Editor’s note: The original speech has been edited for space.
Well, you made it! William T. Young said that to my graduating class in 2003 when I graduated from Transylvania University and I always said that if I was ever given the opportunity to speak at a commencement celebration, I would repeat those words because in a great sense, this moment is more than just making it through classes and walking across a stage.
You made it through those classes. Some that came very naturally, some that did not. You made it through rushing from work to class and then home to see your children before they got ready for bed.
You made it through those moments where the experience was so intense you sat in your cars outside of this building and thought to yourself ‘maybe I will just come back next year.’
You made it through sacrificing that Christmas gift you wanted to give your child, the money which instead paid for books and that family vacation that was deferred so you could pay tuition. You made it through the times you thought you could and the times you thought you could not. You made it!
You made it, but you recognize that this moment is not simply your own. Tonight this place is full of families who are proud of you and who have made it in their own right. Tonight, this room is full of community leaders who are proud of you and who can see a stronger community because you decided to take a leap of faith and better yourself. That is truly what this moment is - the recognition that the betterment of oneself is but a door of opportunity. My faith teaches me, as I know it does many of you, that our faith unlocks that door and is what allows many of us to take our first step into a world we are not sure we belong in, but nevertheless will make our own.
We are proud of you. In this moment of accomplishment you have done more than educate yourself. You have shown your friends and family that, while it is difficult, life can be managed while getting an education.
We are proud of you because in this moment you have made our beloved Cynthiana a better place. What we know about education is that the more educated our citizens are, the better our quality of life is. Your education while a significant personal achievement is about more than just you. This moment is about our future.
We find ourselves as a city, state, nation, and world at an interesting moment. If the world economic downturn has taught us anything, it is how interconnected we are. If history has taught us anything, it is that in this moment, we will be able to decide what Kentucky looks like for the next century. How competitive will our citizens be with not only surrounding counties, not only surrounding states, but with folks throughout the world relies heavily on our ability to match our ability to do the brawn work with brain power, and that, my friends, is the power of education. It literally has the power to transform our communities and our quality of life.
So in this moment we thank you for your courage and for your role in strengthening our community and our Commonwealth.
My grandmother would always say something that has stuck with me to my core. She would say, “Dream big and never let what is stand in the way of what can be.” In a real sense that is what many of you have done with your accomplishments we honor this evening. It is this ability to accomplish what may seem impossible that connects you in this moment to this history that has shaped this nation.
Dream big! That is what a group of rebels who decided to declare independence from the British crown said. And in the face of what was, they saw a vision for an America that would change the course of history.
Dream big! That is what President Lincoln was thinking when faced with the prospects of saving our union and emancipation of the slaves. Our native son, whose bicentennial we celebrate this year, saw in the face of states successions and a practice in slavery that did not cajole with our values as a nation, a re-united union and freedom for all of her children.
Dream big! That is what the Wright Brothers were thinking that day in North Carolina where literally on a wing and a prayer they launched a machine into the sky that would forever change the accessibility of the world and would prove the world was a little smaller than we had, until the moment, dared to dream.
Dreaming big is what brought about women’s suffrage.
Dreaming big is what brought about the civil rights movement.
Dreaming big is what put a man on the moon.
Dreaming big is what allowed a little chubby kid from Cynthiana, Kentucky to dare to believe that one day he would sit with and advise the Governor of his state, meet with presidents, and international delegations.
The dreams I have today for myself and for our Commonwealth are not much different than those I dreamed when driving up to the hilltop for school, down River Road for a softball game, or down Republican Pike when I just wanted to take in the beauty of this place I call home.
The dreams I dreamed, that so many in this community invested in, are as alive in this moment as they were when I slept on the couch for all of those years in that five room duplex on Connersville Pike.
Dreaming big is part of who you are, it is part of who we all are, and that is what makes this moment so very special.
So you made it! What will you do with this moment? How will you continue to give back to those who have invested in you and those who you love?
Those are questions for tomorrow, but nevertheless, questions you will want to take in.
Until then, you made it! And we are so very, very proud of you!
Congratulations and God bless you!