Thank you. Members of the Board of Trustees, our distinguished headmaster, faculty, staff, students, fellow alumni, members of the graduating class of 2012, distinguished ladies and gentlemen.
Let me tell you I am truly, truly honored to be here today. You know, when I was a student here just about ten years ago, Ford Cottage was the place that you were lucky if you got to go to. And I remember I had to find a way to get into Ford Cottage for the nice dinners, so I always found a way to finagle my way in. But last night, I woke up in the middle of the night, stunned when I realized that I was actually sleeping in Ford Cottage.
I want to start today by recognizing a woman who had tremendous impact on my life, on NMH, and on the world as a whole. Ellen Goldman Patrick was my college counselor here at NMH and she recently lost her fight to cancer. She was a true light and a person who could warm even the coldest of hearts. I still remember her amazing smile and she is a person I will never forget. I would like to ask that you all join me now in a moment of silence in memory of this great woman. Thank you.
A few years ago, when I first entered Northfield Mount Hermon as a postgraduate, if someone had come up to me and said, “One day, you will be the commencement speaker,” I would seriously have laughed in their faces. The thought of standing here today as a speaker would have been unimaginable for me.
Back in 2000, I had just entered NMH and I was fresh from Liberia, where I had experienced years of war and destruction and deep human suffering. While in Liberia, there were many days and many weeks that we were out of school as war waged around us, and when we did to go back to school, usually we were being taught by teachers who had no books, no chalk, no pencils – that was if they showed up at all. In fact, it was a place that I used to call the “wild, wild west of education.” There are many people still today in Liberia who when they look at the work I do today feel that my life and my history and my educational history was all a privileged one, even those who knew me in Liberia thought that I always had a privileged education, but this is far from the truth, because all through my life, there was a difficulty to go to school, to pay my tuition. My father had died when I was 6 years and I grew up with my single mother who always troubled just to be able to pay my tuition. And even when the civil war started, it became even worse and harder and more intense.
I recall that many times I had to go from government ministry to government office, begging for scholarships in order to be able to pay my tuition. Today, when I walk into a government minister’s office, they let me go directly into to see him or her. Back in those days, when I was asking for scholarship money, they would make me wait all day and then go home hungry and come back the next day and wait. But I kept waiting until I saw them and I got money to pay my school fees.
So you can imagine I was coming from this post-war – this war torn country, and I arrived at Northfield Mount Hermon in Thomas transportation – good old Thomas transportation – and the first day I got here I was issued a laptop. Now, I was coming from a place where I could not get a paper notebook and I arrived at NMH and they were giving me an electronic notebook. And I said, “Someone’s losing it on this campus.” Everything at the school fascinated me. They were all fascinating and unique. Some of the simplest things were significantly awesome to me. The fact that I could choose my own courses. I was coming from a place where we had classes of 50-100 students and at NMH, 8 in a class was considered a large class. And, I said to myself, “If this was earth, then paradise had truly come down.”
And of course, there was a place that I came to call home, where I formed many friendships and brotherhood. And all the rest of my days living in dorms and college and beyond, I still think and truly believe there is nowhere like Tron.
You know, the one year I had at NMH was truly an experience that helped me set the course of where I am today. It has opened doors and created new opportunities, given me confidence in my ability to excel and make me steadfast in my determination to succeed. And, these are not just words, but I can say to you truly that NMH was the springboard for the rest of my life.
Now, I tell you this not just as a story, but because I truly and honestly believe that each of you graduating have been blessed with an extraordinary opportunity to be molded in an extraordinary place. I know for the graduating class, it is impossible to believe or see now because at a certain point, I freaked out about how isolated NMH was and wanted to get out. But I assure you that sooner rather than later, you will miss the experiences you have had here. You will remember the walks to Alumni Hall on cold winter nights. You will remember going to the woods. Now, I don’t know what you went there for, but, you will remember the games with Andover and Exeter and most of all, you will remember your teachers and professors, your dorm heads, and even your work job. Yes, you will. You will look back at each of these experiences as part of steppings of the stepping stone that will make you what you are bound to be tomorrow – great leaders.
I remember back in the time that I was an NMH, way, way before Facebook and way before social networking and Twitter, we at NMH had our own significant online activism campaign. A situation happened a few months after I got to school here. During that time, we used to enjoy having delivery of Chinese food to our dorm, even if it was after hours. And I remember one day the administration woke up and I am sure they had a good reason, but they said there will be no more Chinese food delivery on campus. Now, everybody was sad. They thought it was the end of the gingerbread boy and they would have a full semester of misery, but I looked at the situation and I said, “Listen, I’ve come from a background of activism. Back in Liberia, I was doing marches against war lords and dictators, standing up against tyrants and war criminals. My roommate had come from Kosovo and he had survived an entire war, so why couldn’t we organize a massive protest against the administration?”
