Thursday, May 18, 2017

Class of 2017 Celebrates Commencement Amid Themes of “Rising Up”

(Left to Right: President David Hall, Keynote Speaker Iyanla Vanzant,
Honorary Degree Recipient Ruth Elma Thomas) 

The University of the Virgin Islands Class of 2017 took their first steps into the future at Commencement Ceremonies, which were held on May 11, on St. Croix, and on May 12, in the Sports and Fitness Center on the St. Thomas Campus. Themes of rising up and persevering in the face of adversity were embedded in every aspect of the event from President David Hall’s welcome, to Iyanla Vanzant’s keynote address, to Monel Marcellin’s class speaker remarks, to select interviews with students and alums. “

Keynote Speaker, Iyanla Vanzant
The thought that got me through college as a single mother on welfare with three children by three different fathers was that there is nothing to fear,” said Keynote Speaker Iyanla Vanzant, a commanding author, inspirational speaker, television personality and healer of people. “Fear comes from what you tell yourself about yourself, and whether or not you believe it. Fear can hold you back, but only if you let it.”

Vanzant, who helps people by encouraging them to engage in deliberate thinking, shared a narrative of her personal history peppered with insightful and amusing anecdotes. She then suggested to the graduates that they tackle the future by arming themselves with a kind of personal intelligence apparatus. But in the world according to Vanzant, CIA stands not for Central Intelligence Agency, but rather for Character, Integrity and Appreciation.

“Developing your unique character means making sure that what you do is in line with who you are,” she said. “Integrity is about making sure that what you think, feel, do and say are all in alignment. Do what you know is right even when nobody is looking.” Vanzant continued, “Appreciate yourself, along with those who came before you who endured horrible things so that you could be here today. Appreciate your parents. Whoever they are, they did the best they could.”

Toward the end of her masterful and inspiring address, Vanzant encouraged the class of 2017 to wake up every morning knowing that they had the opportunity to make a new choice. She urged them to “… get focused, get purposeful, claim it, and speak it as though it is.”

President David Hall
President Hall’s welcome address focused on the idea of three magical rivers flowing together in 2017 – the 100th anniversary of the Virgin Islands as a US territory; the 55th anniversary of UVI; and the four-year journey of the class of 2017 – all contributing to a fertile landscape in which these graduates, like the University itself, will continue to rise up despite challenges and disappointments; hardships and losses. So it was with fitting continuity that shortly after being introduced by Dr. Hall, Monel Marcellin, the class speaker on the St. Thomas Campus, shared the stories of several classmates who’d managed to earn degrees despite unplanned pregnancies, abject poverty, family separations and other privations.

Marcellin, who was accepted by six law schools, invoked the famous Mother Teresa quote to support her pride and ongoing faith in her classmates, and in herself: “To those who have done so much with so little for so long, you are now qualified to do anything with nothing.”

St. Thomas Class Speaker Monel Marcellin
Marcellin went on to thank the UVI faculty and staff, along with family members and friends of the graduates, for “believing in us when we could not believe in ourselves.” She expressed gratitude about having been invited to “step outside her comfort zone” so that she and her classmates could “celebrate being alive and present.”

In closing, Marcellin suggested to her classmates that they use their cell phone cameras to focus on what is important; capture the moment; and develop the things that you wish to carry into the next phase of your journey. She then said to the class of 2017: “We have brains in our heads and feet in our shoes. After today, we can go anywhere we want.”

The UVI Class of 2017 are all extraordinary products of a unique journey. Select the following links to read a few inspiring stories that offer some insight into the character of that cohort, and into the great diversity and resilience of the student body at large.

21 Year Journey From Teen Mom to College Graduate

First Tubist to Graduate from UVI Pursues Educational Leadership Role

A Graduate Who Leaves a Legacy

UVI Entrepreneur Poised to Hit the Ground Running