Olivia Rodriguez – Valedictorian Speech

Fellow graduates, I want you to know what a great honor it is to be standing here on this stage alongside our Faculty members, Staff, Administration and Distinguished Guests. Today is truly a day to be thankful and to be inspired. When I received, news informing me about the honor of speaking today I was happy but I was also a little nervous. A commencement speech is meant to inspire and what words can I possibly use to this group of graduates to make them feel inspired after this long journey?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, out of about 12 million single parent families in 2016, more than 80% were headed by single mothers. 17.0% are single father homes. Today 1 in 4 children under the age of 18 a total of about 17.2 million are being raised without a father and 8.6 million without mothers. A total of about 2 million single parents have little or no means to contribute financially to their educational expenses.

10 years ago I walked in through the doors of the FNU Main Campus. At this time, it was still FNU, there was no fancy parking garage, no basketball team, no Masters programs or extracurricular activities. You see, 4 years prior to walking through those doors I had made the decision of joining the military, not for love of my country or patriotism all of that came later, but to avoid going to college at all cost. When I entered my student advisor’s office in the fall of 2007, I was 21 years old, I had just recently been discharged from the military and just found out I was having a baby. I had no idea what I wanted to do, all I knew was that I had to do something to provide the best life possible for the little person growing inside of me. Today, 10 years later, I stand here graduating with a master’s degree as that same little person watches me from the stands.

So to her I’d like to say thank you. Thank you for all those nights you had to fall asleep alone because I had a project I was completing, for all those times you had to watch cartoons by yourself because I needed to write a paper, for the early mornings in daycare because I needed to be in class, for those weekends I dragged you to Starbucks with me to complete group projects. Most importantly, for those times we had to be apart because I needed to get this done, thank you. You have been my motivation, my inspiration and my reason to finish. I needed to finish cause you needed me to.

It doesn’t matter what struggles you had to overcome to get here. It doesn’t matter if you are graduating with an associates, or bachelors or a masters. It doesn’t matter if you obtained a 4.0 GPA or you barely made it. It doesn’t matter if you were eager to get to class every day or struggled to get out of bed and in the morning. It doesn’t matter if it took you 2 years or 10, you made it and there is nobody anywhere in the world that can take this accomplishment from you. Denzel Washington once said “you never see a uhaul behind a hearse, you cant take it with you” but education is something you take with you everywhere you go.

So as our browsing history goes from Google, Wikipedia and Yahoo Answers to Monster, Indeed and CareerBuilder I’d like to ask that all of our family and friends present to please stand up and show our 2017 graduating class how proud you are of them by giving them a round of applause.

Graduates, when you leave here today, celebrate what you have accomplished, but be humble and look forward with an eye toward how you, too, can be an inspiration for others.

Congratulations Class of 2017!