, journeys, and reasons.
I grew up in a family where women were not expected to go to college. In my community, I did not often see people going to college. But my father, who has since passed away, saw something in me. He took me to the library. He introduced me to his favorite books. He encouraged me to write and learn and grow, and, because of him, I found my voice in this unfamiliar academic world. Because of him, I teach English. Because of him, I stand here today.
When I finally left my hometown to go to college, I asked myself: Do I belong here? But I kept going. Eventually, I found my place.
I know what it is like to not have a voice, and, with hard work and determination, I found my voice. Here at HCC, I have been privileged to witness students finding their voices and finding their place.
I see myself as a witness to your success today, and that means the world to me. I have learned so much from you all.
Through teaching in the Learning Communities program at HCC, where students can explore social issues from more than one perspective, I have been privileged to work with HCC students who have lived the lives of the social issues we study.
I have seen these students bring their own life experiences into the classroom and turn challenges into empowerment.
I have seen formerly incarcerated women stand up and speak their truths. Through this telling of their stories, we all found understanding and compassion in us. These students made this happen. These students found their place.
By bringing the greater community into my classroom through service-learning, I have witnessed teen mothers find their voices by reading poetry so powerful to HCC students that there is not one dry eye left in the room. Through collaborating with HCC students, these young women are finding their place – and reinforcing their will to keep going, keep achieving, keep growing.
Through teaching in the amazing STRIVE program at HCC, I have seen students who were once told that their obstacles would make it hard for them to ever finish writing an essay, proudly read their paper in front of the entire class. They found their place.
In service-learning, we bring the classroom to the community; in STRIVE, all students are given a chance; and in Learning Communities, students see how all things connect.
These are the stories of students I have known, and I have been honored to witness these students continue their journeys when it would have been easier to just give up.
My students have taught me the true meaning of resilience. I am thankful to you all!
Now, what is your story?
Some of you had someone who believed in you, who told you often "you can do this!" And so you kept going. Some of you had no one cheering you on and may have, in fact, had people in your life who told you that you would not graduate today, yet still – you kept going.
Some of you started HCC at 40, 50 or even 60 years old because you had a medical condition. Or not. Or maybe your career had been taking care of your kids. Or not. But now you wanted to do something for yourself, except it wasn't easy and no one supported you. But still – you kept going.
For others of you, English was not your first language and so you had to find your voice in this new language and adapt to a new country and culture, but still – you kept going.
Some of you had severe anxiety that made it hard to take tests and quizzes or stand in front of the class and present. But still – you kept going.
Some of you worked long hours at a job you didn't love, then stayed up late into the night to finish homework. Still – you kept going.
Others of you were already up all night, a crying baby on your hip, clothes to wash and cleaning to do, but you got that paper done at 3 a.m. before the baby woke again. Yes, still – you kept going.
You kept going and going and going and, at some point, it didn't matter who believed in you. Or didn't believe in you.
You believed in yourself or you would not be here today.
Our stories are all different, yet they end the same: We kept going. And now we are here.
When you walk across this stage and get your diploma, it is not just a piece of paper that you will hold in your hand: It is who you are now. A graduate who believes in yourself no matter what anyone else thinks or says or does. A person who keeps going.
I'm here to ask you today to keep doing what you have done to get here today. There will still be challenges ahead, for sure. But - keep going.
I would like to end with the wisdom of Maya Angelou:
"Still, I Rise.
"And so shall you!!"
Congratulations Class of 2019!
PHOTO by CHRIS YURKO: Lisa Mahon