Paulelmo's Blog

Commencement response to the President

When I graduated from West Virginia State University, December 2003, I was selected to give the class’s response to the school’s President, Dr. Hazo Carter. This is that response. I find it just as germane for us, the communicators, today as it was then. Hope you take something from it. Be well.

 

President Carter, friends and families, members of the faculty, fellow graduates…. Today, I’m going to talk a little about West Virginia State University.

A few years ago, I began going through the steps to enroll as a student at West Virginia State. I’d taken a few years away from the educational world, and I really wanted to make sure that my choice in a school was a good one. During the registration process, I was given a copy of the school’s student handbook. The school’s motto was inscribed on the cover: “A living laboratory of human relations.” I remember thinking it was a little cheeesy, but hey, I wasn’t returning to school for a motto.

During these last five years, I’ve seen first hand what it means for an institution to be a living laboratory of human relations. It started with Professor Sandy LaVoie, the day I walked into my first classroom, and it has continued through this moment. It will continue next year after my fellow graduates and I have gone.

I only had one goal when I came to State; I only wanted to learn how to write well. I communicate with a pen, and as far as I was concerned then, a pen was the only instrument I needed to communicate with the rest of the world. West Virginia State has taught me that we don’t just communicate with the instrument of our expression.

We communicate constantly. We do communicate when we write, but we also communicate when we speak, and when we draw, or snap a picture, or play a tune. We communicate when we listen. We communicate when we do nothing at all. What would an institution of higher learning be if it didn’t communicate itself well and teach its student body to do the same, especially one that sells itself as a living laboratory of human relations?

I’ve met so many excellent communicators of education in my time at State. They’ve showed me ways to write better, taught me the importance of knowing what has happened and what has been written before me, taught me how to communicate in a foreign language and better understand the nature of our global community, shown me a few of the finer points of communicating with the visual and audible arts, instructed me in how to communicate with a group as large as you, and impressed upon me how important it is to be interested and supportive.

If WVSU is a living laboratory of human relations, these folks are the reason that such is so. They are the life that makes it a living thing.

We hear a lot of talk about the “global community” in this Internet age. That’s because the barriers in the world are coming down. This fact is respectfully recognized here at State. I’ve had the opportunity to study in Mexico, and I’ve had friends who’ve studied in Guatemala, Venezuela, Czechoslovakia, and Egypt. I’ve studied with students from Africa, Asia, Europe, and South America. With the people of the world in such closer proximity, our task as members of the West Virginia State University family is made that much harder. We have language and cultural barriers to overcome and philosophical and religious barriers.

That task, of communicating solid ideas and teaching dependable knowledge, is so important in this global community. I can’t think of any time in my life when it’s been more important for us to be good at what we do, and it doesn’t look as if that task is going to get any easier as we continue along.

I was speaking with Professor Erlandson a couple of weeks ago and she told about her four year old daughter, Nora, waking her up at 6:30 on a Saturday morning, telling her that she must come quickly, that she had to see the miracle. “It’s a miracle, Mommy,” the little girl announced, “a miracle. Come quick, Mommy, it’s a miracle.” The miracle was snow, and Molly and Nora were warmly dressed and outside playing in it soon after.

There are so many everyday miracles happening in our world, and we, as members, affiliates, and friends of this living laboratory of human relations, have to do what we can to communicate them. We have to recognize what we’re doing here, to remember that we communicate at all times, and to work on learning to accomplish the tasks better.

A few years ago, my sister and brother-in-law gave me a copy of a John LeCarre novel titled Our Game. I never read it, but in the preface to that novel, Mr. LeCarre quotes a proverb from the Ingush people, a tribal group located outside of the former Soviet-Block region of Chechnya, whose language is slowly dying. “He who fears the consequences cannot be brave,” the proverb says. He who fears the consequences cannot be brave. We have a difficult task ahead of us as members of the West Virginia State University family. We can’t fear the potential negatives of our well-intentioned actions or attempts. Not that, having witnessed what I have here, I’d think we ever would. Still, I thought today was a good day to be reminded that an ending is just going to lead to another new beginning, even if a few of the names and faces might change.

I’d like to thank all of you for your kind patience and attention. I’d like to thank my incredibly supportive family and friends. I couldn’t have made this without you. I’d like to thank and congratulate my fellow graduates, and, once again, I’d like to thank the entire faculty and staff of WVSU. I have had a blast, and it turns out that our motto isn’t at all cheesy.

2 Replies to “Commencement response to the President”

  1. I’ve enjoyed reading this despite the fact that I was present for the speech, mostly because it’s nice to remind myself of what you said. However, I do remember you mentioning that “cheesy” motto and how it’s not so cheesy after all. That was a good through-line for the speech.

    Also, how correct were you about barriers of communication coming down with the proliferation of the Internet? This was before most of the major communication sites today were active.

    I don’t remember who gave our commencement speech nor what was said. I think it’s telling that I remembered your speech far better than our own, though. In fact, yours is the only commencement speech I remember in any capacity at all, and that happened considerably longer ago than any of the commencement speeches I was privy to in college.

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