Sarah Heywood '18 | St. Lawrence University Commencement

Sarah Heywood '18

Remarks to Graduates, May 20, 2018

I am sure at some point or the other; someone has mentioned to you that college is the beginning of a new life. I am sure that they also emphasized that college is where you make lifelong friends and meet people you would have never met if you had not stepped out of the nest and spread your wings. Many say that college is this amazing place in which you can let go and have fun and feel free from the burdens of your home life. However, many fail to mention the hardships and failures that also come with it. They forget to tell us to buckle up because it is going to be a bumpy ride.

Shy, scared, timid, invisible, and alone; these are the words I would use to describe myself at the beginning of my college experience. I refused to speak in class, fearing that no one would understand my broken Guyanese accent. I was embarrassed to wear my hair out knowing it was puffy, coarse and nothing like the long smooth flowing silky hair of girls all around me. I was too timid to try to make new friends because I was too concerned that my culture and their culture would butt heads; so I made myself smaller and smaller as if wanting to vanish into thin air. I remember watching those videos on social media where students would describe what a wonderful experience they’ve had at college. I couldn’t understand it. I felt like I was boxed in this SLU bubble with no one who could understand me. I thought life began in college. I thought everything was supposed to get better in college and you were supposed to meet these lifelong friends. Was something wrong with me?

I remember one night as I laid in bed gazing through my window, I remembered the wise words of Eugene Bell Jr. that my brother would always repeat to me, “Aspire to Inspire before you Expire”. Those words echoed in my ear as I went to sleep. I remember waking up the next morning feeling like a brand new person. I looked myself in the mirror and made it personal… “I aspire to inspire before I expire”. I got dressed, fluffed up my hair for the first time and held my head up high as I walked to class repeating those words with every stride. I decided I was going to be bold and speak up in class even if I only had 2 cents of knowledge to contribute. So there it was, the moment of truth. I raised my hand and spoke up for the first time. After class, my professor told me how proud she was of me and that the class needed me because my voice matters.  

Me, Sarah Heywood, my voice, matters? I was in disbelief. But I decided to make it my new goal; speak at least once in every class. I made the decision to no longer be invisible. I got involved in Graceful movements, an amazing dance club on campus where I met really wonderful people, I joined the Community Gospel Choir, I got more involved in my classes and I started reaching out to others in hopes of creating lasting friendships- AND I DID!

I cannot say for sure how many of you sitting before me have felt like giving up and taking that L, giving up on school as a whole, or even giving up on life, but trust me when I say, it gets better. You’ve made it this far so I know you can do it. One thing I have learned during my ride through St. Lawrence is that I’m an overcomer and you are too. I’ve overcome bullying, the loss of many friends, depression and have been through many phases of giving up. Many times I felt like the shackles of depression were too heavy to carry. But, here I am standing before you as a testament of life and I would not have been here without the support of those right here at St. Lawrence… right here… at home. You have a choice, you can either be a passive victim of circumstances or you can be the active hero of your own life. So, graduates, keep in mind that the ride will continue to be a bumpy one but that’s completely okay because you are already halfway there.  

I would not have made it this far if it was not for my family, my SLU family, Rev. Shaun and Kathleen, the professors who were there for me every step of the way, and the friends I finally came to embrace at St. Lawrence. I finally get it! Like Maya Angelou once said, “You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.” So, here I stand, bold, determined and ready to face life and I hope that you can take this piece of advice with you throughout your post graduate career: It is not easy but you are an overcomer. Friends, maybe what we were told was right. Maybe college is the beginning of something new; maybe it is the place where we make lifelong friends. However, remember, as you journey on, buckle up your seatbelts and travel on with your heads held high because you matter in this world. No matter who you are or where you are from, YOU MATTER! But most importantly, I want you to remember the famous words of Eugene Bell Jr. that have changed my life and will hopefully change yours as you move on to your next milestone, “Aspire, to Inspire, before you Expire”