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Class of 2019 Commencement Address by Wendy Hoke, President

Posted on May 19, 2019 in Articles

Thank you, Sister Cheryl for that beautiful invocation. And thank you, Sister Susan for being here. We are so very proud of our Ursuline tradition at Beaumont School and glad to have you with us to share in this special day.

Welcome Parents and Families of the Class of 2019. On behalf of Mr. Beyer and Mrs. Bernot, our entire Faculty, Board and the Ursuline Sisters, thank you for sharing your daughters with us these past four years. They have filled our hearts and souls with joy and navigated change with grace.

To the amazing young women of the Class of 2019, you leave Beaumont with a strong foundation given to you by your Ursuline education.

ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE

You have been accepted to more than 104 colleges and universities. Together, you 72 graduates have earned more than $11.2 million in merit-based scholarships.

You are National Merit Finalists, Phi Beta Kappa, IB Diploma Candidates, Blue Streaks forever, world travelers, researchers and global scholars. You sang, danced and acted your way into our hearts forever. You moved our souls with your paintings and sketches.

Your intellect, drive, creativity and fierceness had us cheering you at music performances and thespian contests. We cheered our athletes through every game, match and meet, and wiped a tear as each senior night meant we were one day closer to today.

Your Beaumont education has instilled in you the quality of being a lifelong learner. Trust me, it will serve you well. And those IB courses and exams that have tormented you these past few weeks? You don’t know this yet, but mark my words, they have developed the skills you need to be successful in college and beyond. Thanks for being the first to take the IB plunge. You have set a positive example for the next IB students.

Class of 2019, you have been given the opportunity and the confidence to use your voices in the classroom, on the field, on the stage, on the canvas, and in service to others.

Know two things. Words matter. And as the quote on the sign outside my office door says, “If you get the right words in the right order you can nudge the world a little.” As you leave here, some will try to silence that voice. They will talk over you, take your ideas and share them as their own, or simply ignore you. DO. NOT. LET. THEM.

DYNAMIC ADAPTABILITY

Change is a fact of life. Don’t plant your feet in a bed of cement. Life will demand that you adapt and change course — sometimes willingly, sometimes not. Your ability to adapt with it dictates how well you will manage throughout life. The Ursulines call this quality dynamic adaptability and they have modeled this for us in their own lives.

You no doubt will enter college this fall with some idea of what you’d like to pursue. Career paths, however, are not a fixed mark. They change, you change, things change. Be open to the idea of what former First Lady Michelle Obama calls, “Becoming.”

In the preface to her book by the same name, she begins:

“When I was a kid, my aspirations were simple. I wanted a dog. I wanted a house that had stairs in it — two floors for one family. I wanted, for some reason, a four-door station wagon instead of the two-door Buick that was my father’s pride and joy. I used to tell people that when I grew up, I was going to be a pediatrician. [...]

I was ambitious, though I didn’t know exactly what I was shooting for. Now I think it’s one of the most useless questions an adult can ask a child—What do you want to be when you grow up? As if growing up is finite. As if at some point you become something and that’s the end.”

Becoming is a perpetual state. It’s learning for life, adapting to changing circumstances, whether that’s having a family or changing careers or dealing with a life-threatening illness.

And don’t let people use the word ambitious against you. In the past few weeks I’ve heard “he or she’s ambitious” in a derogatory sense. Really? Being ambitious is not a bad thing, especially because you complement ambition by being grounded in your faith.

In his homily at Baccalaureate on Tuesday, Father Kiser talked about how you meet the outward qualities for success—academic and intellectual success, athletic success, social success. But there’s a narrative that runs underneath that success. That narrative is given voice (often in the middle of the night) and asks questions like:

Who am I?

What am I meant to do in this world?

What is my purpose?

Am I an imposter?

These questions, ladies, will not be answered in the next four years. These questions will be before you throughout your life.

