Student Commencement Address

December 17, 2011
Lauren R. Fusilier

We Have Arrived

Members of the Board of Trustees, President Wong, faculty, staff, families, friends, and my fellow graduates, it is my profound honor and joy to welcome you all to the December 2011 Northern Michigan University Commencement Ceremony. Thank you to each and every one of you for gathering at this early hour – particularly early for a Saturday after Finals Week – to celebrate. What a wonderful, momentous day!

My fellow graduates – Wow! Well, here we are - finally. After all the months of never quite being sure where the rent was coming from or how we were going to buy groceries for the week, after all the days of hurrying from class to work to another class and all the nights of studying until dawn in the Starbucks lounge, after the countless hours spent staring at a laptop screen, and all the minutes spent stressing over exam scores – we have finally accomplished what we set out to do. We have arrived.

But, this morning, in all the euphoric relief and excitement, I have been asking myself, arrived to what?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2010 Educational Attainment Data, this morning we will all join the ranks of the 15.5% of U.S. citizens who hold a college degree. Further perusal of the 2010 Census Data reveals that, as a part of that 15.5%, we will have access to higher-paying job – jobs in which there will be room for us to move, be it up the corporate ladder, through the glass ceiling, or even into early retirement. However, today, we know this is not always the case. The National Bureau of Labor Statistics also shares data with us, showing that of our population of college graduates, nearly nine percent are unemployed at present and two times more are underemployed.

We have arrived to a "real world" in which there are few jobs to be had, and more people than ever vying for them. The competition will be fierce, but not to worry. We're Wildcats. If you've been to even one NMU hockey game or one match of intramural broom ball, you know we are already fiercely competitive. NMU has prepared us for the pressure of the job hunt, providing resume¢ assistance, interview practice, job fairs, and access to employment networks. Now, we must utilize that preparation as we step outside of the safety and support of the learning community on this campus, persevering until we meet success.

We have arrived in a world that demands our transparency. As we pursue the opportunities in our future, we are sure to be faced with difficult choices – choices that will ask us to choose paths of integrity. As we've attended college, we have watched adults in the generations before at every level of corporate management, political office, celebrity status, and syndicated sports fail to maintain integrity and honesty in their professional positions. We must not repeat their mistakes, for the world will be watching us. We must remain cognizant of the fact it is not our words or accolades that will define who we are; rather it is our choices that will, in the end, determine how we are remembered in the eyes of not only society but of those closest and dearest to us.

We have arrived in a world that will make significant demands of our time, determination, and strength. Therefore, I think we must make some resolutions. Today. This day. As we graduate and move forward, we must resolve to out-hustle. We must resolve to out-innovate. We must resolve to rise to the challenge of competition. We must resolve to do the hard things, seeking integrity and justice wherever we go.

We are a generation of "doers." According to a 2007 article in TIME Magazine, for the first time in a long time the words and resolutions of the emerging generation are not just empty; they are words being put into action. We have been a part of this trend here at NMU. Habitat for Humanity, Relay for Life, Circle K, the Invisible Children, Make a Difference Day, blood drives, and canned food drives – NMU has provided multitudes of opportunities here on campus for us to put our words into action and make a positive difference. Now, as we depart, we must resolve to continue to turn words into action and, like Mahatma Ghandi, "be the change" we wish to see in the world. We have arrived, to a "real world" brimming with challenge and opportunity. May we never shy away from either and never lose sight of who we are and aspire to be. Thank you and best wishes to you all.