May 2, 2009
Welcome, members of the Board of Trustees, President Wong, faculty, staff, families, guests, and my fellow graduates.
Before we go any further or do anything else today, we, the graduates, need to take a moment to give special thanks to NMU’s faculty and administration, reminding them that the work they do preparing us for this moment takes second place to nothing, nothing at all, and that theirs is a first order profession.
I want to share with you the greatness of this University. To do so, I must explain. I have spent 3.5 of my years here as a mail lady on NMU’s campus. Of course, while sorting the campus mail, I learned over half of the faculty’s and students’ middle names, found out who was married to whom despite different last names, discovered which professors had pen pals in India, and even learned who sprays perfume on their letters before mailing them. While delivering the mail, I saw students cry upon arrivals of care packages, professors grumble over late arrivals of packaged live frogs and mice, and secretaries smile at the arrival of bills. Through this job, I learned the names of most faculty and staff and half the students, and can even put a name to a face to half of you out there. Yet, most of you have no idea who I am. Kind of creepy, hey? I was like the mailbox at the end of your driveway – something you see every day but yet don’t really see. It is under this cloak of invisibility as a mail lady that I had the greatest opportunity to really observe my surroundings and to learn what NMU is all about. Let say that I was overwhelmed by what I witnessed. As I roamed the corridors, offices, and stomping grounds of NMU, I could feel the energy of this campus flowing everywhere. Professors were lecturing and guiding students, secretaries were assisting people, students were supporting each other in all walks and aspects of life, and the administration was stopping to ask how they could better assist us students. Everywhere were people reaching out to us students, guiding us with fervor.
These people have shown us passion. Their passion for students and their individual areas of expertise moved even those of us who were Starbuck caffeine-ridden bodies, slouched behind multiple laptop screens, appearing to be in attendance - if only physically - on Fridays at 8am. They reached into our souls and made us care, dream, and have faith. They taught us to be assertive and believe in ourselves.
You may think those are just nice platitudes to say on graduation day, but I know they are skills needed in the real world. Let me give you an example. One summer I was working at a high-end fitness center in Plymouth, Minn., when my new found assertiveness came in handy. The center required all members to check in at the reception desk. One day 7 really tall guys strolled in, strutted past my desk, and headed for the lockers. I was so intimidated by their size and built, that I hesitated and questioned if I should stop them. But it was my job to make people pay the guest fee if they didn’t have a membership to the gym. I felt a gust of braveness and hollered to them to stop! They came to my desk, towering over me. They said, “Don’t you know who we are?” “No,” I responded, then added, “Do you know who I am?” “No,” they said likewise. They proceeded to rattle off their names as if that information would mean something to me…blah, blah, blah. I told them, “Well, that’s nice to know. I’m Jodi Lampi.” Shock, or something like it, passed through their faces. I began to question my ability to handle these guys, as my neck was starting to crimp from looking straight up. Then I remembered my NMU professors always telling me to be assertive and have confidence in myself. “You really don’t know who we are?” they asked again. “Are you really sure you don’t know who I am?” I responded. They exchanged confused looks, but finally one of them informed me they were members of the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves! It turns out all my other co-workers were so star-struck they allowed these players to enter for free. Believe you me, they paid! I was proud that I held my ground. So, NMU, thanks for the lessons on being assertive!
The faculty, staff and administration also taught us how to reach for our desires. We fell sometimes, not because we were fearful but because we’ve learned that you need to stretch beyond comfort and even sometimes come up short when striving for a goal. When we’ve fallen here, the faculty and staff have provided us support, guidance, and – when needed -- a kick in the pants. There is no way we students can repay you for what you have done for us, but here’s my humble attempt: Thank you!
What we’ve learned here on NMU’s campus are great lessons in support and community. NMU’s faculty, staff and administration have set the example of how to take care of one another, pick each other up during times of need, and encourage each other to excel and dream. Because of our experiences here, we’ve grown -- spiritually, mentally, physically, and intellectually. But with growth, comes challenges. We have all had some obstacles, whether they were in the classroom, at work, on the playing field, in the studio, on stage, in the lab, or abroad, and we’ve had them within friendships, our families, and ourselves. Part of our growth has been learning to deal with challenges and, with the example and assistance of the faculty, staff and administration, and fellow graduates, I think we’ve been masterful at doing so. We are here at this celebration because we now have our own insight on giving and receiving support, as well as understanding on what truly makes a community.
Let’s continue to remember our lessons about support and community as we pursue our next set of goals – and challenges – in life beyond Northern. Regardless of whether your top goal is to be President, a doctor, or a parent, become the next Albert Einstein, or even be the best teacher a child could ever dream of, I think we can agree that the main purpose of our time at NMU all comes down to the pursuit of truth and happiness….to discover meaning for our lives. And, we’ve watched some masters at this during our time here – NMU faculty, staff and administrators who really love what they do, excel at their jobs and strive to be even better professionals and community members.
What’s next? How do we shape our individual stories into ones of meaningful lives? I think we have to realize that experiences ahead not only depend on what you make of it, but on how others react toward your actions. In other words, connections impact the path we are about to take … and there we go again with those ideas of support and community. As NMU has taught us, we must work together to build caring communities, to strive to make a difference in the quality of each day. By doing so, we share with others one of the most beautiful things that life has to offer, demonstrating and living passion in our everyday lives. We can continue the same passion and joy we feel today by spreading it to others.
Of course there will be sorrows, difficulties, history we cannot control or change, but let’s be the providers of hope. I encourage you, graduates, to act – as I once heard a man say – as a rebellious band of Johnny Appleseeds, spreading and planting seeds of hope, support, care, and positive change with each step you take. We know now how to do this. We’ve been watching, learning and experimenting, and we’re ready.
But before we set off, Graduates, I ask you to join me as we raise the roof in celebration. Congratulations and good luck. Thank you!