Georgian Court University Commencement Address By Alicia Cook
May 19, 2021 – Georgian Court campus – Lakewood, NJ
Approximate Transcription of Commencement Address by Alicia Cook Below:
Thank you, Dean Edmonds, for that lovely introduction. Good morning, President Marbach, Trustees, Faculty, Staff, Alumni, guests, and most importantly, good morning, graduates. My name is Alicia Cook and I am a writer from New Jersey. I am also a graduate of Georgian Court University.
Before I get started, I want to take a moment to give a special shout out to my parents, who sat in the pouring rain in 2008 to watch me graduate on this very campus, and who sit here on this beautiful sunny day today. I think it’s important for me to say that my parents never questioned what I would do with a degree in English Literature. They never suggested I major in anything else. And I am so grateful they never tried to persuade me away from my passion, because I love my life. So, thank you, mom and dad, for getting it right away and for believing in my ability.
Dear graduates: My time at Georgian Court University was different than yours. Less buildings, all women; no laptops and very limited use of technology; more use of microfiche, notebooks, and pens. But Georgian Court’s mission and core Mercy values were the same which likely makes our experiences also feel very similar. This place has a heartbeat all its own, and today you are adding yours to the composition.
In 2008, I was here. Graduating at the height of an economic recession; not exactly sure what was next for me, or the world for that matter. Being told left and right that the future was now “unknown” and not to get discouraged by any setbacks.
And today, we are hearing a lot of the same, aren’t we? That the future is “unknown.” Often, it’s said in a way to make us worry about what tomorrow could possibly hold for us. But here’s the thing. Worrying about tomorrow is a fool’s errand because the future has been and will always be “unknown.” It isn’t just unknown in difficult years, but always. Every second past this one is unknown. And instead of that invoking fear, I hope that invigorates you all.
Now, this month is mental health awareness month, and I am a writer who has made her career out of writing about this important topic. Right now, we’re all kind of, collectively, not totally okay. How could we be? Unprecedented times makes for unprecedented minds.
The past 14 months stripped us of normalcy but did not break our spirit. I believe it has reminded us that our adaptability is our greatest strength. We are chameleons, clairvoyants, and shapeshifters, and we will always transform into who we need to be to make it through, together.
You, and the class before you, are facing hurdles no one else has ever had to jump over. It wasn’t a fair race, but you have crossed the finish line, perhaps a little battered and tired and suffering from Zoom fatigue, but you made it! I hope you hold space for yourself today and feel great pride in what you managed to get done during this time.
When I was growing up, the biggest lie I ever believed was that I would be able to outline every moment of my life, and that the trajectory of my life was going to be this fast-moving linear line upwards, and that any pivots and dips off that course meant I was failing.
So if there’s anyone out there today, who feels like they can never catch up lately…or that they’ll never reach their goals…push through, little by little. Looking at the “big picture” could become overwhelming at times, making tackling that first step feel impossible. Cross dates off calendars, check things off your to-do lists, take breaks, mess up, ask for help, even start over. That is what I’ve started to do in my life. And wish I had been this gentle with myself sooner.
Every single person here today is living a life they never saw coming and has had to make sacrifices and postpone things, and has had to grieve something or someone over the last year. If we all tried to count up how many versions of ourselves were sacrificed in exchange for the people we are today, we would quickly lose count. We don’t need reverse-engineer what brought us here. The iterations do not matter. What matters is that we shed skin trusting that we’d never reach bone. What matters is we cried tears, knowing that we wouldn’t drown. What matters, is your resiliency bubbled to the surface and you are here today, accomplishing this monumental achievement.
SO – Let’s begin measuring life not just in numbers and years but in sunsets and trees blossoming and brilliant views.
Because true growth cannot be calculated by the notches etched in the moldings of our bedroom walls. Our scars cannot be understood by the nicks on our knees and elbows. Our metamorphoses cannot be grasped by the skin we’ve shed.
Strength can only be quantified in what remains, in what withstood every storm and every disruption. And we are standing here, believing that this world is still an inherently good place to laugh, to hurt, to love, to lose, and to exist. And the people here today cheering you on, know how hard you worked to get to this moment.
You don’t have to be at your best to achieve greatness, but you do have to keep going. So even on days when I don’t want to get out of bed, on days I feel like there is no point…I still get out of that bed, I still do the pointless things.
Because trying is progress. Failure is not a backwards direction. In fact, failure is a man-made word we need to remove from our dictionaries. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Small, every day wins are still victories worthy of celebration.
The great secret of continuing on even when you don’t want to, or don’t think you can, is that you’ll always be grateful that you never gave up on yourself. You’ll always be grateful that you kept going. You’ll never regret it.
You are beginning your next chapter at a unique moment in history.
Georgian Court University doesn’t just push graduates out the door, they release changemakers, global citizens, into the world. That is your power. The world cannot fix itself. Us Georgian Court grads fill voids in the world and restore hope. And you have a full support team behind you, in the Georgian Court Alumni network.
You, class of 2021, are the architects for a better world. We need you. You very well might have a once in generation opportunity to rebuild this planet, starting at the studs. And I know you’ll make it a more compassionate, respectful, empathetic, just, and kind place to live.
Go out and do good. We’re all rooting for you. I wish you all greatness, good health, and peace. Congratulations, graduates! And thank you for including me in your special day. Thank you.