A Message to the Class of 2022
Check out the transcript below from the commencement speech given by AACC professor, Candice Hill, at last week's ceremony.
To watch the speech, check out our YouTube!
Thank you, Dr. Lindsay, Board Members and guests, faculty, staff, family, and graduates for the opportunity to speak to you today.
Class of 2022, when I was asked to do this today, I was super stoked. You DID this. I get to honor that.
Being super stoked then gave way to being freaking terrified. Not just like small terror. Like overwhelming terror.
I am absolutely a glossophobe. (this is your English professor lesson: a glossophobe is someone who is afraid of public speaking. It comes from the Greek word “glosso” for “tongue” and “phobos” for “fear.”)
Did you know there is a word for the fear of being forgotten? Athazagoraphobia. It’s new enough that it’s not even in the Oxford English Dictionary. But that doesn’t mean it’s not real. Or that’s it’s not a real fear.
We’ve all had a lot of “phobos” these past 2 years.
I admit that I spent a lot of Academic Year 2020-2021 wrapped in a blanket while teaching from my computer. Yes, the blanket does in fact have my dog’s face on it.
True facts from history: This robe right here? The act of wearing it? This thing is the Medieval version of the Snuggie or the Slanket. Academic robes were designed to keep clerics and scholars warm while they were studying--- immobile for hours pouring over their texts, big poofie sleeves keeping their hands warm while they turned the pages, silly hat covering their heads, bent over their books.
Practicality then turned to tradition: Erasmus, 16th century theologian, scholar, and philosopher famously and wisely said to his friends, “Induere vestem tuam die mercurii.” (in-do-ray vest-em too-am die mer-CUR-ii), which, loosely translated means, “On Wednesdays, we wear robes.). Academic regalia thus became the habit of the scholar.
Habit gives way to power.
Now? Academic regalia is power, right? You take up space in that outfit, both literally and metaphorically. Education is about taking up space. For me, teaching composition and literature is bringing students to a place where they are comfortable taking up space: on the page, in the classroom, in their families, in their communities, in their world.
Class of 2022, you’re taking up space. Virtual space. Real space. Like, how many tickets did you con your friends out of to get your support network in here to take up that space with you? You are claiming your space!
In addition to getting his friends to join him in the wearing of roba on Wednesdays, Erasmus also said of space that “Space separates our bodies, not our minds.”
Glossophobia. And why I am here. And how I am here.
I get over my fear (like heart racing, hands shaking fear- we’re at like 140BPM here-) of public speaking by reminding myself that I belong here. I belong here, in this space, in this ridiculously silly hat, in this fancy set of robes (aka a really expensive Snuggie), right here talking to you.
I remind myself that I love each and every one of you, even if I never had you in my classroom. I do. And you have challenged me to be here; so I am. Because you are a part of a community to which I belong, to which I am fiercely loyal, to which I respect and honor today. We are each other’s; that’s the all the redefinition I need.
Belonging is a habit. It is an act. And it is power. We engage in the act of belonging everyday when we open the door and walk into the building, when we log into our class, when we answer an email, when we wave to a classmate, when we greet each other, when we protect each other, when we encourage each other, when we try, when we succeed, when we don’t, when we help each other to be better versions of ourselves, when we do right. It gets easier with practice-- until it becomes a habit…
Until you know you belong here. In your own silly hat, in your fancy robes. With your communities supporting you.
This is a power. This is a power that overcomes fear, that overcomes hardships, that overcomes isolation, that absolutely squashes any phobia you ever had that you made the wrong choice, that you took a mis-step, that you were alone.
You belong. We see you.
Welcome to the greatest power that we possess, the power of Community. You always have a place here.
We celebrate today. Celebration itself is also a power, an act, and a habit.
We have, it seems, gotten out of the habit, of celebration. Graduates, you have brought us back to it. We thank you, for challenging us, for joining us, for giving us a reason to celebrate.
I think it’s traditional for a commencement speaker to have an inspirational quote. We have, I think, over the last two years, gotten a little hazy on time. What day is it? When did I last shower? Is it still 2020? 2021? 2022? Is this year over yet? Emily Dickinson (only one of the best American poets in history) was an expert in isolation, in wearing the same roba (white dress instead of academic robes!) for like a decade, and in telling us what we need to hear.
She said, “Forever is composed of nows.”
Dickinson hardly published at all in her lifetime, but all of Dickinson’s “nows” were preserved whether she wanted them to be or not. Even when we think we want to be forgotten, we’re not.
Dickinson’s visionary poetry was ground-breaking, even though no one listened to her at the time, neither literally nor metaphorically. Sometimes our messages need to age a bit or need to wait for the right audience. Sometimes the world needs to catch up with us. Sometimes we think our words aren’t worth it when our words are the world to someone else.
Dickinson’s finding her voice opened the door for many other strong women to find theirs; she made belonging possible. It is a power. Lizzo (only one of the best contemporary American musicians in recent history) is an expert in extroversion, in wearing never the same roba twice, and in telling us what we need to hear.
She said, “It’s about damn time.”
Okay, alright. It is.
Celebrating is taking this now right here, shaking it off, staring really hard at it, and appreciating it, not for what comes next, but for what it is for itself. I will be absolutely and utterly honest: what we celebrate here today is not where you are going next- the job, the transfer institution, the promotion, the certification- we celebrate every little habit you cultivated, every act you took that put you here now in your fabulous hat and robes.
We have had enough, we have enough, we will have enough sadness—celebrating is taking this joyful moment, this one right here, and living in it, living in it so hard and with so much intention that we can relive it. That feeling you have right now? That one that makes you so proud of yourself that you also feel pretty good about that person sitting next to you? That’s the power of celebration- we can keep that. We can hold onto that. We can make a habit of being mindful of joy. We can shake off this Now, and when today is over, and you need a Now, you can unfold this one, shake the wrinkles off, and put it right back on again.
You belong in this celebration. That is a power you can take with you. That is a power that beats out forgetting any day.
Athazagoraphobia. The fear of being forgotten.
I have students email me years after our class has ended, and they always begin with “I don’t know if you remember me.”
We always remember you.
Let me tell you how we, your professors, will remember you:
You chose to keep going with your education when the world just stopped doing everything else.
You came to video conferences with your faculty holding your children on your lap.
You suffered; you mourned; you marched onward.
You asked for help.
You logged into classes and turned your camera on when no one else did.
You came to class with your camera off, but lit up that chat.
You introduced me to your cats, your dogs, your parrots, and your lizards.
You humored my canned discussion questions.
You tried to convince me that I should not make you write essays because Covid. Yeah, no.
You emailed me when I didn’t seem as upbeat one week to make sure I was okay.
You admonished me for emailing you back at 3 a.m., telling me I should be asleep.
You were right.
You came back to campus.
You made sure I knew you were smiling when I couldn’t see it.
You laughed at my really bad jokes.
You turned up, you turned it up, you turned your work in.
You made me have to change the way I teach. It made me better.
You made me want to be here. Every day.
You did that.
You will be in my heart forever.
You have not been fearless. You took that fear, acknowledged it, and chose to Belong. You have chosen to Celebrate. You have chosen the Now.
Emily Dickinson also told us, “You never know how high you are, until you are called to rise.”
Class of 2022, congratulations. You have been called to rise and here you are.