Here’s award-winning, prolific author Neil Gaiman talking about his own experience with Imposter Syndrome:

“Some years ago, I was lucky enough to be invited to a gathering of great and good people: artists and scientists, writers and discoverers of things. And I felt that at any moment they would realize that I didn’t qualify to be there, among these people who had really done things.

“On my second or third night there, I was standing at the back of the hall, while a musical entertainment happened, and I started talking to a very nice, polite, elderly gentleman about several things, including our shared first name.

And then he pointed to the hall of people, and said words to the effect of, ‘I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where I was sent.’

And I said, ‘Yes, But you were the first man on the moon. I think that counts for something.’

“And I felt a bit better. Because if Neil Armstrong felt like an imposter, maybe everyone did. Maybe there weren’t any grown-ups, only people who had worked hard and also got lucky and were slightly out of their depth, all of us doing the best job we could, which is all we can really hope for.”

So that voice in your head, the one that says to you-you're not good enough? You’re not the only one. And as for feeling slightly out of your depth, join the club. Everyone doubts, even Neil Armstrong doubted.

Take heart because Beaumont has also given you confidence, a voice and a strong intellectual and spiritual foundation. So you’ve got this.

Do not mistake confidence and ability with the need for perfection. This idea of girls being perfect is being studied widely today. Because it is debilitating.

Research shows that girls gravitate toward careers they know they will be great (perfect) in. In other words, we are conditioned to be perfect. Boys, however, are rewarded for taking risks.

Ladies, do not strive for perfection. It is unattainable and will stymie you at every turn. Instead, strive for courage and excellence.

Reshma Saujani, author of the book “Brave, Not Perfect” and founder of Girls Who Code, reminds us that as a country — as a world — we cannot truly innovate or make important changes if half the world’s population is left behind.

The bravery deficit, as she calls it, is why women are underrepresented in so many fields, on boards and in C-suites.

Facing fear head on is not easy, but it is necessary. Don’t be afraid of failure. Scientific discoveries are made because something failed. Penicillin, the microwave, the pacemaker, all results of scientific mistakes. Coding is an endless series of trial and error.

Perfection will hold you back from the jobs you’re meant to do. The fear of not being perfect will keep you from even trying. Men will apply for a job if they meet 60% of the qualifications. Women will only apply for the job if they meet 100% of the qualifications. We must (and I include myself in this as well) be comfortable with our imperfection. Brave, not perfect.

CARE FOR THE INDIVIDUAL

Stress and anxiety are nearly epidemic among young women. But not all stress is bad.

Dr. Lisa Damour who will be speaking at Beaumont on Tuesday night wrote in her new book, “Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls,” that “healthy stress happens when we take on new challenges, such as giving a speech to a large audience.” She continues, “Stress… rises when our daughters are pushed to operate at the edge of their capacities. It almost always helps them to grow. Being stretched beyond familiar limits cultivates strength and durability.”

In other words, when you face your fears you find out how resilient you can be. Growth comes when you push yourself just outside of your comfort zone. Brave, not perfect. Resilient.

This idea of courage applies to your emotional life as well. Researcher and popular speaker Brene Brown defines courage as “telling the story of who you are with your whole heart.” You have to be willing to let go of who you think you should be and believe that you are worthy.

Ladies, love with your whole heart even though there are no guarantees. You are loved and accepted not for being perfect, but for being courageous in big and small ways.

That means you have to be willing to be vulnerable and to experience all the feels. If you are numb to vulnerability, you won’t experience pain, sure, but you also won’t experience joy, love and gratitude.

Your parents can attest that the ultimate vulnerability is to become a parent. Talk about ALL the feels. Am I right, parents?

Aside from becoming a parent, nothing invokes more stress, anxiety and vulnerability then waiting for the doctor to call you with the results of your mammogram (or any health crisis). But I found that the waiting was worse than the thing, in my case a diagnosis of stage 3 breast cancer.

I said this to last year’s class because I have the microphone and it’s important. Ladies, when the time comes, get your mammograms. And know that a Beaumont alum named Ellen Proctor has her name on the patent for the compression system used in mammography.

