When everything starts to fall to the ashes, remember you are a Phoenix
UW-Green Bay Graduating Class Speaker Hannah Beauchamp-Pope ’23 shared her reflections on “What it Means to Rise” with the Spring 2023 graduating class at the morning commencement ceremony at the Kress Events Center on Saturday, May 13, 2023.
Watch it here at 51:38: Spring 2023 Commencement morning ceremony
“Welcome everyone, and good morning. My name is Hannah Elizabeth Beauchamp-Pope and I have the distinct honor of speaking to you today as a UWGB scholar, organizer, and now alumni. Like many of you I have been eager to see this day come to fruition, to walk proudly across this stage and be presented with this diploma we all spent countless hours working for. But before I begin today, I need us all to feel the immense gratitude for the space that we are in and the fact that we are able to be surrounded by those we love and cherish as we celebrate today. It was not but a very quick couple of rotations of this planet around the sun ago that people were forced to celebrate in a socially distant community, and for this privilege today we should have deep appreciation. And on that note alone I am compelled to look at this journey of graduation and commencement at UW-Green Bay with a profound understanding of what it means to rise, and that’s what I would like to share with you all today.
Like many of you traditional four year graduates, I began a new chapter of my life on this campus in the Fall of 2019 in what was a seemingly normal college experience. I made friends and played pool at the Phoenix Club, I attended Black Student Union meetings in awe that such a powerful organization existed, and I learned very quickly that college professors are not as mean or harsh as your high school teachers said they would be. Whew, it felt good to lay some roots down on this new journey. And as the roller coaster of freshman year took us at an accelerating pace into Spring Break we were given the awful, terrible news. That the world was shutting down, and that we had to collect our items and leave campus to return home immediately due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Suddenly those roots we were laying down were ripped from the soil and thrown into an incinerator. The world was literally burning as we knew it.
Despite whether or not this matches your academic experience to a tee, all of us sitting in this room had our educational journey impacted by COVID in a way that is immeasurable. And we never could have expected the aftermath of what would come. The disconnect in our educational systems between student and teacher due to gaps and inequities in access to the internet and technology; the unprecedented degradation in our country’s mental health as we were kept in isolation and the basic human right to healthcare was inaccessible for too many for so long; and being forced to witness up close the racial injustices our nation’s criminal legal system has still yet to resolve or even acknowledge at times. And that is just me scratching the surface. Although none of these things were directly related to the public health problem, their existence was intertwined to a magnitude that changed society as we knew it before COVID. I myself struggled with low grades, substance abuse, and suicidal behavior. I, like many of you, was in the fight for my life and only made it due to a number of things I learned while here at UW-Green Bay.
One: That we can’t go it alone. No matter how hard we try to succeed by ourselves, it is inevitable that we will lean on each other from time to time, and we should encourage that rather than try to fight it. For me it was one professor in DJS who helped me finish an incomplete course in DJS 101 that helped me stay on track in my field and eventually would mentor me throughout my journey of getting into law school. It can be classified as a small act, however to have that intervention at a point in my life where it was so desperately needed with nothing but support changed the entire trajectory of my life. And that is the power that we have as leaders as we go into the world. The power to make a difference in someone’s life if we are willing to reach our hand into the Darkness, to pull another hand into the Light. Knowing that someday we ourselves will need to be pulled back into the sunshine with the help of those around us.
Two: We must stand up against injustice whenever we can. As we move forward today, we carry a great deal of privilege and power with us. However, the issues of the world and country are not hard to come by. As the next generation of counselors, environmentalists, teachers, engineers, and lawyers, we must be willing to stand up and fight back when oppression becomes a part of our reality. We must pin our bodies against the gears in an effort to stop tyrannical systems from continuing as the standard of normal in society. Part of that includes addressing issues at the national, state, or local level, but it also includes having tough conversations within your workplace or living room, acknowledging that sometimes those smaller interactions can be the most impactful. Finally, if they don’t give you a seat at the table to partake in the decisions, bring a folding chair. It is about time that important decisions are made with representation from all to ensure that the solutions being chosen work for us all. Never hesitate to use your voice to create real change.
