Valedictorian Melanie Leon’s Commencement Speech

On Sunday, May 11, Valedictorian Melanie Leon ’14 encourages graduates to run toward what scares them.

(Video by Jennifer DeWitt)
Well, hello there everyone!

So I am about to say something really motivational, I promise I will, but first… lemme take a selfie. Seriously. So I need everyone to squish together. Alright, ready, smile! Perfect, thanks!

So, for my speech, I am well aware that no one in this room will remember the words. Heck, I won’t remember them soon. But hopefully, if I do my job right, you will remember the feeling.

Reflecting on today, some of you will remember your excitement to graduate, while others will remember the heartaches of saying goodbyes. When I was considering this, I realized that that is what we will take away from Rollins, feelings toward who we are, whom we have met, and what we have done. Whether that was the annoyance you have for the overtalker in your 8 a.m. class or the hazy excitement of your first house party, we leave with feelings and less so the words.

For me though, strangely enough, the most powerful, motivating feeling that I associate with my college career is that of a small dose of fear. Now yes, that sounds weird, but I’ll explain. One of the first lessons I learned in improv was to run toward fear. Again, this seems counterintuitive as survival of the fittest says flight or fight, and our bodies often tell us to run—or be eaten. I am not telling you to stare down a bear—although how freaking awesome would that be?—but to embrace the unexpected and unknown.

Let me give you a personal example. Here I stand, a girl involved in way too much and responsible for way too many people, who managed to maintain a high GPA anyway. I will admit, some people may consider me a hyperplanner, and most expected me to apply for every grad school possible while also discovering cures for diseases while I did a one-woman Broadway show. And yet, I did none of that.

For the first time in my life, I did not make a plan, and it scared the hell out of me. But I now know that was the best possible choice for me. I now know my next year will be filled with friendship, foreign lands, and brightly colored frozen daiquiris with little umbrellas served to me poolside. I took my fear head on and could not be happier.

So what I am saying is to embrace the random opportunities and people you meet because you never know where you might find your true passion or best friend. It only takes a split second of courage to totally change your life. Scream the entire way down as you fall through the sky, but take that jump out of the airplane. Walk out onto a dark stage and the moment the lights come up, dance your heart out like no one is watching, even though you are very well aware that everyone is indeed watching.

These are the moments we remember; these are the feelings that stay. We train harder because we are afraid to lose a soccer game, we study longer because we are afraid to fail a calculus exam, and we glue chunks of plaster back onto our walls because we are afraid of getting a fine from our RA. I have learned that fear is not negative, but it can be harnessed and used to motivate amazing feats if we acknowledge it and work to conquer it, specifically striving to do that which may seem intimidating. Don’t be comfortable—comfortable is boring. Don’t keep the mold—it is overused. Don’t back down—stand  up for yourself. Don’t stick to the safety net—embrace the fear. Adrenaline is good.

Conquering trepidation results in the sweetest successes. If it does not scare you a little, then you don’t care. Those little bits of nerves signal something important to you—so pay attention to them because they are the cue of what you need to fight for and run toward, because your life is your own, fear and all.

I know that most of you are somewhat nervous to graduate and leave what has been your home.

So what? We were scared to start here, but look at our legacy. So suck it up and attack your worry full force because living by your fear is no way to live. Scaring your fear is the way to go.

Now I want you to forget everything I have said, and just focus on how you feel right now. Remember this moment because this feeling is what will stay with you. My friends and family, I love you so much and appreciate your support more than I can say. To the faculty and staff, your guidance has been beyond compare. My classmates, you always impress me. So be you. Be different. Be unexpected. Run towards fear.

Thank you, and congratulations Class of 2014.