A Beaumont alum literally saved my life.

BUILDING COMMUNITY

Graduates, you leave Beaumont with an incredible community of sisters. You have more power to do good in the world than you realize.

Research shows that young women who are educated in a single sex environment are 10 percent more likely than their co-ed peers to be civically engaged.

Stay engaged civically. It’s a marathon. And ALWAYS vote! People died to give you that right. So use it.

Be kind and listen.

Beaumont has instilled in you a strong foundation for knowing who you are, what you value and how you interact with others in the world. It’s your faith and it’s your north star.

Where’s the proof in this? It’s in the thousands of service hours you have collectively performed on behalf of others. It is found in the absolute and pure joy of our school liturgies. It is the many ways—big and small—that you care for one another. It’s your group chats late at night, encouraging one another through that IB exam or English paper.

It’s the way you carry yourselves in public. It’s people in the community saying to me, “Beaumont, coming on strong!” (In a good way)

It’s the way you sing the alma mater.

ENGAGE SPIRITUALITY

While you developed your intellectual and social life, do not ignore your inner spiritual life. Because as we’ve already discussed stress and pressure are facts of life. Use it constructively to push yourself.

Remember self care:

unplug

walk in nature

share a meal with a friend or loved one (no phones allowed)

pray

exercise

When you walk with your ears open, your mind opens to creativity. Embrace the quiet. It will clear your head. Do the thing that centers you. While the stormy world swirls around you, stop and focus yourself in the eye of the hurricane. In that space, you can see more clearly.

Maybe that clarity leads to a cure for cancer, or the design of the thing that carries people to space, or the solution to our mess of a health care system.

Graduates, you are well-prepared for what comes next—academically and spiritually. That moral compass, that foundation will be there supporting you when the air gets a bit thin and you feel yourself woozy with uncertainty.

When you need added support, when your head is spinning with the craziness of research papers, labs, exams, relationships and anxiety about your future, remember that you have two women to guide you.

Stop a moment and pray: St. Angela, watch over our days; St. Ursula, protect our future.

DEVELOP LEADERS

Our Ursuline sisters are living examples of the importance of women in leadership.

Writing in the New York Times in February, Fulbright scholar Liesle Schwabe wrote about what the nuns taught her about feminism. “My education … was never only about me, but also about the world I was poised to inherit.”

That is true of Beaumont women as well. Ladies, please hear me on this: Leaders. Show. Up.

And be persistent.

In other words, as St. Angela says, “Put your whole soul into the enterprise you have undertaken.”

FOCUS ON WOMEN

When you’ve reached some success, don’t forget to reach back and bring other women along with you.

For much of my professional life, I have encountered women and men who believe that for someone to get ahead, someone else must be left behind.

That is patently false.

I have had the good fortune in my life to work with some amazing women (and men) who served as extraordinary mentors. They helped me push myself harder and farther than I would have ever imagined possible at your age. They helped me fight for a seat at the table and pay commensurate with my experience. They reassured me when I felt I was failing as a working mom.

Remember that you have a network of 7,000 — yes, 7,000 — Beaumont alumnae (some of whom are here in this church today) who can help you. You met some of these amazing women at Career Day. And they stand ready to give back and help you succeed.

And it’s important to give back. Remember Beaumont. Someone helped you get this education that serves as the foundation about which our alums on Career Day spoke so eloquently. I hear this time and again from alums as I travel around the country to meet them. Beaumont was the foundation for their success.

Soon, it will be your turn to give back and help future generations of young women access a Beaumont education.

Until then, know that we all are so proud of you. Mr. Beyer, Mrs. Bernot, your guidance counselors, teachers, parents, siblings, grandparents, the Ursuline Sisters and our board.

Ladies, you have filled our hearts with joy and hope for the future. Go forth and change the world! Congratulations, Class of 2019! We can’t wait to see what you do next!