Commencement Speech—Crafting Your Story: One Chapter Down.
Good morning, everyone. What an honor it is to be here today—speaking on behalf of the Fall and Winter 2021 graduating class. It really does feel like both a second and a lifetime since we were all in middle school—having those early conversations about college and careers, while simultaneously walking through eighth-grade hallways ripe with the scent of Axe Body Spray, Bath & Body Works, and B.O.
You could say we’ve come a long way. Academically. And hygienically.
Now, although those aromatic memories have certainly left their mark, I bring up middle school for another reason. As a reference point. This is where many of us began to learn about the concept of ‘story elements.’ The key features that writers turn to and transform in their work time and time again—the most well-known being: setting, character, plot, conflict, and resolution.
Considering the amount of time that has passed between then and now, it is more than likely that the elements that have haunted this creative writing major all these years have only served as a dull memory for those of you on different paths. Buried beneath piles of loose syllabus sheets, nameless file downloads, and registration deadlines. However, it is important for us to revisit and recognize how we have been continuously applying these ‘story elements’ during our time here. That we have been utilizing them in crafting our own stories.
Let’s take ‘setting’ for example. We have all chosen a similar starting point when it comes to this element. UW-Green Bay. But, when we consider this campus as the springboard fueling our stories, we can begin to understand how each of us have traversed and specified it in our own ways.
While some of us may look back on our time here and remember ‘academic rendezvous’ in the lecture halls, others might be drawn to their time in the art studio. The lab. On stage. The library. Zoom even. When it comes to setting, we decide what aspects of this campus environment we want to carry on with us—what we want to immortalize in our retellings—long after we leave today. In a way, although we all came to a place—the UW-Green Bay campus—it is through these years that we have found our place.
Now, let’s take a look at ‘character.’ This element can be understood in two (considerably intertwined) ways. The first: as a physical representation of all the people who have made an appearance in our lives during these college years. Long-term or short-term, positive or negative. The second: an internal recognition of how we have grown and developed in that same amount of time.
Reflecting on my own experiences, I would like to take a brief moment to thank all those who have made a positive impact in my life during these last few years. To my four families (at the MESA office, through the English Department, at work, and at home): thank you for being the ‘supporting characters’ in my story, and for helping me to grow not only as a young professional but as an individual.
Moving along, we now have the element of ‘plot.’ Our story’s foundation. What brought you to UW-Green Bay? What have you done here? Why have you done it? A great way of viewing ‘plot,’ at this point in our life, is by considering our majors. The ‘plot’ of a story often serves as its driving force—the steps taken, the choices made to get us where we are today. We all have our own reasons for doing what we do—profit, purpose, passion—but, looking out across this crowd, I can confidently say that we have all exhibited a certain persistence and commitment to our plots, even when faced with adversity.
Which leads me to the next element: ‘conflict.’ Tension. All of us have experienced some sort of conflict on our way to success. Multiple even. And even though I totally want to say that getting this graduation cap over my head has been my biggest problem so far, let’s just say the poetry writer in me is definitely no stranger to disappointment.
We have all experienced challenges on our own—through failed courses, mental health struggles, the loss of loved ones. And together—through social injustice, the pandemic, fear of the unknown. We have and are still facing the unforeseen with hopes of coming out on the other side. And even if it seems that the challenges are relentless, just know that it will always get better as a conflict always has its eventual solution.
Speaking of which, we now have our last element: ‘resolution.’ And although I wish I could tell you that we have reached one—that we have made it to the end, wrapped everything up in a nice little bow, and can consider this little tale of ours ready for the shelf—I can’t. Truth is, we have only been through one chapter. Albeit a momentous chapter—but only the one.
A resolution is something that we are still working on as we all sit here together today. Something that we will work on after we walk through those exit doors. The story we have been crafting is far from over. And I would say it’s great that we have not yet reached a point of complete resolution. I hope we never do. Let there be no end-all-be-all. Because, here, we have experienced a small portion—a snippet—of the rest of our lives.
But, as this single chapter of ours does come to a close—I implore you all to remember this: the future has yet to be written. And we all hold a pen.
So, let’s get writing.
Thank you, and congratulations Class of 2021!