Commencement

Jemma Roche

Jemma Roche '19
William Smith Senior Speech
May 19, 2019

Who am I? Who are you? Who are we?

Why are these questions important? Some of my friends might be giggling at this moment because I ask too many questions or I am too philosophical. Well, I did become a philosophy and critical social studies major. And yes, many will think I will not have a job. Stereotypes aside, I think these are important questions.

Who am I?

I am me. Jemma Roche, a William Smith graduate of 2019 and I use the pronouns she/her/hers. I want to highlight an experience I had in my first year of college that might resonate with some of you.

In my first year at HWS, I was eager about indulging myself into a challenging course. This course included four major assignments due throughout the semester.

I was excited about this course and definitely intimidated by my professor, Jodi Dean. When the deadline approached for the first main assignment, I felt pretty confident about my work and handed it in. About a week or so later, we received our grades and there it was, written at the top of the assignment: F. Failure. I remember the fear beginning to take over me. As someone who struggles with anxiety and depression, this failure haunted me even more. I remember calling my parents upset because it was a quarter of my grade. So my Dad told me that my professor was trying to challenge me and that I should go speak to her in office hours. As intimidated and upset as I felt, I gathered my courage and walked into the Professor Dean’s office.

I simply asked something along the lines of, “Hi Professor, I don’t know if you know me, since I don’t speak in class much but I am confused as to why I received the grade of an F?” She replied, “Well, your work did not meet the standards of college level writing, and it was not good. I know you can do better than this; you have potential.” So, I called my parents and told them what my professor said and my Dad replied, “See, I told you. They just want to push you.”

Throughout the semester, I worked hard on my assignments and continued to go into my professor’s office hours. It was definitely challenging. I could have easily dropped the course. But my professor saw something in me which was reflected at the end of the semester. Eventually, Jodi Dean became a major influence on my academic career and close mentor throughout my time here at HWS. I always thought I had to go through everything on my own, but if I continued to have a fear of failing, then how would I grow? I learned from that F and harsh critique that I can always do better. I wasn’t used to failure, but my failure became my success.

It also showed me how professors on this campus dedicate their time to the future of students. I am not just a number, but an individual, an essential part of a community. In learning about myself I learned that I must not give up or be afraid to ask for help because I can’t always do things on my own. There are people, like my professor, who will provide support and guidance because we all mean something. We all mean something to HWS.

Now. Who are you?

Well, I cannot answer for every single student that is graduating today but I am sure you have a better idea of who you are now than who you were when you first stepped onto this campus.

And also, you do know yourself better than anyone else.

However, I have a question for all of you graduates? Have you have ever struggled, whether it is on a test in class, a problem with a close family member, friend, relative, coworker, difficulty with a professor, or a mental breakdown, like me?

Isn’t this really all of us?

The point is that mostly everyone has.

This leads me to my last question: Who are we?

We’re all the same. We are all connected. We all struggle. However, struggling does not make us weak, it only makes us stronger. Everyone has a story and everyone is allowed to share their story.

For the longest time, I thought struggling with mental health was a weakness, embarrassing to share, and only something I could deal with alone. This does not mean that my anxieties will disappear. It is that I have acknowledged them and that it is okay to be vulnerable.

Today, I continue to struggle and I never would have thought I would be standing here speaking. However, if I had not received that F on my assignment, I would not be able to use that reality to share my story of failure. College is a challenge, and life will continue to challenge us wherever we might go. For all of us that have struggled, congratulate yourself because college is hard.

We started this journey together and we will walk across this stage together.

Hobart and William Smith will forever be my home. It is the home of challenge, struggle, joy, love and fulfillment and how could I forget, lives of consequence.

We have been taught many lessons here including ones at 8 AM, but also life lessons maybe with campus safety, and at times GPD. Or, when Sherrill caught on fire, Miller flooded, or William Smith Soccer won Liberty League for how many times now?

The questions are no longer Who am I? Who are you? Who are we? But, Who will I be? Who will you be? Who will we be? Well, it is up to you.

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Commencement 2019

Preparing Students to Lead Lives of Consequence.