Photo: Steve Schaefer
Photo: Steve Schaefer

Opinion: Lessons learned on campus can serve the world

This moment marks the culmination of years of study, discipline and hard work. The presence of your family and friends is an indication of the support, love and belief invested in you. Family and friends helped to make this moment possible. This day belongs to all of you!

Anyone who sets foot here knows, Agnes Scott is special. And that’s because of you, our brilliant and dynamic Scotties. Being with you — talking to you, listening to you — is inspiring and invigorating. Truly, I get my energy from all of you.

As I was getting settled here, I paid extra close attention to your class. And it was clear to me from the start: You all are leaders.

And not just because you’re seniors.

I have learned so much from you. We all have, really. And you taught us many lessons about leadership in the time we’ve had together: You taught us how to contribute to the greater community. You’ve taken internships and summer jobs that allowed you to use what you were learning on this campus to help people, locally and globally.

You reminded us that it’s possible to get people excited not just about politics, but also about public service. Through organizations … you registered people to vote, hosted election watch parties, and recruited young leaders like yourselves.

You showed us how to start something brand-new, and how to grow it into something that lasts … . And you showed us how to use the things that set us apart as a source of strength.

You taught us how to use our voices. … you are never afraid to speak up.

… You have called out the injustices you’ve seen across this country and around the world — and right here at Agnes Scott. In many ways, that’s even harder to do. So I admire you for it. I thank you for it.

When you uncovered painful truths, as you did during your work on The History of Agnes Scott College, you taught us how to have a conversation about them. How to learn from them. How to be better.

And because of you, we are better.

You helped the College start something brand-new, when you were still brand-new. Maybe it feels like a lifetime ago, or maybe it feels like yesterday.

But back in the fall of 2015, you left home and entered this new place, with new people and new ideas.

Now, that’s hard enough. But the following spring,you went off to Cuba, Bolivia, Puerto Rico, and eight other places. On these journeys — our first ever — you pushed yourselves even further.

You engaged with global issues. You unpacked critical topics. And you brought the lessons you learned back here, where you put them into practice as leaders on this campus.

Given everything you’ve given us, we’re incredibly sad to see you go.

But given everything you’ve already accomplished, we can’t wait to see what’s next for you.

There’s a quote I love, that’s attributed to one of my heroes, Nelson Mandela: “There is no passion to be found in playing small — settling for a life less than the one you are capable of.”

… You have never played small. You are capable of great things.

Never settle for less.

Whether you’re headed off to grad school, or a brand-new job, whether you’re taking a gap year to volunteer, or to travel, whether you’re staying here in Atlanta, or venturing off to a place you’ve never been, we know you’ll make your mark there, just as you did here.

Here, you learned how to think deeply. How to approach — and address — a challenge.

How to be honorable. How to be responsible, respectful members of a community.

How to listen — really listen.

How to make good friends. How to be good friends.

I’m sure many of you will welcome a break from homework, and essays, and projects.

But here’s the thing: I hope you never stop learning. I hope you choose to become a lifelong learner.

Leocadia I. Zak is president of Agnes Scott College.

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