Stuart Johnson’s Speech At USM’s Graduation 2012 Ceremony


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Honorable Prime Minister Mrs. Sarah Wescot-Williams
Honorable Minister of Education Ms. Silveria Jacobs
Members of the Council of Ministers
Members of Parliament
University of St. Martin (USM) Board of Directors
USM President Ms. Annelies van den Assem
USM Acting Dean of Academics Mr. Glenn Yeung
USM Faulty and Staff
USM Alumni and Students
Graduates of the Class of 2012
Invited Guest
Ladies and Gentlemen (As protocol has already been established)
Good evening,

Tonight we celebrate yet another commencement ceremony for our beloved University of St. Martin under the theme, "Realizing dreams through higher education." However, there is more to a commencement ceremony than having special invited guests and fancy speeches. In fact this is your moment, graduates, to reflect on the duration of your studies at USM. The time spent completing all your assignments and the long hours spent in class against the backdrop of having to deal with all your own personal commitments. Internally this is the moment you realize that all the instructors you’ve had will no longer cause anxiety to you and you can breathe a sigh of relief….thinking, "Good-bye USM."

In the next few weeks and months ahead you will suddenly realize during your busy hectic work day that being at USM wasn’t that bad after all, especially with the "realities of the day" taking center stage in your mind.
Graduates, I’m sure your saying to yourself, "yeah right….what does he know?" As an alumnus of USM, I can give personal testimony of student life at USM and I wouldn’t change it for no other. USM belongs to St. Maarten, and it’s time we give it our all. But tonight’s graduation ceremony isn’t about me; it isn’t about any fancy speech. Instead this moment is yours and I trust you will embrace every second of it and carry it with you forever.
Just recently, I opened my e-mail account to see the usual set of forwards and we all know how we feel about those. But for some reason I couldn’t delete this particular one, which I received from my mom, I’m about to share with you.

The first day of school our professor introduced himself and challenged us to get to know someone we didn’t already know. I stood up to look around when a gentle hand touched my shoulder.

I turned around to find a wrinkled, little old lady beaming up at me with a smile that lit up her entire being..

She said, ‘Hi handsome. My name is Rose. I’m eighty-seven years old. Can I give you a hug?’

I laughed and enthusiastically responded, ‘Of course you may!’ and she gave me a giant squeeze..

‘Why are you in college at such a young, innocent age?’ I asked.

She jokingly replied, ‘I’m here to meet a rich husband, get married, and have a couple of kids…’

‘No seriously,’ I asked. I was curious what may have motivated her to be taking on this challenge at her age.

‘I always dreamed of having a college education and now I’m getting one!’ she told me.

After class we walked to the student lounge and got a soda.

We became instant friends. Every day for the next three months we would leave class together and talk nonstop. I was always mesmerized listening to this ‘time machine’ as she shared her wisdom and experience with me..

Over the course of the year, Rose became a campus icon and she easily made friends wherever she went. She loved to dress up and she rejoiced in the attention bestowed upon her from the other students. She was living it up.

At the end of the semester we invited Rose to speak at our football banquet. I’ll never forget what she taught us. She was introduced and stepped up to the podium. As she began to deliver her prepared speech, she dropped her three by five cards on the floor.

Frustrated and a little embarrassed she leaned into the microphone and simply said, ‘I’m sorry I’m so jittery. I didn’t take my medication! I’ll never get my speech back in order so let me just tell you what I know.’

As we laughed she cleared her throat and began, ‘ We do not stop playing because we are old; we grow old because we stop playing.

There are only four secrets to staying young, being happy, and achieving success. You have to laugh and find humor every day. You’ve got to have a dream. When you lose your dreams, you die.

We have so many people walking around who are dead and don’t even know it!

There is a huge difference between growing older and growing up.

If you are nineteen years old and lie in bed for one full year and don’t do one productive thing, you will turn twenty years old. If I am eighty-seven years old and stay in bed for a year and never do anything I will turn eighty-eight.

Anybody can grow older. That doesn’t take any talent or ability. The idea is to grow up by always finding opportunity in change. Have no regrets.

The elderly usually don’t have regrets for what we did, but rather for things we did not do. The only people who fear death are those with regrets..’

She concluded her speech by courageously saying ‘The Rose.’

She challenged each of those students to study the lyrics and live them out in their daily lives. At the year’s end Rose finished the college degree she had begun all those months ago.

One week after graduation Rose died peacefully in her sleep.

Over two thousand college students attended her funeral in tribute to the wonderful woman who taught by example that it’s never too late to be all you can possibly be.

REMEMBER, GROWING OLDER IS MANDATORY. GROWING UP IS OPTIONAL. We make a Living by what we get. We make a Life by what we give.

Rose challenged her colleague peers to follow that life lesson but I’m challenging you to do more than just that. Our young Country needs visionaries, and leaders who are not fearful of making the bold choices…..So I challenge you to do so in your homes, in your careers and within the community. Speak out and express yourself and be a part of the solutions and not the problems.

Graduates, I now ask you all to stand and recite this pledge:

"I hereby pledge to be a positive role model to USM and to my peers. I will do my utmost to engage in positive activities geared toward the betterment of our beloved Country. And I will never forget that it’s never too late to be all I can possibly be."

All attendees, I too ask you to join and recite this pledge: (Because all what the graduates have been able to achieve tonight and will continue to achieve in life will not be possible without the support of our community)

"I hereby pledge to support and encourage these USM graduates in every way possible. When they lose faith I will guide them to find their inner strength. When they feel lost and forgotten, I will help them to find their way again. And when any door of opportunity closes, I will remind them another door will open with even greater opportunities and promises."

As our spiritual faith proclaims, God promises a safe landing, not a calm passage. If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it.

Tonight graduates, I know the journey of life has just began in your new careers, and those of you who will be continuing within your same career you’ve been able to give yourself a renewed mindset. Academically, if you graduate tonight with your associate’s degree challenge yourself to get your bachelor’s degree. If you graduate tonight with your bachelor’s degree challenge yourself to get your master’s degree and then don’t stop as "the sky is the limit," as the infamous saying goes. However, after you’ve accomplished your academic goals, the time to truly work starts then, by helping to build USM and our country.

USM board of Directors, President, Dean, faulty, students and alumni….tonight I also pledge to you that we will make the alumni association of USM a legal body as we did with the USM Student Government Association when I was President. So like I said, graduates and alumni the ground work has already started and I trust we will be able to rely on your unconditional support with this new venture.

In the words of the United States of America’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (June 7th 2008, speech): "Always aim high, work hard and care deeply about what you believe in. And when you stumble, keep faith. And when you’re knocked down get right back up. And never listen to anyone who says you can’t or shouldn’t go on."

God bless St. Maarten, USM and may God bless us always!


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