Valedictorian Chelsea Penther’s Commencement Speech

Valedictorian Chelsea Penther ’15 shares fond Rollins memories and urges graduates not to allow fear to get in the way of new dreams.

(Photo by Laura J. Cole) (Photo by Laura J. Cole)

(Video by Simple Thought Proudctions)

1,362 days ago we stepped onto Rollins College campus apprehensive and not quite sure what to expect. It was move-in day, which really just meant countless hours of toting and carrying items that you would never end up using that year, such as cleaning products and alarm clocks,…..out of the car and into the small staircases and elevators for the long eight hours. As we pulled up to our respective dorms—McKean, Ward, Rex or Strong, I am sure all of you, as I did myself, had mixed emotions running through your heads. Maybe it was excitement to finally be on your own for the first time, or joy at the prospect of the new people you would meet and the life-long friendships you would make, or perhaps you felt a twinge of sadness, as it was now time to leave the comfort of the life you had known for the past 18 years and embark on a completely new and limitless journey. Even though we all may have arrived on this beautiful campus four years ago with different thoughts running through our minds, whether it was excitement, joy, sadness, or a combination of all three, today we leave as a collective unit, we are and we will forever be, the graduating Class of 2015.

As we sit in this gym, eager to receive our diplomas, we should use part of this time as a chance to reflect on the great memories and experiences of our college years. Every one of us has had one moment during our time here at Rollins that will be ingrained in our memory for years to come. Maybe it is the happiness you felt when you found out that Dominoes really would deliver you a large veggie pizza with extra cheese in the early hours of the morning just by giving them an eight digit R-card number and that it was not merely a cruel joke Rollins students played on naïve freshman. Or maybe it was the thrill that rushed through your body when you finally received the “Good morning, Rollins. Today is Fox Day” text message after having waited up every night for two weeks. It may have even been that one moment where you were nervously waiting for grades to be posted on Foxlink and when they were, you let out a sigh of relief because you now knew you would never have to take another chemistry class for the rest of your life.

Regardless of which memory it is, we should not forget our time here at Rollins College and the moments that cumulated to make it the best four years of our lives thus far. We should also not neglect to thank the people who made it possible for us to be here today. Without the dedication and encouragement of the incredibly talented faculty and staff, we could not have succeeded so well academically. We all have a professor or advisor who has been monumental in helping us reach our aspirations.

In my case, this is Dr. Eric Smaw. He was not only my RCC professor freshman year, but he is also the last individual to aid me in achieving my goal of attending law school in the fall. Undoubtedly, the faculty and staff were crucial factors in our success, but without the safety net of love and support we received from friends and family, this goal would have been insurmountable. On behalf of the Class of 2015, I would like to thank you all for making the journey here to celebrate this amazing milestone in our lives.  

However, today is not only a day to reminisce on the past, but it is also a day to look forward to the future. From when we were young, we have each had our own dreams of what we wanted to do with our lives. Of course, not all of these dreams have remained the same, which is not necessarily a bad thing, unless we want a world full of superheroes and Cinderellas, and in my case, candy storeowners with stores that offered abundant amounts of sour treats and Skittles.

The important part is that dreams can change and that is a natural part of our transition and evolution into adults. What we need to remember is that we all have our own dreams and there should be no reason to be afraid to achieve them. As Jim Carrey said in a recent commencement speech, “You can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.” Each and every one of us here today will leave our own indelible mark on the world and it is up to us to make certain that mark is significant and meaningful. The fear of failure might be lingering in the back of our minds, but we cannot let fear dictate our future paths.

I want every graduate here to close your eyes and picture yourselves four years ago when you sat in your first RCC class at Rollins.

Now I want you all to remember yourselves four hours ago as you were waking up and getting dressed to come here today.

(Photo by Scott Cook) (Photo by Scott Cook)

Finally, I want every graduate here to take a moment and picture yourself 40 years from now.

Where are you and what have you accomplished? Did you smile at what you have become and the life that you have lived up until that point? If you did smile, you are on the right path and you have a goal to look forward to achieving. On the other hand, if you find that you did not smile or you could not imagine where you might be in 40 years, maybe this is the time to really think about how you want your life to develop. Fear of failure should not be an obstacle, but instead it should be used as a vehicle for success. Use fear as a motivator and let it guide you along your future path. Don’t be afraid to take a chance because in 15 years you can either be doing what you love, or you could just be 37.

When we walk up to the stage one-by-one this morning to receive the most expensive piece of paper we have ever owned, our diplomas, we should remember the journey that accompanied this achievement—both the happiness and heartache. As we all know, there is one of us missing in the gym today. Even though we are the Class of 2015, we are not fully complete.

Will Hauver was a close friend to many and it was his comedic and loving personality that will allow him to remain in our hearts and minds for the rest of our lives. He was a son, a classmate, a student, a teammate, and most importantly a friend. As Will said shortly before he passed away, “When I die, I hope that my life will look as cool as it appeared on Facebook.” As part of the generation that will influence the world in years to come, we need to make sure we are not only living a life we are satisfied with, but that we live a life with true meaning and indisputable value. 

In closing, I would like to quote Steve Jobs, who once said, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others opinions drown out your own inner voice and most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.” Find what you love graduates! 

We have all been part of the intellectual hustle we call Rollins College for the past four years and now that are pockets are full with knowledge, at the expense of our parent’s pockets being empty of cash, it is the responsibility of each and every one of us to figure out what we want to use this knowledge to achieve. We owe it to each other, to our families, to our professors. We owe it to Will, and we owe it to ourselves.  Congratulations, Class of 2015!