I miss hot summer days as a child. I miss running around without a care in the world. I miss filling water balloons up and having water balloon fights with the neighbourhood kids. However, I always overfilled my balloons. So many times, those vibrant coloured water balloons exploded in my hand in protest to my complete disregard of their capacity. Leaving, plastic colourful rings around the faucet head and I soaked and angry, already losing the fight. Leaving me hating the balloons for being so weak and not being able to reach the capacity I wanted. I did not want to be complacent and settle with barely filled water balloons. I wanted the balloons to expand but, I did not realize for this expansion to occur, I had to be in tune with them and be aware of their bursting points. I know you are all probably wondering right now, why is this guy is talking about water balloons but, just hang in there with me.
Class of 2017 you must never be complacent, you must constantly pursue expansion. However, learn from my childhood mistakes. To accomplish this expansion, you must be in tune with your own personal vessels and be aware of your own personal bursting points. This is possible if, you take care of yourself and if you never forget who you are and appreciate your growth.
Now here is my first point. If I was cognizant of the water balloon’s bursting point, i could expand the balloon without it bursting. Water balloons are meant to explode but, only when you are ready for them to, at the right time and at the right place. To combat complacency and expand your vessel without bursting, you must be aware of your own personal bursting point. You can do this by being aware of your mental health and taking care of yourself.
Here at Northwestern, we have world-class academics but, we also have world-class students. Students that consistently seek to expand their vessels and pursue excellence and achievement in every endeavour, no matter the pressure. Students at Northwestern are hard workers, leaders, and critical thinkers. Students balance tough course loads in conjunction with extracurricular activities while navigating under the faucet of pressure of this stringent quarter system. A system with midterms and papers due almost every other week. So, unfortunately, here at Northwestern we are also known for putting academics over self-care and mental health. As a low income and first-generation college student, I was tasked with navigating masculinity and responsibility with very little support. There were times in which I was reminded of my previous experiences where poverty and instability lurked all around me. This, compounded with the memories of the constant bullying that I received as a youth created a perfect formula for low self-esteem, depression, and a debilitating psyche. It was also here at Northwestern, that the tragic death of Jordan Hankins taught me that it is okay to not be okay, that you can trust and open up to people that care about you, and that there is power in being vulnerable
Now to my next point. When you are in tune with something you gain a greater appreciation of it and with that comes a greater understanding of it and with that greater understanding comes the opportunity to master whatever you are in tune with. If I was in tune with the balloon I would have known exactly what I needed to do to achieve the expansion I sought, without reaching the balloons bursting point. To further our expansion and defy complacency, we must be in tune with our own personal vessels and master them. The greatest way to accomplish this is by never forgetting who you are and appreciating your growth.
Here at Northwestern, we are known for stretching out our consistent pursuit of excellence. We have conquered some of our most burdensome obstacles. We have met with triumph and disaster, treating those two impostors just the same. Some of you may not even recognize your freshman year counterpart. I know sometimes I see old pictures of myself from freshman year and wonder if I even know who that person is. (pause for laughter) think about the identities, relationships, and goals that you held near and dear to your heart just a few years ago. What do they look like now?
I did some reflection myself on this matter as I was preparing to write this speech. Like many Northwestern students, I came to northwestern wanting to pursue pre-med and like many Northwestern students, after a couple of premed classes, I realized I had to get out of premed. This left me lost, with no goals or passions. I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life. Then, I transferred to the school of education and social policy and took my first social policy class. I became aware of the laws, policies, and issues that plague and subjugate the black and brown people that call the united states of America home. Then, I was blessed to spend the spring quarter of my junior year doing my practicum at the West Side Justice Center in Chicago. This experience was a groundbreaking one. I had the ability to work with lawyers doing a wide array of civil and criminal justice work. I got a close view of our criminal justice system and saw how broken this system is. This experience was a turning point in my life. I made a promise to myself that I would dedicate my life to reforming our criminal justice system. So, that “liberty and justice for all” can finally transcend speech and come to fruition for all. So, that equality and diversity can be more than just objectives on boardroom walls. So, that mass incarceration can be a thing of the past. I guess you could say, I found my passion while in SESP.
