Graduation Speech at SBCC

As Academic Senate President, I had the honor of speaking to over 500 graduates at Santa Barbara City College on Friday, May 23, 2014. The following are the words I shared.

On behalf of the Santa Barbara City College faculty, I welcome you. Welcome to our faculty, our staff, our administrators, our board of trustees. Welcome to parents, grandparents, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Welcome to partners, husbands, wives, and children. Welcome to our friends. Welcome to our ancestors who can’t be here in physical form, to our spiritual ancestors who have taught us how to live well, to our cultural teachers who have reminded us how to treat each other, and to the land ancestors who have cared for and settled on these lands in the time before us. 

No one of us does anything alone. 

Each person present here today is a part of one another in this moment of celebration. Please take a moment to remember all those people and conditions that have happened to bring us to this moment in time. 

We are all present here today as a community. We are all present here today to honor our 2014 SBCC graduates.

Standing here in front of you, I can’t help but have a sense of joy and happiness for what brings us here today. We are here to celebrate you, the graduates. To celebrate you for the accomplishment of completing a degree or certificate. Be proud. Feel honored. There are not many moments like this in life and it’s important to cherish the moment. It is a moment to remember. 

Perhaps you are sitting there with a mixture of excitement, anxiety, hope, or joy. Perhaps there is some sorrow for something that has happened recently or for someone not present here today. You are not here alone and we have all our energy focused on you in this moment. Enjoy the limelight. 

As we led up to graduation day this week, there was talk of making a change to the ceremony. On the surface, the change may have been minor but the faculty, one after another, spoke passionately about connecting with you, the students, at a critical moment in our ceremony today. It will happen a little later. For me, this demonstrates the connection our faculty have with you, the students. Our faculty care for you, they appreciate you, and they wish only the best for each student. 

On a personal note, I am a product of California community colleges; I attended three before I transferred to the University of California. I was that student who refused to wear shoes, did not bath regularly, and generally didn’t pay attention. They were pretty dark days, but I made it through to graduate and ultimately stand here before you today. 

My community college experience provided the foundation to be successful with my undergraduate degree. More importantly, my time at community college awakened something in me that I didn’t even realize at the time. Looking back, it was a World Religions class at Palomar College in 1989 that probably set the tone for a number of decisions that I made later in life and then provided a framework for how I live in the world today. 

It’s inevitable that a person speaking at a graduation will offer advice. I don’t necessarily want to offer you advice, but I do want to offer a few characteristics that have served me well in the 25-years since I completed my associates degree. 

First, be kind. And not just to others. Be kind to yourself. I can’t say how important that is for being. Be sure to nurture your well being. Find what it is that takes care of you and then do it regularly.  

Second, don’t despair. Dark and difficult days are always going to be present. Nations collide. The environment suffers. Our friends and family die. But we can always find beauty if we stop and look around. Just look and you’ll see something to bring you joy. 

Now, I’m an academic and have never left the educational environment since I was four years old so I may be a little biased but keep learning. Learning doesn’t just mean continuing in school. We learn to take care of ourselves. We learn to take care of each other. We learn to take care of our community. And we learn how to take care of our planet. 

Last, and mind you that I’m a big technologist, but take time to unplug from the digital. Truly look at your friends. Truly look at your family. Truly look at the natural beauty around. Be mindful. We live in an ever present, ever on, environment. There is something magical about unplugging that I can’t explain, so give it a try from time to time. 

So, that’s enough platitudes from me. It feels awesome to stand here looking at this body of SBCC graduates. There is much to celebrate, but right now we are celebrating you. The 2014 SBCC graduates. I am confident in saying, on behalf of the SBCC faculty, congratulations!

Note: two hours after this speech was delivered, a young man who had attended SBCC, drove through one of the largest housing areas for SBCC and UCSB students in Isla Vista and opened fire with his gun. He killed seven people, including himself. One reason he gave was loneliness. This is the greatest illness of our time.

  • Theodate Lawlor

    Thanks Kenley – It is a joy to see the dharma in everyday life. I hope your graduates take advantage of the wisdom and live fully in each moment.

  • Thank you Theodate.

  • Pat

    Great speech Kenley and your admonitions right on. SBCC is blessed with your leadership.

  • Ameet D

    wonderful speech kenley

  • Thanks Ameet!