Valedictorian Jessica Wilson’s Commencement Speech

Valedictorian Jessica Wilson ’15 pays appreciation to her birth family, her Rollins family, and her families yet to be discovered.

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

(Video by Simple Thought Productions)

Good morning, Class of 2015, faculty, staff, family and friends. Thank you President McAllaster, professors, and staff for this wonderful opportunity. I am truly grateful, humbled and honored to stand before this Rollins family today.

Upon deciding to begin my speech by addressing this Rollins family, it made me realize how our conception of family changes throughout our time at Rollins. Growing up, my family consisted of the people I love most. It was being home with my mom, dad, and sister and spending time with my grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles. The true definition of family.

All of us quickly learned during our move-in day in August of 2011, that the comfort of family as we knew it would no longer be part of our daily lives. We never doubted the support and love from our parents and siblings, no matter how many miles away they were, but we were all a little scared of not having them right there. We all felt like something was missing.

The excitement of all the new things Rollins had to offer during orientation, the first week of classes, and preseason for fall sports distracted us from the fear of moving away from home and beginning college. Every once in a while a feeling of homesickness would overcome us, but for the most part, we carried on with the hustle and bustle of being a college student. Before we knew it, a new family began to fill the void; one established by the Rollins community.

For me, this sense of family came from being a Rollins volleyball player. As a team, we had fun together, ate meals together, and roomed together. We suffered pain, hated defeat, and celebrated victory together. We did everything with each other. The friendships that began within this family will be ones that I will cherish forever. The beauty, though, of being part of the volleyball team was being part of a larger family, the Tars. As a Tar family, Rollins athletic teams supported one another: storming the basketball court after upsetting the number two team in the nation, watching girls’ soccer battle in the national championship, supporting each other through losses on the court or field but more importantly through tragic loss of teammates and loved ones. We were and are a family.

(Left to right) Vice President for Student Affairs Mamta Accapadi stands with the Class of 2015 valedictorians Lisa Duemmling, Meredith Lax, Shelby McGuire, Chelsea Penther, and Jessica Wilson. (Photo by Scott Cook) (Left to right) Vice President for Student Affairs Mamta Accapadi stands with the Class of 2015 valedictorians Lisa Duemmling, Meredith Lax, Shelby McGuire, Chelsea Penther, and Jessica Wilson. (Photo by Scott Cook)

This Tar family extends past Rollins athletics, though. Sororities developed sisterhoods, and fraternities developed brotherhoods: bonds and friendships are everlasting. Freshman roommates became best friends. Lifelong friendships grew in our RCCs, Rollins Improv Players, SGA, REP, The Inspiration Project, community involvement, and in all 127 student organizations on campus. Relationships and friendships developed in the different academic departments and with our professors and faculty, thanks to Rollins’ small size. These families we’ve all become a part of will always be a part of us.

Today, we all should take the time to reflect on these different families and express our gratitude. Tell our moms and dads how thankful and lucky we are to have them and for all they do for us; thank our coaches for pushing us and for giving us the amazing opportunity to play at Rollins; thank our friends for putting up with us and always supporting us no matter how good or bad things were; thank our professors: they deserve recognition and gratitude for their patience, support, office hours, and immense role in our personal, professional and academic growth; thank our faculty and staff for their support, lead in student organizations, and for keeping everything running so smoothly. Thank everyone who’s been a part of making you who you are and of your time here at Rollins.

I would love to stand before you this morning and say because we attended Rollins College and have our Tar families our lives are going to be easy and golden. Of course, Rollins has expanded our knowledge and skillset and has afforded us many unique and beneficial opportunities. The reality is, though, we will still be challenged. We will face obstacles.

We will face rejection. But these hardships make the happy moments and the victories that much better. We can also rest assured that our Rollins families have prepared us to better face and overcome these hardships. Going forward, whether you choose to pursue an MBA, start your own business, begin your career, or travel the world, be the best you can be. Find your passion, your strength… your happiness: work hard. Work smart. Take initiative. Be persistent. Be a leader. But don’t take things too seriously and have some fun. And definitely do not hesitate to reach out to your families and the new ones you will develop if you need support. We’ll always be here for you.

At this very moment, though, our lives are filled with worry and excitement about what is coming next, the families we’re leaving behind and how we’re moving on. For the past few months, the one dreaded question you were guaranteed to be asked by anyone and everyone was: “What are you doing after graduation?” Well, we’ve made it to that day, and now we’re the ones worrying about what we’re going to do next. Right now, though, don’t fill your mind with those thoughts. We’ll have plenty of time to decide our future and tackle it then. Today, we need to focus on the present and realize what this means. Live in the moment. Enjoy sitting in these chairs with our fellow Tar family, wearing these caps and gowns, and realizing how this moment encompasses all we’ve accomplished. We’re at a turning point in our lives, and we’re all very aware of this, but take today to just be with your fellow classmates, friends, family members, and loved ones. Appreciate everything around you and stay in this moment. The moments pass quickly, and we don’t want to leave this one without relishing in it.

As we’re relishing in this moment as a Rollins family, I want to leave you with a little poem. Rather than finding an inspirational quote by a famous person, it only seemed appropriate on Mother’s Day and talking about family to share a poem written by my mom. I am lucky enough to share it with you all today.

Our lives are like a ladder,
Filled with rungs that lead all places.
Past little steps of childhood,
To present hectic paces.
From the tender, simple knowledge of a child learning words,
To an adult involved in business going out into the world.
We’ve changed… We’ve grown… We’ve come into our own.
We are truly blessed so far.
Rollins will always be part of our future,
And we will ALWAYS be a Tar.

Congratulations, Class of 2015. We did it!