Army Veteran, Staff Sergeant (Ret.) Shaun Morand gave the commencement address at MassBay Community College earlier this month. Morand, a Framingham resident, graduated with an Associate of Arts degree in Liberal Arts and maintained a 4.0 grade point average every semester at MassBay. Below is his address.
Thank you President Podell, Madam Attorney General, board members, faculty, friends and family, and of course fellow students.
My goal over the course of the next several minutes is not necessarily to inspire you to do something great, as many of these speeches tend to do, but to let you know that you’ve already accomplished that. You’ve already inspired me, but more importantly I hope you’ve inspired yourselves to continue on to more and greater successes.
Many of you may have ended up here today because you decided to “start here” so that you might “go anywhere”. But your choice to begin, or begin again, is why you are here.
It’s said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. The choice to take that step was yours and yours alone. But, like me, many of you may have started this journey with tired, aching feet.
This is my second attempt at the college experience. The first time, I was half the age I am now. I had a lot more energy, but a lot less focus. I attended a small private college right down the street from my house, a choice based less on the quality of education and more on location and ease. I went to class, did some work, and took (most of) my exams, but I was much more interested in the new-found freedoms of a young man.
I finished my first year with the feeling that I had not taken from the experience all that I should have. I began my second year resolved to do better, to make the best of my opportunity. Little did I know, I would not finish my second year of college on schedule. In fact, it would be another 18 years, until today, to meet that goal.
On a beautiful Tuesday morning in September of 2001 I was startled awake by the high-pitched screech of the Emergency Broadcast System. I’d fallen asleep with the TV on.
Annoyed, I opened one eye to search for the power button, and the images that followed the noise will stay with me forever. Some of you may have experienced 9-11 in a similar fashion. Some of you, too young to have experienced it yourselves, know that day as a historical footnote or by its subsequent effects on American life and by wars that seem to carry on without end. I was sworn into the United States Army less than a month later.
The weekend before 9-11 I was a college student struggling to find my path; just days later I was on a vastly different journey.
I learned so much over the course of the next fifteen years and through multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. I learned how to be a soldier and a leader, but the most important lessons I learned were about myself and the things I was capable of. I learned about confidence, and more specifically, the confidence that comes with competence. Knowing what to do in situations of life and death is no different than knowing what to do in any other situation. The consequences vary, but the fact remains, you either know what you need to know, or you don’t. Hence, you can never learn too much, and you can never learn enough. There are so many ways that the importance of knowledge has been expressed.
Francis Bacon said that knowledge is power, and GI Joe told us that knowing is half the battle, but it was Benjamin Franklin that said, “An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.”
Everyone taking part today has made the choice to invest in themselves, to learn more and be more. Each of us had different reasons to begin, and each of us have a different goal in mind.
But, regardless of your reasons for starting, or your choice of destination, you can now find confidence in your ability to succeed. You should leave here with confidence because you’re leaving more competent.
So, whether your path was chosen, or by circumstance, all of our paths led us here.
You’re here, celebrating your success because you chose. You chose to continue the path you were on, or to pave a new one. You chose your area of study. You chose your classes. You chose to show up to those classes when the Massachusetts weather and traffic provoked you not to. You chose education. You chose the light of knowledge over the darkness of ignorance. You are the reason you’re here.
Emerson said that only one who “puts off all foreign support and stands alone” is strong and will prevail, and that we are made “weaker by every recruit to (our) banner”. And while I’d be inclined to agree with such an illustrious author, I understand that many of you may want to pass along some your approbations to those that have helped you along the way.
That praise is yours to share, but I’d caution you not to be too liberal with what is yours. Hold on to this day and the pride that you’re feeling because you’ll
need it later. Not every day after this will be so jubilant or feel so good. The memory of your successes will serve to fuel you. You’ll remember what got you here: the work, the studying, the exams, the sacrifices. Those are all things that you did. Sure, everyone here had help.
Appreciate those that helped you. But remember that you did the work and you made the choices, just as they made a choice to help you. Of course, you should show them appreciation, but you can do it by continuing to be successful and by showing them that their faith in you was not in vain.
I have those supportive people in my life, just as you do. My father, working for decades in the same factory, day in and day out, taught me what hard work really is. I’m showing him my appreciation by being the first person in my family to walk across a stage such as this. I’ll continue to thank him for years to come by working tirelessly to be successful in whatever undertakings I choose for myself.
My wife, a far stronger person than I will ever be, pushed me to be the best I could and allowed me the time to be successful, even if it was sometimes accompanied by one of those looks. I can assure you, it was more time than she would have preferred. I’ll show her appreciation by supporting her in turn, and I’m sure gifts
will help. She won’t need it though, just as those who support you won’t, because my success IS her success. My success IS my father’s success.
And then there’s our professors. We show appreciation for what they do when we respect their classroom and absorb from them as much knowledge as we can. Teachers are Americas most underrecognized asset, and we thank you all.
Now, I should emphasize that I’m not saying you should be smug and unappreciative, only that you take credit where credit is due. You got yourself here. You got the grades. I can assure you that my father did not take my finals, and my wife did not write my essays. I did that. I got the A. THEY are proud of ME because I was successful, and I was successful because I did the work. I took my opportunity and got out of it all that I could. I was the master of my fate. I engrossed myself so wholly in my work that today I feel like I might be the master of the universe! But, since we’re talking about giving credit where credit is due, I suppose that may be
a tad egotistical. After all, even though I put in all of that work I can’t claim ALL of the credit.
So, I’ll take, what, 80, no 90 percent? I’ll share the other ten percent with those that have helped me along the way. So, I AM STILL THE MAJORITY SHAREHOLDER OF THE UNIVERSE!!!
So as the sun sets on this part of your journey, remember this day as one where you set your mind on a goal and accomplished it. Take that feeling and use it when you commit to whatever’s next. If you’re going on to further your education, remember this feeling when the nights of studying are long, and the subject matter increasingly difficult. If you’ve learned a trade here at MassBay, remember this feeling when you’re toiling to become successful in your new profession. The same type of work that got you here can get you through the arduous times ahead. You’ve tasted success, and I hope that you’ll crave it again and again. So go, celebrate your success, share your joy with those that earned their 10%, and prepare yourselves for whatever’s next. We’ll start again on Monday. Thank you.