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William Curran, Class of 2013

LIU Brooklyn
Valedictory Address - May 16, 2013


     Good morning distinguished guests, members of the Board, President Steinberg, Vice President Kane, Provost Haynes, faculty and staff, family and friends. We, the Class of 2013, are honored to share this day of Commencement with you.

     Fellow graduates, first and foremost I would like to congratulate you for your accomplishments at LIU Brooklyn. Your presence here today is a testament to your tireless work and commitment to excellence, and as such I am truly honored and sincerely humbled to share this day with so many intelligent, talented, and driven individuals. Over the years, we have learned and grown at an institution that gave us the privilege of studying with, working with, and befriending students from all walks of life. Although we come from diverse ethnic, cultural, religious, and socioeconomic backgrounds, and despite the fact that we differed in our choices of educational and professional pursuits, we all shared the core LIU experience: a liberal arts education that provided us with the skills to succeed while raising our awareness of world issues and current events. Together, we learned to recognize and appreciate the beauty of diversity, the richness of culture, the value of knowledge, and the power of compassion.

     We also face many of the same obstacles, namely a struggling economy and a fiercely competitive job market. Like many of you, I began my time at LIU with little idea of what I wanted to study or pursue professionally. I changed my major several times in my early years, beginning with media arts before switching to psychology and ultimately settling on childhood education. The many courses I have taken, chiefly the literature, philosophy, and history courses of the Honors Freshman Sequence, along with several education courses and even a Social Science Capstone on Nonviolence, have shown me that the human condition—namely the conflict, growth, and change that is omnipresent in our daily lives—is universal. With the profound revelation that all human beings generally desire the same things—to be happy, to be loved, to watch their children grow—and likewise face similar hardship and strife, came the realization that I could no longer turn a blind eye to the struggle and suffering of those around me. As a student of the social sciences and a prospective educator, I quickly became aware of the inequality and injustice that plague our society.

     As a teacher's assistant, I work with young children who are the true victims of our society's ills, and I see firsthand how the conditions they are born into, particularly intergenerational poverty, can severely restrict their intellectual and social development, and therefore limit their academic and professional success. Even more tragically, they are also far more likely to turn to crime as a solution to their problems, not because of questionable morals or defects of character, but because of desperation. If we continue to turn a blind eye to our society's problems and simply sweep them under the rug, our children are the ones who will continually pay for our willful ignorance and inaction.

     Now, I promise I'll refrain from ruining our Commencement with all this doom and gloom. It wasn't my intention to come out here today so I could stand on a soapbox and preach about inequality. I have not forgotten that this is a happy day, a day to celebrate our accomplishments while preparing to chase new goals. It is a day of reflection and introspection, one wherein we marvel at our academic and personal growth over the years and recognize that we are about to enter the next stage of our lives. What I ask is that you carefully ponder how you can use what you have learned at LIU to inspire and uplift those around you, wherever you may go. We each have something to contribute to society, a gift to give our world. For students of education, like me, it is the gift of nourishing young minds and building strong character. For others, it may be the gift of healing, artistic expression, scientific discovery, or the power of the written word. Regardless of your specialty or field of expertise, I am confident that you will find a way to use it to help others if you set your heart to the task, and I am imploring you to do so.

     For all of us, Commencement marks the end of one stage of our lives and the start of a new one. But for each one of us, it also symbolizes a personal victory. For me, it is the realization that past mistakes need not hold me back in life. That a high school dropout can stand before you as Valedictorian is proof that hard work, determination, and perseverance can accomplish wonders. It is also testimony to the healing power of education and the profound difference it can make in people's lives. But my standing up here in front of you today symbolizes something far greater: that it is okay to be different.

     Upon reflecting on my own life, I realize that I have often strayed from the beaten path, sometimes to my detriment but often to my advantage. Dropping out of high school only to become my university's Valedictorian is but one example of how I've always chosen to march to my own drum. Choosing to major in education and pursue a career in teaching when I could have chosen a far more lucrative and prestigious profession is another. I can't tell you how many people thought I was crazy for making that choice. But in choosing a different career path, would I have been true to myself? The short answer is no, I wouldn't have felt right turning away from those who need me, particularly underserved children. So once more I dared to be different, this time for what I felt was the greater good.

     Now please bear in mind, I don't think I am the last, best hope for public education. Far from it, I realize that I am only one person desperately trying to fix our society's mistakes. But that's why I need your help.  Within each of you lies the remarkable ability to touch someone's life and help them recognize their own potential. Believe me, you don't have to pursue a profession in teaching to help; there are dozens upon dozens of organizations throughout the city that are desperate for knowledgeable and compassionate volunteers. Even if you only volunteer one day a week, the difference you make in someone's life can be profound and long-lasting, so I urge you to consider how you can help. I know you are all consumed with trying to build lives of your own but please take the time to volunteer with a worthy cause if you can.

     Well, so much for not being preachy, right? Don't worry; I haven't forgotten why we're here. I know I didn't wake up this morning and decide to wear this silly outfit because I thought it looked good. We're here to celebrate our accomplishments and set our sights on new ones. All I ask is that you carry the banner of LIU wherever you go; that you let your experiences here guide you wherever life takes you, and that you use what you have learned to touch the lives of those you encounter along the way. Don't be afraid to be different and do not fear the road less traveled. Above all else, don't doubt yourselves. March to the beat of your own drum but do so with dignity and respect. Go out there and do great things. Class of 2013, I believe in you.