I’ve been to many graduation ceremonies, and I’ve heard a lot of fusty speeches about how one class or another was going to change the world or solve hunger or bring about world peace and do it all while remaining best of friends.
Last weekend, though, God blessed Texas.
The 135th commencement of the University of Texas at Austin contained the most inspirational speeches I might have heard before at a graduation.
Alejandrina Guzman is the first Latina to serve as president of the Student Government Association at UT and the first student body president in the Big 12 to have a physical disability.
Guzman has diastrophic dysplasia, which causes dwarfism and other physical abnormalities. She needs the use of a wheelchair to navigate the huge campus.
Her happiness radiated, though, and you got the impression this young woman can do anything she wants.
“The doctors told my parents I wouldn’t be able to walk, but my mom took that as a challenge,” Guzman said. “When I was 3, she would practice with me every day to help overcome my fear of falling. And although I use my wheelchair across this 400-acre campus, I am able to walk because of my mom.”
Following her, U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Raquel C. Bono, director of the Defense Health Agency, told of her own paths blazed.
When she was a child, she was willing to limit herself, telling her surgeon father she wanted to work with him in a hospital but not believing she could do so as a doctor herself because, well, that didn’t seem to be a job a woman could have.
She’s proven her young self, and many others, wrong.
“When it came time for my promotion, I had to special-order the bling that I’m currently wearing because they’d never had a female medical three-star admiral,” Bono said.
“But see, you guys can do that. You guys can do all of this. Absolutely. You can do anything. All of you can do anything, and wherever you go, it is OK to break a few molds. It is OK to make them have to special-order you something because it’s never been done.
“It is OK to rock the boat, and every now and then you need to.”
Graduation in Austin was one of those special family moments we celebrated because my brother-in-law, Dixon, completed his Master of Business Administration. He and my sister are writing their own story. Soon to come is a new home in a new state, and I pray that an expansion of their family follows soon in God’s perfect timing.
I know we have graduations this weekend of the three Newton County public high schools, on the heels of local college commencements. It’s a time for celebrating accomplishments of the past, but also to look ahead.
After we heard from Guzman and Bono, my mom said, “Doesn’t that just make you want to go back and be 20 again?”
Absolutely. So for those of you who are, or are even younger, heed their advice.
Stand on the shoulders of giants. Acknowledge the work of those who have cleared a path for you, and as you make your way into the world starting this weekend, make a clear path for someone behind you.
And don’t forget to say thank you to the ones who helped you get where you are today.
“The reality is, I am up here now because of all of those who have paved the way for me, those who sacrificed for me and those who continuously empowered me,” Guzman said.
“Your presence matters. In everything you do, you have an entire group of people supporting you.”
David Clemons is the editor and publisher of The Covington News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @scoopclemons.