Words from The Podium – A Commencement Speech

Good Morning,

I would like to Thank Principle Joseph O’ Brien, the Director of College Counseling and my dear friend Yelena Ramautar, the faculty, and most important the 50+ students from the graduating class of Brooklyn School For Global Studies for this invitation to speak to you all today.

I know some of you already have your summer plans ready to go. You’re only present because your family insisted that you come. You’re thinking whose this guy? He sounds like Chris Rock. If he’s not funny, he better not talk too long… ain’t nobody got time for that.

I’m always honored to have an opportunity to speak to young people like you. It was only 8 years ago; I was in your seat. I was eager to stay as fresh as possible spending other’s people money – thanks, Granddad! I was eager to make friends, play sports and video games, talk to girls and think about my crush.  When I wasn’t doing any of that, I dreaded the idea of homework longer than it took me to do it. Sounds familiar?

If you’re like me today you’re filled with a lot of emotions. Your journey as a freshman to a graduating senior was everything you didn’t expect.  You didn’t expect to have a favorite subject for me it was English. You didn’t expect to get a low grade for me it happened on a Math exam. You didn’t expect someone to care about your success as much as you did for me that was Yelena. You also didn’t expect to go through a life-changing event for me that was losing my mother in a car accident.  Who knew in four years so much about your life could change?

While each day came and went, you were slowly, becoming the person you are today. You were becoming that example of hard work paying off so much so that you’re inspiring your siblings and your best friend at the same time. Mom or Dad, who insisted that you come to your graduation, knows from their experience the power of your example. Only a handful of people believed that I could publish a book and unfortunately for a while I wasn’t one of them.  Until I hit rock bottom, I lost my good job and didn’t have a clear vision of what I wanted to do. I turned to what I love writing and before I knew it; I made it happen. Now people from different walks of life ask me how to publish. Your strongest influence you will have on yourself and others throughout your life is your example. Be mindful of it.

You had the right idea to want to look the part of a successful man or woman your freshman year. As a graduating senior that idea goes beyond the look, more into the actual steps it takes to be successful.  You learn that to become the next Oprah, college is the next step. In order to be a businessman like Jay-Z, you would need to get your MBA.  My friend, she had a dream to become a doctor since she was a little girl. In order to make it happen she made decisions.  She decided to go find a mentor who was a doctor. She decided to participate in programs for aspiring doctors. She decided she wouldn’t let a bad break up dim her spark. She decided to graduate undergrad and grad school. Now, she’s an exam away from entering medical school. The vision you have for yourself is what you will become.

But today, you’re filled with emotions. Your friend that you told your deepest secret has a different path. One of you may be heading away to college, while the other is going to a CUNY school. Another friend isn’t as fortunate, somehow becoming the victim of drugs, violence or an unexpected pregnancy. My friend like that is facing 33 years in prison.  Today, you’re filled with emotions because despite the adversity you faced on over 1200 days in high school you will be embarking on a new journey.

This new journey will require you to learn a new set of skills, make new friends and more memories. I was ill prepared for college.  I had limited exposure to life outside Breukelen Projects in Canarsie and a lot of my college peers came from High Schools that prepared them for academic success. But I entered as an Educational Opportunity Program student. I struggled until I humbled myself to ask for help. I allowed myself to be tutored by upper classmen, peers, and utilized academic support until helping one another became second nature, and study sessions became test prep norm.

Confidence in your self is like a flame. There are circumstances like doubt and negative people in your life that can fizzle it out. There are also circumstances like positive relationships and faith that will let your flame blaze into a fire that will inspire change. You will defeat odds just like the schools mission of,  “Understanding Ourselves, the World and How to Make Change.” You made the greatest change in your life by graduating today.

May all your dreams come true despite those who doubt you!

Good look and god bless.

Thank You,

Rashaun J. Allen


Rashaun J. Allen (@rashaunjallen) is the author of A Walk Through Brooklyn & In The Moment. He has been featured in several publications such as: The Chronicle, The Troy Record, Albany Student Press & UA Magazine. Find his books at www.Royalbluepublishing.com.

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