I first arrived on campus in 2010. It was assumed I’d graduate with the Union College Class of 2014. So I’m sure you are all asking; how does a fifth-year student come to be the commencement speaker for the class of 2015?
Allow me to explain. As I was preparing to return for my senior year two summers ago, I had nothing but the most optimistic view for what my future held. I had recently been voted captain of the Union Men’s Lacrosse team and “figured out what I wanted to do in life.” I had everything planned out. I saw myself winning a national championship in lacrosse and being selected as a First-Team All-American lacrosse player. I would also then graduate from Union and follow in my father’s footsteps and get a job in real estate, buy a home with a white picket fence, so on and so forth, and live happily ever after. However, life decided to throw me a curve ball.
Later that summer, one week before I was set to head back to school, I was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Cancer. It holds a different meaning for each of us. In one way or another, everyone here has most likely been affected by it, either through a friend, family member, or potentially even yourself. Most people have an extremely negative association with this word. Prior to being diagnosed, I only knew cancer as a disease that one had to fight. We continuously hear stories of someone seeming healthy one day, and the next being told they may not have much time. My experience with cancer has changed my perspective.
I was diagnosed with a cancer called Ewing's Sarcoma, which affects mostly adolescent children between ages 10-20. Even before this episode, I was scared to death of hospitals so much so, I must admit, I needed my mom to hold my hand while a nurse would draw blood. Thanks Mom. So there I was, living at the pediatric ward of Memorial Sloan Kettering, which was a very humbling experience.
At some point we all have experiences that change the way we think forever. For some this may have already happened; for others, it will come later in life. It is how we deal with these times that make us the people we are. When faced with this kind of challenge many would think, “this isn’t fair”… But life isn’t fair. It will beat you to your knees if you aren’t willing to fight. But, it’s not how hard we fall that counts, it’s our ability to get up and keep fighting. I think Rocky Balboa said something like that.
I just want to say that without the support of my family, my friends, a lot of last year’s boys who came here today and the entire Union Community, I would have had a hard time making it. I could not have overcome this challenge on my own. Union has always been there for me as it has been for you. I watched as my friends and family fought by my side. I watched as my teammates shaved their heads in support. I watched as yellow ribbons went up all over campus, and people whom I’d never met before wore my number three to let me know they were fighting for me. This is family. This is Union. And this is what life is all about. We are now a part of a family that goes back more than 200 years. Throughout my experience, Union alumni from across the country, some who had graduated 30 years ago or more, reached out to me to offer their support even though our only connection was Union. This speaks to the tight-knit community that Union has built.
As commencement speaker, the cliché ending of my speech would be for me to tell you all to follow your passions and be true to yourselves, but that view begins with self and ends with self. We have been taught virtues that prepare us for the market place. However, this year I have realized that there are another set of virtues that are not focused on in society. The virtues spoken about a person, such as he was so kind, compassionate, honest, giving and loving. We all know these virtues are much more important. All I know is whatever path you choose, don’t forget to breath, be present, be appreciative, love and take time to feel.
To the class of 2015, we don’t know right now where we will end up, but please stay blessed, and take time to create meaning and appreciate this magical thing called life. Thank you friends, family, teachers and staff for being here today. Thank you Union.