Now, the interesting thing was, I had grand ideas. Let’s go up and get Ford Cottage. Let’s go slow on work job. But apparently, it was easier to organize against evil dictators than to get NMH students to protest the cause. But we were not to be deterred. We did the next best thing with the brilliance of one of my dorm mates from India, Samir Pancha ['02], we formed a way to e-mail a passionate letter to the entire school through SWIS. Never happened. And in a few hours, every student on campus was e-mailing their passionate response, bring back the Chinese food deliverymen. I’m going to say, for those who are leaving behind in this school, do not try that in your dorm. Do not try to crash SWIS. And for the record, the graduation speaker never said you should do it.
But anyway, while that happened, we held our breath, very sure that Mr. Richard Mueller would be sending us for suspension but by some divine intervention, it never happened. But in a few days, the Chinese food delivery was allowed to come back to campus and there was great jubilation.
Now, this may seem like a trivial example, but what I want you to know is that a small – that what I want to highlight to you is that your great victory is simply what you make it. Today on a large level, we see major revolutions being sparked and implemented from seemingly small isolated events and using previously unproven methods, whether it’s stopping corrupt governments and dictators or bringing back the Chinese food delivery men, it is clear that great things start small and in insignificant places. The revolution that transforms the world are those that are born out of nothing. Remember your great victory is simply what you make it.
Now, today, as the Class of 2012 graduates and leaves these walls and rolling hills, you will enter a brave new world you’ve never seen before. By virtue of the fact that you are graduating today, you are already on a path of extraordinary greatness that can and must be no limits in your life. You have the springboard that you can do and be whatever you want to be. And let me say this, I expect to see from this graduating class presidents, Nobel laureates, inventors, innovators, social intrapreneurs, statesmen, diplomats, doctors, and much, much more. I expect only the best of this class, because one day, when I’m 80 years old, I want to be sitting in my scooter and say that I inspired you.
But even as you rise to greatness, I encourage you all to find ways to always empower the poorest of the poor. The world is filled with extreme challenges and troubles. It is a world that is counting on you for change. Everywhere I go, I see the pains of the world’s people. I see mothers who cannot feed their children, young women turning to prostitution to feed themselves, young men being forced into rebel armies as killers. I see people dying from illnesses that are inexpensive to cure. It is a hard world and my challenge to you is that you can and you must find a way to contribute to eradicate an extreme human suffering no matter in what field you go.
When I went to Amherst College, when I was graduating, I remember most of my classmates were getting job offers and going on to Goldman Sachs and all the big investment banks, and I remember they were coming to me on the eve of graduation and they were saying, “You know, Kimmie, we’re going to get these fat jobs and make a lot of money. Please don’t unfriend us on Facebook because we’re not humanitarians.” And I said, “No, go ahead. Make all the money you can make. Just make sure you send a check to my organization.”
So, I want you to remember that no matter what you do in life, I admonish you to bring a little less pain into the life of at least one other human being. That, my friends, is the least you can do in your life, will be rewarded in remarkable ways. I also want you to remember that there will always be those who speak against you. Beware of those who will seek your downfall. Even the best of us will not be loved by everyone whose paths we cross. But your task must never be to spend your days trying to be loved by all. Your task is simply to love what you do, love doing it, and give love to the world.
I must begin to close here by giving us an opportunity to recognize your family, your friends, your cousins, your uncles, nieces – all of those people who have taken all of the headache you have given them since you were born, and I want us now give them a round of applause to say “thank you.”
Now, to you the parents, I know you’ve come a long way but as an even longer way to go, so don’t think that now the graduates are going off to college so you have a little more freedom. Uh-uh. This is where you have to brace yourself because it’s going to get tough. The graduates will soon start calling you again to say that their allowances are finished and they have maxed out the credit card. But all we can say to you, and I’m sure they will say to you, is that we love you, we can never repay you our parents, and we can only do our best to make you proud.
Before I take my seat, and I know she is going to kill me, but I must recognize and thank the woman who retired from teaching English here at NMH after many years. She has been a mother, a teacher, a mentor, and a friend. Pamela Schumacher is a person I can never forget. She was the first person who really believed in me and saw my potential way before I was profiled on CNN or Discovery Channel, and who wanted me to be the very best. I would never have felt comfortable at Amherst College or the University of Pennsylvania had she not been the first one to look me in the eyes and say, “Yes, you can.” Pam, I love you and I still today keep that Little Brown Book of grammatical corrections that you gave me and I know I will carry it until the day I die.
Finally, to the Class of 2012, I congratulate you. I wish you the best of luck and I look forward to reading about you and watching you on TV. Most of all, I look forward to seeing the people whose lives you will impact and change forever. Congratulations and God speed. I thank you.