Commencement Address: Salutatorian Julia Friedman (Saturday, May 19, 2018)

I thank and welcome you all, President Christian, faculty, staff, supporters, friends, family and fellow graduates. I am honored to stand before you as your 2018 Salutatorian. Looking back, I wish I had enrolled in that Public Speaking class, but here goes nothing…

The last four years were filled with change: for our campus, for the world, for us. At SUNY New Paltz we were first to experience the new Wooster, Science, and Ridgeview Halls, as well as the newly renovated Library. For those living on campus, remember when Ridgeview first opened? Chaos broke out over who would get to live in that hotel-like residence hall. As our campus changed, so did the world, and trying times resulted in movements and marches. People are looking to our generation as a force for great change. Today, I’ll be speaking about four things I discovered that lead to positive change: hard work, community, adaptability, and personal happiness.

Hard work. In high school, I received a one on the AP Language and Composition exam, the lowest score possible. Clearly, I’m not a genius. When I saw that big 1 staring back at me, I knew I had to change my mentality and work harder. My commitment to my GPA became so strong that, sophomore year, I attended class the day after I was discharged from the hospital for an emergency appendectomy. Painfully, I shuffled to class, because I wanted that A. Before I knew it, I went from a 1 on an AP to 4.0 GPA as a student-athlete, proving you do not necessarily need to be the smartest to create success. Failure is simply an opportunity for growth and improvement.

Community. Living a meaningful life depends upon your connections to others. I share this podium with all of you, because our success depends on community, and community depends on our success – one is nothing without the other. So here’s to my freshman-year roommate who did my laundry in the midst of back-to-back exams; and to my housemate who assisted me in writing this speech (if you don’t like it I’m more than willing to share the blame. [pause]) Oh yeah, and to you, too, Mom and Dad! Everyone, please take a second to think of that person who helped you through a difficult time or did you a seemingly trivial favor, that’s how we get by. Prioritize relationships and cultivate connections, because through all this chaos and craziness, we need one another.

Adaptability.  Be prepared to NOT be prepared. Studying abroad in Florence, Italy, and traveling across Europe, my friends and I found ourselves adapting to: pickpockets, scammers, missed trains, terrorist warnings, and broken-down buses. (The pasta was great though). In these cases we adapted quickly, in other cases it may take longer. During one of my first games on the New Paltz Women’s Soccer Team, I tore my ACL, requiring surgery.  Devastated, I was without soccer for 10 months. Then, there was physical therapy, three times a week, a mile walk each way, on crutches- as if the transition to college wasn’t hard enough. Hobbling through Humanities on the verge of a mini breakdown, I had to adapt. Sitting out for the rest of the season gave me more time to study, weight train, mentally train, and visit home to ease that first-semester homesickness. Part of adapting to the bad, is recognition of the good. In the next chapters of our lives, our malleability will be put to the test by strenuous graduate classes or demanding bosses. Remain adaptable.

Personal happiness. One of my favorite quotes is, “You have to fight the hardest for the things you love the most.” Some will leave here certain of happiness in a well-chosen career.  But if you are leaving here uncertain of your path, celebrate the success of your degree and education, but don’t let your degree, alone, define you. Pursuit of happiness is a winding path. After analyzing my strengths, I decided to completely change careers and go for a second bachelor’s degree in nursing. I think it’s a good idea, but hopefully I’m not just adding student loans. It is difficult to change paths. But, the ultimate goal is happiness, isn’t it? So I hope you all find and understand what brings you joy, regardless of the difficult road it may present you. If it’s what you are already doing, I applaud you. Continue on your path. If it’s not, don’t be afraid of the appearance of failure, work hard, appreciate and lean on your community, adapt when needed, and discover what you love. When you find it – fight the hardest for that. It will be worth it.
Congratulations class of 2018!