*Yesterday I had the privilege of speaking at the high school graduation for the Urban Assembly Institute of Math and Science for Young Women. Here is what I said:
Good morning students, faculty, parents, family members, and guests. I have been given the extreme honor and privilege of speaking to you today to help celebrate these beautiful, talented, and precious young women. Hopefully my words will encourage you all and help you graduate to the next stage of your life.
It was just a few weeks ago that I sat through my own graduation from Regent University filled with the same hopes and dreams for the next phase in my life and career. To be successful at this stage in my life, there are three things that I needed to do.
The first thing that I had to learn to do was to let go of false identities.
From the time that you were born, you were assigned an identity or a label because of your race, gender, age, family history, and your socio-economic status. You’ve been called underprivileged, underserved, disadvantaged, needy, low-income, and as such, maybe you have felt less than, not good enough, deprived, inadequate or unqualified in some way.
But I am here to tell you as someone who is an immigrant, black and a woman, raised in a single-parent home that these labels do not define you. (Please allow me to re-introduce myself …) Yes, you have to start re-introducing yourself to society as an overcomer, an overachiever, more than enough and more than adequate.
Every morning when I get up, I have to remind myself that I am fearfully and wonderfully made, and that I am not a mistake. I have a purpose here on this earth, which is to motivate and encourage young women to be all that they were made to be. Believe me, you have to know who you are, what you want to do in this life, and why you want to do it to succeed at the next stage in your life.
The second thing that you need to do is to surround ourselves with cheerleaders.
Look around this room at your loved ones. Your parents, siblings, friends, teachers, mentors, are all here to celebrate you and your accomplishments today. But the celebration doesn’t end with graduation and so family and friends, you are still needed. When these young women start college, start a new job, or struggle to make friends and even when they make mistakes along the way, you are still needed. They need you to continue to cheer for them and call them regularly while they are away at school. They need you to help them navigate the first year of school, help them to focus on the important things, and hold them accountable for their actions.
Graduates, learn to celebrate others as you are celebrating your own accomplishments. Your fellow graduates are your sister friends who you will meet again five, ten years even ten years down the road and you will need each other then too. When I told one of my sister friends (Kendolyn), that I would be speaking here today, she said, “I’ll be there.” She showed up and is sitting in the audience today cheering me on. You will always need cheerleaders, positive influences and guiding forces in your life, no matter how old you are. So parents, faculty, and mentors, please keep showing up and cheering for these young women, and students, keep showing up and cheering for each other.
The third and last thing that you need to succeed at the next stage of life is GRIT.
GRIT is defined as the strength of character or a force to be reckoned with.
I came up with this acronym for GRIT: Grace. Resolve. Inner Voice. Tenacity.
- Grace: We need grace for ourselves when we make mistakes or when things do not go as planned. Grace helps you to cut yourself some slack and understand that you won’t get there overnight but you will get there. So don’t stop trying.
- Resolve: defined as a firm determination to do something or to decide on a course of action. You have to resolve to be something whether you want to a lawyer, doctor, CEO, or President, you make the decision and then you do whatever it takes to get there.
- Inner Voice: Your inner voice or spirit has to be louder than every other voice around you. So even when your cheerleaders are busy or you’re surrounded by a bunch of negative people, your inner voice will help you to remain positive and cheer for yourself when no one else can or will. Simply put, learn to encourage yourself and learn to listen to that still small voice that says, I can and I will.
- Tenacity: is defined as extreme persistence . This is the essence of grit because it keeps you going and helps you to never, never, ever, give up on yourself or your goals. No matter how difficult it seems, remember that you made it here because you have character of GRIT.
I know that some, if not all, of you have GRIT because you are here today despite the obstacles you’ve faced along the way. So don’t stop now, continue to succeed at the next stage by letting go of false identities, surrounding yourself with cheerleaders and developing more GRIT.
As I close, I want to leave you with this quote from Marianne Williamson. She said, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. Your playing small does not serve the world.”
So class of 2017, remember to stop playing small and let your light shine. Then you will truly be a force to be reckoned with!