At Family Scholar House’s Graduation Celebration on May 23rd, Keneysha Rodney delivered the following speech, on behalf of the FSH Class of 2012:
I would like to first give honor to God and thank him for allowing us to be here this evening. I am honored to be here
tonight to represent the Family Scholar House class of 2012. I stand here as one story of many. Our stories differ, some will make you cry, some will make you think, others may make you laugh, and unfortunately, some may make you cringe. Our stories are what brought us here, but that is not where our stories end. With the support and guidance that we have received from FSH, we hope that our stories will now inspire you, encourage you and motivate you.
Before I address the graduates I would like to thank a few people who have helped us collectively, and me personally.
First, I would like to thank Cathe Dykstra. To some of you she is simply the President and CEO of FSH but to us she is more. If you ask Cathe how many children she has her response will be “over 600.” She is referring to number of families FSH serves. Cathe is a visionary. I am thankful for her vision, her dedication and her determination to see that this program is not only successful but that it thrives. She is a mother in the fullest sense and she does not play about her children. I love you Cathe. Not because of the early morning trips to radio stations, television studios or newspaper interviews or the late night galas and fundraisers or the midday tours of my apartment, but because of the advocacy, the long and often late nights, and the miles you have put on many pairs of really cute shoes to ensure that we have what we need to succeed.
Second, I would like to thank the all of the staff, interns and volunteers. We thank you for all of the late nights, the workshops, the events, the phone calls, the meetings and definitely the child care. We don’t know if you knew what you were signing up for when you accepted this job, but we hope it has been as rewarding for you as it has been for us. If we have not said it enough: thank you, thank you, thank you!
I would also like to thank our community. Two years ago, I attended a graduation ceremony similar to this one at the Louisville Scholar House campus when I earned my Associates degree. I was overwhelmed by the presence of numerous members of the community. I was new to the program, and I did not know who they were or what purpose they served, but I remember thinking to myself, “Wow, this is bigger than me! There is a whole community of people counting on me to succeed.”
Over time I learned that these people were willing to give of their time, talents, finances and resources. We’ve had mentors, life coaches, cooking classes, financial and homeownership workshops, adoption of our families for Christmas so that our children have presents to open, Thanksgiving and Mother’s Day dinners, exercise and chess classes, book clubs, food, clothing and household items…the list goes on and on and on. I am also thankful for the lasting relationships I have built from these connections. You have served us well and we hope that our accomplishments today have been worth your investments.
We would also like to thank the faculty and staff of the various high schools, colleges and universities we represent. Thank you for understanding the complexity of our situations, yet still challenging us to excel. Many of you have been asked to be here specifically because you have impacted our life beyond the classroom. There was something you did or said or shared that motivated us to move forward. Thank you. I am particularly partial to my advisor and professors from the University of Louisville Kent School of Social Work…GO CARDS.
To our family and friends: We could not have done this without your support and encouragement. Whatever capacity you have served, whether it was watching our kids so that we could finish a paper or encouraging us when we were overwhelmed, just listening, or recognizing when we needed a laugh and to get out and have some fun, we appreciate you.
I love you Mom, and I would like to ask my daughters Kennedi and Nadia to stand up, and all the children of FSH residents: We would not be here if it were not for you. You are our inspiration and motivation. We thank you for your understanding and we have depended on your resiliency and flexibility. You have had to sacrifice right along with us. You have gone to bed early so that we could study and finish assignment,s and sometimes had to give up doing something fun because we needed to work or study. Thank you for being right here with us.
And now to the graduates: You have already heard or will hear many motivational messages at your commencement ceremonies. I must admit I had no idea what to say to you, I even googled “How to write a graduation speech” and even though they gave good pointers, there was nothing out there that captured this particular set of graduates. We are unique. We have defied the odds, overcome societal and cultural stigma, and many other obstacles and challenges and we have done it well. Whatever brought you here, whether it was divorce, homelessness, abuse or just a series of unfortunate events, we have overcome. My encouragement to you is to keep going. If you have earned your high school diploma continue to higher education, if you have earned your Associates, go for your Bachelor, if you have earned your Bachelor go for your Masters, if you have earned you Masters go for your Doctorate! If you are going into employment go in confidently.
No one can take away this achievement, it is ours. I hope that you all feel the same confidence and value that this achievement has added to my life. Let’s go out and do great things, and always remember you are an ambassador for Family Scholar House. Share your stories and your successes so that you may be the one person in someone else’s life who may need to hear about this. Most importantly, remember to come back and give back in some capacity. It is our responsibility now to ensure the lasting success of this program.
I really don’t have much else to say except “Congratulations!” and the infamous…WE DID IT! Thank you!
Keneysha concluded her speech with these words of Marianne Williamson:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us, it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.