Three: Always take the scary leap of faith. Life is about choices, and what I have come to learn over the last four years is that oftentimes we are the only ones standing in the way of making our dreams a reality. The opportunities in life are truly endless, and each day we are presented with options that could transform our lives forever. I am fortunate enough to have a mom who raised me by telling me at every point in my life that I could do anything I wanted to do. Growing up with this core understanding encouraged me to try new things, even the things that scared me out of my mind. And it’s a powerful thing to internalize and truly believe that with a little hard work, commitment, and passion, you can truly do anything you set your mind to. So on the off chance that not everyone here is lucky enough to have that endless support and vote of confidence, I am here to tell you: You can do anything you set your mind to! Take the leap of faith and I promise it will only lead you to greater places.
Finally number Four: Always lead with love. During 2020, I spent a lot of time thinking about this idea I called ‘universal love’, which describes the practice of having love for oneself, love for your peers, your community, your Earth, and the higher powers of the universe that you may believe in. In today’s society, we often give love the shorter stick by condensing it to an act of romance or friendship. But to me love must be understood as much greater than that. Love is necessary for us to hold in order to carry ourselves through the darkness in this world. Love is necessary for us to be willing to work across the aisle to form futures that serve all of us. Love is necessary to push us through our work as we achieve a higher understanding of our studies and how they engage with the “real world”. In a world full of so much hate and ignorance, leading with love is the only way we can all come out of this life thing for the better.
So as we commence today and begin into a new chapter of our life, I encourage you to use these tools to help construct a new world that we all are proud of, one that we can all assuredly call home. As we overlook the horizon to the future, we can be sure to face more controversy on things like home and food insecurity, bodily autonomy, constitutional and civil rights, encouraging authenticity in our youth identity, making black and brown lives matter a reality, finding new ways to sustain our planet, and so much more that will not fit into the allotted time I have for this speech. We will have a direct role in the future of society and how we address its many problems, and I am sure it is going to feel like the entire world is burning around us time and time again.
And I don’t know about you all but it seems to me like the more I learn, the more questions I have. The more information I acquire, whether it be inside the classroom or off the campus entirely, the more I understand that I have so much more to grasp. But that is the beauty in an institution like UW-Green Bay. It is the purpose for institutions of higher education not to tell us what to think, but to teach us how to think critically, asking questions about the world as we know it and challenging what might be able to act as a remedy. It is now our obligation as alumni of this school to always engage in the preservation of upholding the quality of our educational systems. Whether it be protecting free speech in schools, fighting ridiculous book bans and curriculum screens that prevent professors from teaching the subjects they do, or advocating for the needs of our educators despite administrative overgrowth and lack of support from the state, we must acknowledge our place in this fight and stay relentless to ensure that Wisconsin will indeed always be moving forward.
I began this speech by recalling COVID not to dwell on the past, but to show you that we in fact have already done it. We have made it through what seems like the world ending and we have come out of it with innovative solutions that are better fit to society’s needs. What does this mean for the UW-Green Bay’s graduating Class of 2023? It means that we have the opportunity, the power, and the duty to enter our fields knowing that we can and absolutely must transform them for the better. No one else is going to do it for us, it is simply up to us. It is up to us to build community, to stand up against injustice, to take leaps of faith, and to always lead with love. It is up to us to always attempt to lift as we climb. It is up to us to ensure that although the arc of the moral universe is long, and that it bends towards justice, that we must all take a part in bending it together. It is up to us to turn our pain into passion to help us overcome the many problems of the world and make just societies a reality for us all. When we feel the world burning around us, when everything we think to know as true starts to fall to the ashes, that UW-Green Bay, is when we can practice what it truly means to be a Phoenix, being forever equipped with the tools and knowledge to rise from the ashes, and start anew again.
Thank you, Green Bay.”