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2017 student commencement speech–Jack McNeill

Jack McNeill

Student Commencement Speech

May 6, 2017

Four years ago, in Paladin Stadium, my lacrosse coach quoted Mike Tyson before what would soon prove to be the worst physical exercise I’ve ever endured.

“Everybody has a plan ’til they get punched in the mouth,” he said. I thought my coach was speaking metaphorically, but he then proceeded to demonstrate that we would be boxing as a part of our circuit workout.

How bad could it be? Little did I know, my partner was a 6’3” Texan who punched like a horse kicked, and his fist would slip off the bag and clock me straight in the mouth only minutes after I heard that “inspirational” quote.

I haven’t taken many physical hits to the face since that day, but a straw poll of some fellow members of the Class of 2017 found that we felt our time here could be described as a series of metaphorical punches to the face, heart, GPA, wallet, pride . . .  and the “punching” bags under our sleepless eyes to show for it.

The first part of The Furman Advantage is what we all hear about, the opportunity and rigor that President Davis has set the standard for, the pummeling that is four years at this institution. For some it was organic chemistry, for others the unrelenting nature of the business block, a psych department multiple choice exam, trying to find a study room in the library during finals or getting multiple parking tickets from “Officer 21” in one day. The list goes on. This place finds a way to catch you off guard with a hook or a jab. Here we are, about to have President Davis hand us our degrees and give us the W, for this round.

You don’t have to search for long to find a challenge within any major at Furman, ask anyone in a cap and gown seated here today. We’ve all experienced those weeks that never end, but we survived punch after punch and sometimes wonder how we managed. I remember last spring exiting my last final hoping for a good omen after a rough week, frantically trying to move out of my apartment so I didn’t get fined…my omen came in the form of a monstrous dumpster fire outside my apartment. I stood around it with numerous other students, and found I was not alone in my feelings when someone said, “Guess this means I shouldn’t check my grades when I get home.”

The second part of The Furman Advantage is something that can’t be expressed in a catchy slogan or well-made video, it’s the preparation for the non-academic adversity you will face in life.

Through our four years here everyone has experienced a serious non-academic life event in one form or another…losing a family member, mental health issues, issues at home, breaking up with a significant other or the uncertainty of the future. I’ve seen my friends and classmates take some hard hits through their Furman careers, but our time here has given us the mental resilience to endure the punches and fight through the adversity.

The challenges and adversity we’ve faced in our lives over these four years have been made bearable because of the incredible support system that this university fosters–the final component of The Furman Advantage. Our professors and staff, like any good boxing trainers, help every step of the way, with our friends and family supporting us, and we thank you all from the bottom of our hearts for everything you’ve done for us along the way.

That next big punch is coming, and some of us might feel like it’s already landed. Maybe you’ve got life on the ropes right now and know exactly what you’re doing after graduation be it graduate school or employment. Maybe you feel like life has you in the corner and have no idea what the future holds. No matter what punches life is going to throw your way, remember that you’ve made great friends here and have your family for support…every boxer has a trainer to clean them up between the rounds. Don’t forget to breathe, and don’t forget to ask for help.

We are all the sum of the adversity we’ve faced, but we live in the era of “the highlight reels.” Be it numerous updates of accomplishments on LinkedIn or that beautiful body, beautiful award, or breathtaking view on Instagram. Society celebrates the results, not the process. Your job or school search is just as important as the offer or acceptance. It’s easy to see the end product, like a Furman degree, and not see the bruises or sleepless nights that got us here. But we’re here, we did it, and we’re ready for whatever comes next.

Class of 2017, take a second to look around at your friends and back to your families. Never forget what we struggled through together, never forget the tailgates, apartment parties, or downtown excursions. Never forget the support of those in the stands behind you, because you’re their prized fighter, you’re the favorite to win. We’re ready for the next step. Class of 2017, this round is over, but tomorrow the next round starts. Keep your hands up and your elbows in, catch life off balance, and start swinging.

Last updated May 7, 2017
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Clinton Colmenares
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