We have all grown tremendously; do not do yourself a disservice by not appreciating this growth. Circumstances change, and we must be able to recognize that and not take it for granted. It is imperative that we reflect on these changes and truly appreciate our growth. Take a second. I imagine some of you could not even fathom seeing this day. Some of you have fought hard to be where you are now. At times, you may have felt that your best was not good enough, life may have gotten the best of you, and you may have been on the verge of giving up, but you never did. You have experienced highs and lows, but the lows have helped put the highs in perspective and given you a greater appreciation of them. Be proud of this, cherish this and never forget this.
I want you to never forget what you bring to the table is priceless. Yes, we may have our quirks or flaws, but they make us unique and add flavour to the world. Embrace your flaws whole-heartedly and own them. These beautiful imperfections are what make you perfect in your own respect.
I see before me a room full of people who have withstood the pressures of this crucible we call Northwestern university. People eager to expand. People standing under the faucet of life, ready to be filled, ready for whatever the world has to offer. But do not just take anything the world throws at you. Demand to be given what you to deserve and never settle for less!
Finally, never be complacent
Understand the importance of time. Time is one of the most precious substances in the world. It is also one of the world’s greatest paradoxes. It is both infinite and limited. You must cherish each grain of sand that cascades down your own personal hourglass. Do not let complacency rob you of your time. One thing that I learned at my time here at Northwestern is that complacency is toxic. It is the very antithesis of progress. Complacency will make you waste your time in a place that does not challenge or meet the standards you set forth for yourself. Learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Do not be afraid to have those difficult conversations with those you may have different views with. You may feel uneasy and at your bursting point but, that is the only way we will ever understand each other and progress.
Explore new things. Do not be afraid to take risks. Sometimes, the safe choice is not always the best choice. Getting out of your comfort zone puts pressure on you until you reach your bursting point and you then must decide which is worse? The pain of staying the same or the pain of change. From there, real growth occurs. At times, we hover over our comfort zones. Uncertain of what lies ahead. Uncertain of our capacity to succeed. I dare you to fill yourself to your bursting point. Stretch out your limits. Project yourself to heights higher than you could have ever imagined. Go places you have seen only in your dreams. Do not let those fallen grains of sand become martyrs to your complacency.
In closing, I am so thankful for the community within the school of education and social policy. I believe that I found my passion because of SESP’s amazing community, a community like no other. It is open, encouraging and insightful. In SESP we are known for being the little school that could and for being world savers. We are known for fostering new ideas and changing perspective, for possessing an intense feeling about community and for encouraging experiential learning in conjunction with academic endeavours. Because of this community, I could freely engage in thought-provoking dialogue with professors and fellow SESP students which, helped to further incite the passion of social justice that SESP already lit inside of me.
A couple of years ago I never imagined that I would have the courage to give a speech in front of my graduating class. But certain chains of events such as, joining my fraternity, Alpha Phi Apha Fraternity, Inc., transferring into the school of education and social policy, and becoming more involved with the black community and the Northwestern community in large taught me valuable lessons on complacency. These lessons helped me to expand my vessel, reach a new level of growth and become the man that you see before you today. A confident man with drive, passion, and purpose. I’ve come a long way from being just a lost and hopeless poor immigrant from Nigeria. Class of 2017, I want nothing more than to see your constant expansion. But, this can only happen if you consistently dare to defy complacency and for this to occur, I hope that you learn from my childhood mistakes. You must be aware of your own personal bursting points and take care of yourself, you must be in tune with your own personal vessel and never forget who you are and appreciate your growth. Class of 2017, impossible is only impossible until someone makes it possible, go defy complacency and go make the impossible possible. Thank you and God bless.