Class of 2019's "First Gen" Graduates Are Honored
Fourth annual reception gives special recognition to graduating seniors who are the first in their families to earn a college degree.
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First of all, I would like to extend my deepest thanks to my classmates for selecting me for this honor, I know that there were more people running for this than there are currently Democrats running for president and I cannot express how much this means to me, so thank you.
I'm here today to try and somehow capture the last four years we've spent at Knox, the feelings that we're experiencing now, and to provide some sort of uplifting message for the future. That's a lot to tackle in the five minutes that have been allotted to me, and I've already been warned that if I go over my time a trap door will open that I'll fall into, and I'll be charged for next year's tuition.
That being said, I'm going to try and go as fast as I can to cover those three topics, starting with a reflection on the present.
Just a warning, I did write this speech a few weeks ago so forgive me if anything is outdated. As I stand here today, and look around me, things are really put into perspective. Surrounded by the open sky, the shinning sun, and the gorgeous grass at our feet, the historic Old Main building behind me. There is truly no other place that I could even fathom holding an event as great as this, than right here on the South Lawn.
It's an honor to be on stage right now with Bridget Coughlin, CEO and president of the Shedd Aquarium, who was chosen by our selection committee, which as we all know is made up of the bones of the whale skeleton hanging in SMC.
And it's an honor to be in front of you, my fellow graduates. Today is a big day for all of us. It is the result of a lot of hard work, stressful nights, and midnight breakfasts. It's a day to forget about the uncertainty of the future and embrace how far we've already come. It's easy to get ahead of ourselves and worry about what's next, but I want to take a moment and reflect on where we are now.
We're feeling a lot of different things right now—excitement, nervousness, sadness. Some of you might not be feeling much at all, and just want this ceremony to be over with so you can go eat that chicken wrap and sugar cookie you paid $10 for at the post-graduation picnic. But what we've accomplished here today is no small feat.
Less than seven percent of people in the world have a college degree, and we are about to join that percentage. Whether or not we feel like that's a big deal, it is. I know personally how easy it is to overlook your own accomplishments, but I want to remind you that right now we are all achieving something great, something that a large majority of people in this world will never have a chance to do. Today represents years of hard work—your hard work.
I know that graduation is intimidating. There's a whole world of challenges waiting for us that we are going to have to face. But it's important to remember those that we've already dealt with, and have become stronger because of. We made it through the Knox Maggot, the fact that our Mascot was almost named Ember, and if you've lived in Williston you've made it through a fire alarm at 10 p.m., 11 p.m., midnight, and 1 a.m.
We've had to deal with walking past burst steam pipes on our way to class that make it look like the ground joined Sig Chi and started vaping. We survived our freshman year when the phrases “man in gorilla suit” and “the Knox puncher” were both very real things we had to look out for. And, the dark days when we no longer had chicken tenders at brunch.
Each of us has also had our own personal struggles that we've gone through during our time here. It hasn't been easy, but just like those end of term course evaluation emails, we didn't give up.
All of us are about to go down different paths in our lives after today. My one real piece of advice is that whatever path you take, make sure to do something, no matter how small, that you're able to take pride in. This is as much a reminder for you as for me, because looking back at my past four years here, it isn't the academics that I want to remember, though if there are any admitted students in the audience today, the 11 to 1 student-faculty ratio and with 77.2% of classes having less than 20 students in it, Knox is really able to meet my needs as an individual learner.
But in all seriousness, that's not what I hope to remember, it's the things that I'm proud about. Yes I'm proud of my degree, but I'm also proud of the friends I've made, the impact on their lives that I've had, the clubs that I've been a part of, and the overall really incredible opportunities I've had outside of the classroom. So find something you're proud of, that thing that in 20 years you'll want to remember as doing after college. And I know, statistically, that for some of you, the thing that you will choose to find pride in is what is called a “pyramid scheme,” and if that's the case please do not Facebook message me in two years asking if I want to be a tier one supporter of Nutriboom. Because I do not.
As I end this speech I want to ask a favor of all of you, and that is that you take time in your life to find something, anything that you're proud of and put effort into that thing. It can be a hobby, a job, a relationship, it can be moderating the college campus meme page, but whatever it is make time for it and make it a priority in your life. Because from my very limited experience, that is how we make a difference in this world, by finding something that we care about, something that we're proud to put our name on, and embracing it.
Thank you again for allowing me the honor of speaking, and please tell any wealthy relatives you have here to add me on LinkedIn. Thank you.
Published on June 02, 2019
Rachel Watson is from Downers Grove, Illinois. She majored in political science and minored in American Studies, serving as president of the political science honor society Pi Sigma Alpha. She has been a student senator, president of the Knox Quiz Bowl team, and co-host of a WVKC radio show. She organized and participated in various stand-up comedy performances on campus and has been active in The Knox Student. Last summer, She was awarded Richter and Hirsch-Zucker grants for her internship at the National Organization for Women in New York City. After graduation, Rachel hopes to work in nonprofit advocacy, focusing on women's rights.