Each year at our Graduations, students choose a member of the faculty or staff to speak on their behalf. This year’s seniors chose College Counselor Leslie O’Connor. You can read Leslie’s speech below.

A warm welcome to parents, grandparents, relatives, friends, faculty, staff, administration, Board of Trustees, and the wonderful Class of 2019. I am deeply humbled and honored to be standing here today to address the Class of 2019, my first class as a College Counselor at St. Francis. It is truly a privilege.

Recently, I came across a TED Talk by Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston’s College of Social Work. Dr. Brown is a prolific author who has spent 20 years studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. This particular TED Talk was so compelling that my husband actually sat down and watched it with me, a rare occurrence in our house, as sitting is not really his thing. The topic that Dr. Brown addressed was on what she calls; courageous vulnerability. Dr. Brown’s research of this concept was inspired by Teddy Roosevelt’s historical speech from 1910, “The Man in the Arena.” I will read an excerpt of it now, with the preface that I took poetic license and will say woman along with man for the obvious reasons. The reality is that Eleanor Roosevelt most likely wrote the speech anyway! And I quote:

“It is not the critic who counts, not the man or woman who points out how the strong man or woman stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man or woman who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs, who comes up short again because there is no effort without error or shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds, who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself or herself in a worthy cause, who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and at worse, if he or she fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

Dr. Brown expands on the concept that Roosevelt spoke of so eloquently: if we wait until the conditions are perfect and we are fully armored before we walk into the arena, we miss all the opportunities to live a purposeful life. Our vulnerability is what makes us authentically human.

The idea of courageous vulnerability resonated with me as I have thought about what makes a St. Francis education so meaningful and unique. The Mission of St. Francis embodies the idea of daring greatly and encourages uncomfortable conversations as opportunities for growth. Our community asks us to be bold in our viewpoints and honors different perspectives and voices. I know that each of you in the class have much to share with the world and my hope is that you will take the gift of this rare and purposeful education and always be willing to bravely walk into the arena.

So here comes the advice part of the speech:

Show Up, Speak Up, Stand Up, Then Listen
Be present and engaged in all that you do. Use your voice, especially when others try to silence you. Stand up for your beliefs and for the dignity of others. All great leaders listen, show empathy, and serve others above themselves.

Don’t Chase Your Dreams
Catching them might prove elusive. Make plans instead, set goals and take actionable steps to achieve them, then your “dream” will become reality. Make life your Senior Project.

Care What People Think
There are many people in your life who love and support you unconditionally; you should strive to make them proud. We are not meant to live in isolation but in connection with each other.

Eat Dessert
In other words, do what makes you happy and brings you joy. Experience the beauty of the written word, art, and music; the wonder of nature; the satisfaction of solving a problem or making a discovery; and the astounding power of love in its many forms.

Write Thank You Notes
A simple gesture that is a lost art. Give someone the pleasure of opening a card or letter instead of an email or text. Express your gratitude often to your family, friends, teachers, and mentors. There are many people in this room that love you profoundly; don’t take that for granted.

Be Nice
Be kind to your parents and family this summer. Letting go is very difficult as I can attest to, having a recently graduated senior who will be leaving in the fall. As parents, we have put many feathers in your wings so you can take flight, but we also want you to come back to the nest.

Get In Over Your Head
You can handle it; you have been well equipped and this is when you grow the most. As the great philosopher Winnie the Pooh said, “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.”

I want to express my gratitude to the Class of 2019. There are not a lot of things in life that make you more vulnerable at this age then the college process or the decision to follow a different path. I am so happy that I was a small part of this journey with you. You warmly welcomed me to St. Francis and then, as we got to know each other, you shared your worries, hopes, frustrations, challenges, and triumphs. I have been moved beyond measure by that privilege. Through your stories, you have allowed me to truly see you and that is not a job, that is a gift. You have left an imprint on my heart. I am so very proud of you and wish you so much happiness in life. I want to end with a poem as is tradition in Morning Meeting.

To Have Succeeded by Ralph Waldo Emerson
“To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”

Congratulations, Class of 2019. Step into the arena, find what you love, and do it well.