Each year CUNY SPS asks graduating students to apply to be the Student Speaker at Commencement. As part of their application they are asked to submit their anticipated speech. At the end of the process only one student is selected, however, numerous speeches embody the spirit of the graduating class. We are proud to share some of these speeches here.

Julie Maury is graduating from CUNY SPS on June 6 with a Master’s Degree in Disability Studies and this is her speech:

I want to wish the class of 2016 the very best in their future endeavors. I know a lot of the fellow graduates have experienced endless nights of writing papers and lots of research. But, you’ve made it and have achieved your degree! Take a deep breath and enjoy this day and every day for all they are worth. Keep going forward in the directions of your goals. Don’t just follow your heart, do what resonates deeply with you and work with intention towards your dreams. May you keep or find a job or jobs that you love. Aristotle was quoted as saying: “Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.” Through those words we can realize that one really can find joy in life through doing what matters to them most.

I am sure that many of you choose your path of study, your degree path, because you want to have a greater impact in this world. I grew up as a person with a disability. I was told: “You can’t…” or, “You shouldn’t…” a number of times when it came to following my goals. What I came to realize is that there were many disability advocates and community activists who I could look upon as examples of what is possible to achieve in this life. For example, my mentor, Nadina LaSpina taught me about the power of building a strong community and being an Activist and a Scholar of Disability studies. She, herself, is an Activist, Writer, and former Professor of Disability Studies. It was through Nadina that I learned the ‘door’ of life’s possibilities was open to me. My mind started to wonder about what it would be like to be a Scholar in Disability Studies. I then found out about the CUNY School of Professional Studies Disability Studies Master’s Degree Program and felt ‘at home’ upon my first visit to the building. Nadina allowed me to be aware of what is possible to achieve in life and this school did the same for me. I learned about the Disability Rights Movement with a depth I never thought possible.

I hope that you all will “Lead On!” as Justin Dart “Father of the Disability Rights Movement” famously once said. “Lead On!” in being good examples to others of what is possible to achieve in this life…in academia and beyond. Keep pushing forward and never give up. There are times when life will get difficult but, as in your academic career, things always evolve. Keep evolving throughout life…with life. Do not allow yourselves to be stagnant. Also, do not be afraid of change. You never know what ‘beauty’ can be around the ‘corner’ at any time.

Remember to take time for yourself and do not take life to seriously. Do not allow work to overwhelm you. Find a balance in your life. And, again, keep ‘moving’ forward. Albert Einstein once said: “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep balance, you must keep moving.” I hope that where ever your path takes you it’ll take you far and towards whatever your desires are.

Also, I want to say that if any one of you hit a crisis point in your life, please do not be afraid to reach out and ask for help. Know that you are cared for. There were a number of times, while at CUNY SPS, where I felt very stressed out with the workload and there were many times that, because of the stress, I considered leaving the program. I reached out to Professor Mariette Bates, who runs the program, and she would encourage me to keep going. Never underestimate the power of a kind word. Never underestimate the value of taking time out to talk to someone who really could use an ‘ear’ to talk to. That can have a huge impact for the better. Communication is so important. The words of encouragement, that I have received, throughout my time in this program, particularly, have meant so much.

My fellow students in the program have all been so inquisitive and thought provoking. You have really made me think critically and want to learn with you and from you. I never dreaded going to classes, no matter if they were online or in person. I valued, so much, sharing life stories and different points of view. Learning about other students’ lives was so interesting. Some were from other parts of the world, others from different states. All held such value in their views. Such a depth and passion for learning. I remember, a number of times, staying after classes ended, outside of the building, or late nights online, because I never wanted some conversations to end.

But, as in life, things do come to an end. This is the end of one path for many of you in this room today, but it is the start of a beautiful new path as well. In a way, school never ends, if we keep our minds open—we’ll keep learning for the rest of our lives.

In closing, I want to say that I wish you all the very best in whatever paths you all choose. Just never stop moving in the directions of your dreams, never compromise your character, and most of all keep your minds open to the beautiful opportunities that life has to offer/present to you. You all have great worth in this world. Never let anyone tell you any different. Margret Mead once, famously said: “Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.” I believe she was right. And, I have great faith that you all can do just that. Again, as Justin Dart said: “Lead On!”

 

 

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