Commencement take away: ‘The knowledge that we could do it’

I’m honored to have been selected to give the undergraduate student commencement address last weekend and excited that my alma mater included it on their news site.

May 28, 2015 | 1 Comment

Marc S. Posner offered the following address at the Southern Commencement held Sunday, May 24. Potential student commencement speakers were nominated by academic advisors, faculty members and campus directors and chosen after submitting speeches to a selection committee.

Here is the text:

Thank you, Chancellor Brahm — I’m excited to share my gratitude to the Brandman faculty and staff in person.

Guests: we are here today on the shoulders of the support you’ve provided throughout our journey.

And, fellow classmates: can you believe this moment has finally arrived?

It feels like yesterday that my self-introduction post in my first course received an encouraging reply. I’ll paraphrase: “Congratulations on returning to school. The time will fly. This is my last class.”

Hung up on the “I’m done — la la la la la la” part of that, I muttered something I won’t repeat because my kids are here. All kidding aside, that supportive comment foreshadowed the affirming environment during the 18 months I spent at Brandman — — and, I’ve tried to pay it forward.

For almost 20 years, not having a bachelor’s degree has been a source of shame — my dirty little secret that I hid at every turn.

I’m employed as a college administrator. One responsibility is rotating as the manager in charge of the campus at night. My first time in that role, I laughed.  Out loud. How could such an under-educated person be in charge of a college? It seemed ridiculous.

I’ve helped plan 19 commencement ceremonies and I work every day to help students reach this very moment in their lives.

But graduation was never my story. In fact, I avoided the topic of educational attainment as best I could. That’s not easy when every conversation with a new co-worker begins: “so where did you go to school.” I got real good a mumbling “Fullerton” and praying that they’d assume I meant Cal State — not FC.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m a fierce community college advocate and proud alumnus. Many of us would not be here today if not for our opportunities on campuses like the one where I work. I’m proud of what I do and I love my job.

But, I was incomplete — and I’ve known that all along.

I can’t pinpoint what pushed me to finally start my bachelor’s after years of considering it. But I distinctly recall meeting with my amazing academic advisor Rebecca Warner for the first time. I had just two requests:

Get me through as fast as possible.

And, start me off with a class we’re certain I can pass.

Weeks later, I logged onto Blackboard fearful that I’d fail.

But, soon, the most-important slots on my calendar were midnight Wednesday, midnight Thursday, and midnight Sunday.

Monday mornings were painful; I hit snooze even more frequently than I hit the coffee pot.

Waking up wasn’t the only struggle.

I used to tell people that I was so bad in math that I once failed “Math I — Introduction to Counting on Your Fingers.” Dr. Winston: God bless you for rewarding effort, and exuding passion for your discipline. Because you connected lessons to relevant concepts, I no longer feel the need to disparage math.

That just might be the biggest take away: the knowledge that we could do it.

But, we didn’t accomplish this alone. So some quick shout-outs feel necessary.

  • Dr. Laura Galloway’s dynamic teaching provided me with ideas that I use regularly.
  • Dr. Mike Moodian was equally engaging in COMM 315 — and he helped me see broader possibilities for myself.
  • Dr. Jeffrey Compangno’s COMM 410 also had a profound impact — personally and professionally.
  • Dr. Brian McDaniel’s capstone course fostered creativity.

The list really could go on and on.

We owe thanks to many: Our families. Our friends. Colleagues. Classmates.

Sometimes, even strangers.

Our most-ardent supporters are right here with us today.

There’s another group that deserves our respect and admiration. Our fellow graduates who are here after completing military service.

We are here today from different pasts. While I hung out with friends after work, you were in the Middle East or other stations around the globe. While I faced traffic, you faced live fire.

You have been a huge inspiration.

Finally, I know my family sacrificed — primarily my wife, Karen — but, I hope they also gained from this experience.

That’s especially so for my two sons who I hope graduate college much younger than I have. Like 20 years younger, OK?

I enrolled here not with some grand vision in mind for my new degree. Rather, I hoped to be a little more recession proof when the next economic downturn roared.

During my 30 years of employment, I always believed experience was good enough. My Brandman education has changed that view. The differences may be subtle, but they are many.

We bring to the workplace new ideas and see things from broader perspectives. We have new tools to solve perplexing problems.

As a result of our accomplishment, our heads need not drop when the topic of education comes up.

Today, we are graduates. While our new degrees are a huge milestone, they’re not a finish line; instead, they’re monuments to our possibilities.

Thank you!

About the author

Marc Posner graduated Sunday with a Bachelor of Arts in applied studies. He is the director of campus communications at Cypress College in Cypress, California, and a self-described hockey fan. His Twitter post from graduation noted that he was happily still growing his playoff beard as a fan of the Anaheim Ducks.