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Matthew Conlin graduated from the Master’s in Disability Studies Program last night and was selected as the class of 2016’s Student Speaker. Below is his speech:
Thank you for granting me the honor to speak today. Writing this speech, I have looked to some of the most successful people in the world and their advice—their quotable wisdom. The internet has made this sort of research quite easy, you know, but rather than focusing, you end up watching Chewbacca Mom on YouTube. I thought maybe I would begin with a quote by a beloved icon: Audrey Hepburn, David Bowie, even J.K. Rowling. And then I realized that as loved as they are, I can safely say we’ve all heard those motivational quotes before. And, clearly, I am not an icon, I am a graduate. Just like you. So, instead I decided to speak today about us, and what we are going to accomplish from this point forward. Whether you’re receiving your Undergraduate or Graduate degree, you have a hopeful future. You have a chance to use your skills and your talents to make our world a better place. And who knows, maybe we will one day be as famous as the people we try to quote. But that is only if we listen to our hearts, and follow our goals all the way to the finish line. This is our time, our adventure, our journey.
Believing in oneself is the key to a better life, and to a better world. We all start somewhere. For that reason, I would like to share with you a bit of my background. When I completed my Undergraduate degree, the unemployment rate was up to about 9.4%. That was 2009. I eventually found work in the field of content marketing, and like most graduates in that year, I took whatever job I could find. As a millennial, I was lucky even to be employed. Fast forward a few years. While I still loved media, I was growing restless and knew I needed a change. I wanted my life to mean more than working to fill experience hours.
That’s where CUNY School of Professional Studies fit in. I sat in my first class, nervous because I hadn’t been a full-time student for a while. But everyone here was warm and welcoming. I was home. I found a field where I could give back to the community, and one that encouraged my dream of social justice. Here I found another family, as I would honesty call them, who supported me through every step with guidance, patience, and harsh, but useful criticism. And, yes, Professors, I am talking about you. I am also talking about my fellow students. Together we strive to be more. CUNY provides us that opportunity. It is our springboard, and we are the ones who seek to make a better future for ourselves, our loved ones, and our community.
Whether you were in Disability Studies—like me—or another, we are alike. You came here to achieve more. As a student, you have polished your knowledge and have learned about your field. Because of these new friendships, new mentors, and hard work, you are here today at this ceremony and ready for your next adventures.
And what do I mean by adventure? Well, let’s think about it. This graduation does not indicate that we know everything. Graduation signifies that we have progressed to the next level. It is about understanding that there is still more to learn. CUNY SPS has given us a strong foundation to hone our talents. No matter our age, we will learn from the world and give back to the world. What we do with our degrees from here on out is essential. Our careers, our choices, and our actions matter. Our adventures are really beginning now that we have the insight and groundwork we needed for the road ahead.
We were led here by our interest. Our pure intent and commitment paid off. We worked hard, and combatted exhaustion with tea and coffee, and an occasional nap or two. Professors and textbooks gave us the information we needed. Colleagues and friends gave us the encouragement we needed. All of these experiences were part of our academic adventures, including the frustration of setbacks and heart racing joy of accomplishments. It was our genuine devotion to our craft that got us this far and will keep us moving throughout our careers and lives.
Let’s use that motivation to enact change. Regardless of our professions and interests, we are all here to be the best versions of ourselves. Call me idealistic, but with our new degrees, we can use our talents to make an even brighter future for ourselves and our communities. So, let’s go shake things up! Congratulations, Class of 2016. Let our new adventures begin!
As I write this, I have Microsoft Word open with nothing more than a title on the page. Even the title isn’t sitting well with me. It’s the beginning of a 5-6 page paper due next Friday for which I have a topic, enough background information, and websites for citation purposes. The words are just hard to come by. I’m writing here to vent my frustration with the sometimes overwhelming process of putting thoughts to paper.
In another Word window, I have some sentences down for a project I’m a bit more excited about, though there’s no grade given for that. That’s a personal project. Ideas came to mind, and it was best to write them down. I’ve always dreamed of making a film. Not for fame or fortune because I’m too much of a realist for that, but because it’s the best way I can think of to express some of life’s sensibilities. A diary. I’m not talking about some three hour epic, but something short; 10 minutes, 20 minutes. Maybe several 10-minute sequences over the course of time that add up to feature length. I can post them on a website dedicated to the project. YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram play a part in promotion.
It’s all a struggle. It’s like sometimes your mind just becomes a cloud. The type of cloud with nothing going on inside. No lighting or thunder, no rain or snow. I write, not because I think I’m any good at it (I give myself credit for being pleasantly mediocre), but because it can be very rewarding. Here, I vent my frustration. On another page, an idea comes alive. That’s when I love it. The screen in front of me becomes a form of therapy. Getting started is the hardest part. Then I get started, and the first 500 words become the issue, though once you get into a groove, it can be an infectious feeling. One idea follows another and suddenly you’re several pages in without feeling like you’ve really tried.
What’s the best ending to your story? Forget the story, what’s the best ending to a paragraph? How do I make the simple thought a powerful one? I should let more prolific authors answer those questions. It’s possible the answer isn’t the same for everyone. We each get to a specific point in our thoughts, but go in different directions.
Despite all that, I’ve always been capable of a good paper. Give me a 5 page paper any day of the week over a 50 question multiple choice test. Studying for weeks for a test is arduous at best, excruciating in general. Writing is such an important part of being a student at CUNY SPS. Its helped me view my strengths and weaknesses in equal measure, and with time, improve those deficiencies.
One tip I can give that’s been helpful to me as of late is to find a song, or a type of music you like; something that helps you relax, or puts a smile on your face. Play that music when you write. Not so loud that it’s a distraction, but loud enough so that you feel whatever emotion you’re looking for in the moment. I’d always heard that classical music was a great motivator in the process. I tried it. I liked it. I also find inspiration in a terrific film score. Sometimes it’s dark and creepy, sometimes it’s melancholic, and other times it’s the uplifting sounds that might push you to a place of triumph, so to speak.
Some will use big, thoughtful words, and speak in terms you might not understand. I find as much value in that as someone who just writes what they think in even the simplest of ways. I’ll go back to my open Word windows now and try to piece it together bit by bit. I know it will get done, and done well. It just takes time.
Robert is a current student here at CUNY SPS, pursuing a degree in Communication and Media. He is interested in platforms of media, especially those related to digital media; and a fan of serious film as well as this current golden age of television.
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