Graduating senior Tiffany J. Gerrits, of Neenah, spoke at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh’s commencement ceremony Dec. 13. The transcript follows:
Today marks the start of one journey and the end of another. We have reached this point through devotion to our higher education and our goals. Graduates, today is a monumental moment in our lives. What we need now is a little wisdom. So let’s look to one of the most famous philosophers of our time — the great Dr. Seuss — in his inspiring book “Oh, the Places You’ll Go.”
“Congratulations. Today is your day. You’re off to great places, you’re off and away. You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.”
Today truly is our day. Years of hard work have accumulated to this point in time. This is just the beginning of a future that will soon unfold. Let’s … let’s pause for a moment to reflect on the struggles of the last few years — struggles we have managed to overcome.
Imagine the stories in this room, clothed in black gowns. We have not simply been going to school. We have been going to school while dealing with the challenges of life. We have dealt with illnesses, love, loss. Some have married. Some have divorced. Some have experienced the birth of children, and many of us began college with loved ones who are no longer with us. There have been moments when we have wanted to quit, every single one of us. But we did it! We made it! We persevered.
I know that I speak for my entire graduating class when I say we didn’t do this by ourselves. We made it because we have been supported by the people seated around us today, our families and our friends. Had it not been for their constant love and encouragement, many of us, including myself, would not be graduating.
Maybe they gave money to help pay tuition, even though financial times were tough. Perhaps they were there to listen during times of stress. Maybe they were simply present during sorrow. Graduates, I want you to think of the faces of those who put their lives, their careers and sometimes their happiness on hold so that we could make it to this stage.
All of you surrounding us today have sacrificed so much. I know that I speak the profound gratitude each graduate feels when I say, simply, thank you. Thank you so much!
The word commencement literally means the beginning. Our commencement, the beginning, is upon us, and we are ready for it. Our past has shaped our future, and we are stronger humans because of UW Oshkosh and the education we have received. This is the beginning, and there is uncertainty ahead. But take confidence from this experience. Face it, if you made it here today, you can get through anything.
We are moving onto the next chapter in our story. And whether we become artists, businesspeople, nurses, doctors, teachers, journalists or mathematicians, we will be able to persevere.
Our journey that has led us here hasn’t been easy, but nothing worth having ever is. Our degrees that we are receiving today would mean far less if it hadn’t been hard to get here. These diplomas that will soon proudly adorn our walls would just be sheets of paper with meaningless words and unrecognizable signatures. But today, these diplomas and the walk across this stage signify something more. They signify the tears we have all shed, the smiles we’ve shared and the absolute dedication not only to our future profession, but also to our lives.
Though we have paused to reflect, today is a day to celebrate the future. Our philosopher, Dr. Seuss, provides a final inspirational thought:
“So be sure when you step, step with care and great tact and remember that life’s a great balancing act. Just never forget to be dexterous and deft, and never mix up your right foot with your left. And will you succeed? Yes you will indeed. 98 and ¾ percent guaranteed.”
My fellow graduates, today is our day. We’re off to great places, we’re off and away!