Breana Griffin '19 | St. Lawrence University Commencement

Breana Griffin '19

Remarks to Graduates May 19, 2019

Speak your truth.

These are the words that come to mind, as I reflect on my time at St. Lawrence.

Truth is hard. If truth wasn’t hard, perhaps I would have had a more realistic impression of what to expect before I started college. When they told me my college years would be some of the best of my life, perhaps they would have informed me that the same years could be some of the worst. When they told me I would meet lifelong friends, perhaps they would have warned me of the people who are not as friendly. When they told me college was a beautiful, exciting beginning, perhaps they would have mentioned that it comes to a rapid, bittersweet end.

Truth is hard. Especially when it’s something you don’t want to admit. Today, we are faced with dozens of difficult truths. Our college days are over. We’ve all experienced the cringe that follows when someone asks us, “so, what are your plans after graduation?” Many of us don’t want to face that reality quite yet.

Truth is hard.

But speaking your truth and listening to the truth of others is not only important—it’s necessary. I didn’t come to this realization through my day-to-day college experiences. It was the challenges I encountered at SLU that taught me this lesson.

I grappled with a head injury in my second year that kept me from much of what I love to do. I didn’t enjoy class because I couldn’t concentrate. I couldn’t sing with the Laurentian Singers because sound was too painful. In the same year, someone I was close to hurt me.

And, I remember the moment that it all boiled over. I sat with a friend in the front seat of my car, and through tears I spoke my truth. “I’m lonely.” “I’m frustrated.” “I’m confused.” “I need help.” In that moment of honesty and vulnerability, I realized just how important it was that I spoke my truth. For it was that moment that I knew that my friend could truly see me, and when that friend spoke the words “I’m here for you,” they finally meant something. So, I continued to speak my truth, to friends, to professors. And I realized something else: When you speak your truth, others learn from you. You have the potential to share a new perspective with someone. You have the potential to inspire someone. You have the potential to help someone grow. And your role as a listener is just as important. By listening, you show support. By listening, you integrate your ideas with the ideas of those around you. By listening, you learn.

I came to St. Lawrence to pursue an education. But I didn’t just come here to learn, I came here to discover how to learn. In this pursuit, I realized the merits of speaking your truth and listening to the truth of others. But, the true value of this realization lies deeper than simply speaking and listening. My time at St. Lawrence challenged me to be a critical consumer—to interrogate the truth in what I hear and what I say. I developed questions: “Why do they think the way they do? Why do I think the way I do?” The answers to these questions led me to pause, to assess my thoughts and emotions, to recognize my privileges and biases—to learn from them.

When I speak my truth, I learn about myself. I discover my values. I see my strengths. I find where to improve. When I speak my truth, I learn what I’m capable of. I learn that I am strong and determined. I learn that I can be an introvert and still write a speech and share it with you.

I learn that my voice matters.

And yours does too. Because when you spoke your truth, I listened, and I learned from you. We listened to each other, and we all learned something. In the moments when we entered the classroom after finishing a difficult reading, we unpacked our thoughts and ideas through debates, reflections, and small group discussions. And we learned. We watched our peers take risks, laying out everything they had on the field and on the stage. And we learned. During memorial services and Take Back the Night, we stood in solidarity. We listened to each other’s stories of pain, and loss, and healing. And we learned. We are a generation of pride marchers, climate marchers, and women’s marchers. We are the generation of the #MeToo and #Time’sUp Movements. We are allies, advocates, politicians, and protestors. Each of our voices matters. And we will be heard.

My years at St. Lawrence weren’t perfect. But, I speak my truth when I say that I learned valuable lessons from every moment. When I think about how I might consider my college years in the future, a verse from a song I sang with the Laurentian Singers comes to mind. The song is titled “Wanting Memories” by Ysae Barnwell:

“I think on the things that made me feel so wonderful when I was young.

I think on the things that made me laugh, made me dance, made me sing.

I think on the things that made me grow into a being full of pride.

I think on these things, for they are truth.”

This is my truth. Yours may be different from mine, and that’s okay. I speak my truth in the hopes that perhaps you might learn something from me. But, I’d like to learn from your truth, too. As we move on from the Scarlet and the Brown, to the many other colors we will come to represent throughout the years, I urge you: Speak your truth. Then perhaps others can learn from you.

Thank you.