Elin Nordegren’s Commencement Address

On Saturday, May 10, Outstanding Graduating Senior Elin Nordegren ’14 reminded her fellow graduates that actions—and not just words—matter.

(Video by Jennifer DeWitt)

President Duncan, Rollins Trustees, distinguished guests, esteemed faculty, and my fellow graduates, it is an honor to stand before you today.

Carl Jung once said, “You are what you do, not what you say you’ll do.” Words can be powerful, but what matters is the action behind the words.

You all have been my educational community for the last nine years. And, yes, I know nine years is a long time!

When I received the phone call informing me about the honor of speaking today, I felt so happy, but also a little surprised. I have been called a “woman with no words” in the media and criticized for not talking very much.

A commencement speech is meant to inspire, and when I started to think about what I should say to all of you today, I got a little scared. What words could I use to inspire us all after our long journey through college?

A week after that phone call, I was getting off an American Airlines flight when a flight attendant handed me a note on a small piece of paper. In a hurry, I took the note, said a quick “thank you,” and continued to baggage claim where I finally got time to read it. The note concluded with these words: “Thank you for being my inspiration—from another single mom.”

I felt touched by those beautiful words from a complete stranger. Since I’ve done little public speaking, how exactly had I inspired her? Whatever the answer, I felt a connection with her that day—mother to mother. And I was inspired by her action to make a connection with me.

I also feel a connection with all of you, my educational community here at Rollins College. We have all dreamed of earning our college degree, and today we have actualized our dreams. We didn’t just talk about getting a diploma; we did it, and we made the word diploma real.

Your actions, my fellow graduates, inspired me to keep on going to the finish line. We walked the talk. And, I can’t thank you all enough.

When I entered my student advisor’s office in the fall of 2005, I was 25 years old. I had just recently moved to America and I was married without children.

Today, nine years later, I am a proud American. I have two beautiful children, but I am no longer married.

And I feel that this is what makes the Hamilton Holt School, the evening program, so exceptional. Most of us didn’t start here right out of high school. And many of us, like me, took a longer time to graduate. This makes any significant changes in our lives outside of school part of our college experience. Many of us have supported each other through these experiences. The stories that you all have shared and the actions that I have seen you take have encouraged me to accomplish my dreams.

When I drove into the parking garage next to the Bush Science Center, I sometimes wondered how I would find the energy to sit through class after a long day. But all I had to do was look at all of you, to see you getting out of your cars and putting one foot in front of the other, determined to make it to class. I was inspired by your passion to reach your goals, and you fueled mine.

When you told me stories about your full-time day jobs, about coming home to cook dinner for your families, and about making sure your children were cared for while you attended classes, you inspired me.

It was in my History of Jazz class when I met a very gentle man, around the age of 65, who had decided to finish the college degree that he had started many years ago. He told me he never dreamed he could finish his degree at his age and being at Rollins College was one of the most exciting times of his life. In those moments talking together, we were two people in different stages of our lives, yet each pursuing the same dream and feeling so much in common.

Whatever obstacle I was facing at the time, your stories and sharing helped me put things in perspective.

Also, I remain grateful that the material presented in the classes could so often be directly applied to my life at the time.

While taking Developmental Psychology, my daughter Sam Alexis was born.

I learned so much about America through my U.S. history classes, History of American Film and Visions of Florida.

It was Dr. Stecker’s class, Strategies for Changemakers, that really opened my eyes to philanthropy and the difference one person can make in a community.

Right after I had taken Communication and the Media, I was unexpectedly thrust into the media limelight. I wish I had taken more notes in that class…

My Psychology and the Law class helped me through some of the most challenging times of my life that involved legal matters. The information not only helped me understand the complexities of the legal system, but it also offered me a place of peace in the wild storm of my personal life.

I have also realized that my education has been the only consistent part of my life the last nine years. And it has offered me comfort. Education is one thing that no one can take away from you.

Without the good administrators, passionate instructors, support services for bilingual students, such as myself, and the offering of evening classes to make education more accessible, many of us would not have had the opportunity to earn our degrees.

As you know, tomorrow is Mother’s Day. It is a day very close to my heart.

My mother waited to put her career in a higher gear, so she could be with my siblings and me as much as possible when we were little. She showed me that it is possible to have a career later in life. Today, she is a governor in Sweden.

My hope is that today I am showing my children, Sam and Charlie, that it is never too late to follow your dreams. They, along with my mother and father, are my greatest teachers of all because they have shown me the incredible power of love.

So, I want to acknowledge all the mothers who are graduating today and to all mothers in the audience who are watching their grown children graduate. We know the enormous inner strength required to be a parent while pursuing your college degree, or to support your children as they attend college.

Every single day, we each have an opportunity to keep on learning and to infuse our learning with meaning. And I believe, we each have a responsibility to pass on the importance of education to our children and future generations.

Today, my fellow graduates, we have persevered, and we have shown that we can take action with our dreams and values. So now, Class of 2014, let’s continue to do so.  Thank you, Rollins College!