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Commencement address by Angela Walker Franklin ’81

Commencement Address, Class of 2021
Furman University
Angela Walker Franklin ’81
May 8, 2021

Thank you for that very warm welcome and introduction.

And I extend my appreciation for the opportunity to be with you today to members of the Board of Trustees, deans, alumni, parents, families and friends of today’s graduates.

And, most importantly, I’m thrilled to recognize you, the members of the class of 2021! Congratulations to you all as you embark on your new careers in your chosen fields.

It is truly an honor to be with you on this special day. And, I am happy to say, this is a rare in-person moment that I cherish given the incredibly challenging year and a half we have all been enduring.

It feels so good to be back on campus! And, actually, this is a real homecoming for me. Furman University has been much more in my life than my undergraduate institution. It has been a second home of sorts for me as some of my favorite early childhood memories come from attending summer band camps on this campus while in elementary school.

Growing up in small-town McCormick, South Carolina, I was blessed with parents who stressed high academic achievement. They insisted on using the summers to augment learning and to do what they called “get ahead.”

What an honor to be with you as I reflect on that little 9-year-old girl running through the Furman dorms, to a doubtful yet enlightened college undergraduate here, then later a proud member of the distinguished Board of Trustees, to be standing before you today. My Furman roots run deep, and I bleed purple!

What a year and a half it has been! Our lives have been forever changed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This has been a most trying time for us all.

I respect that many of you may have lost loved ones or friends to the ravages of this pandemic. You have my sincerest condolences and empathy – those are unimaginable losses. Please cherish the memories you have as over time; they will help you heal and keep you strong.

The fact that you are here today, standing ready to graduate, is a powerful testament to your dedication and resiliency in adapting to our “new normal.” You deserve to be proud of yourselves for these accomplishments – many having endured the “battle scars of life.”

As members of one of the nation’s finest liberal arts and sciences institutions, you all rose to the unique challenges, and today you are seeing the rewards for your discipline and endurance. There is indeed real hope starting to bloom across the land.

So, enough of what we all know too well about where we have been.

There is the phrase “Hindsight is 2020.” The year that everything we should have known painfully has become crystal clear. Looking back may be painful, but we have been exposed to so much and learned so much more that will inform and shape our futures.  So, if hindsight is 2020… what is 2021 and beyond? We have a real opportunity now to define it, claim it, restore, and thrive perhaps in a way that we had not considered before.  That’s where you come in… the class of 2021.

Today, I want us to lift our heads with pride and celebrate what we expect from all of you: a promising and accomplished future.

Part of my purpose here is to pay forward the genuine kindness and compassion and unconditional love instilled in me as a child. Part of my purpose is to also to leave some words of wisdom and lessons learned along the way.

So, here are a few learnings of mine that may help you in your individual journeys.

First, I encourage you to understand the power of the golden rule.

Essentially it means to always treat others as you would want to be treated. Sadly, it seems the world has become fragmented, and for many the moral compass is broken. I assure you that when you carry yourself in service to others, understanding even a little bit what their lives could be like, you will realize the most valuable reward that no amount of money or position of influence can match.

Second, always be active in seeking opportunities.

By seeking opportunities, I mean active pursuit… in all walks of life, whether your career pathway, your civic engagements, your interests or hobbies. As we often say, “Life is short, and we should live it to the fullest.” Trust me, that is an absolute, and you will be wise to remember it. Whether you are considering joining a social or civic organization, deciding on destinations for travel, whatever the crossroads you encounter, seize the moment, take a deep breath and be bold. Seek out the challenge, then revel in the hard work, because it is only through the challenge that we can achieve victory

Third, cherish dignity, respect and humility.

I ask that you think of those times when you have been shown respect and how that makes you feel. In step with the golden rule, make it your commitment to always treat others, especially strangers, with the dignity, respect and compassion they deserve. I also urge you to learn the power and value of humility. And today, simple acts of kindness can go a long way.

Be open to hear, listen and reflect. Be willing to step out of your comfort zone, to have the difficult conversation, then seek common ground. Sitting on the sidelines and being quiet is no longer good enough. Use your voice and your position for positive engagement and change.

If you’re like me, your deepest respect goes to those who do not seek the spotlight or accolades, but quietly and humbly go about doing the work. They are the selfless leaders who follow a calling. But let me be clear: This does not mean you sacrifice ambition. Quite the opposite. Ambition and humility make for strong, allied qualities.

As the well-renowned business analyst and author Jim Collins is known to say, “It is the Type 5 leaders who are able to transform organizations and take them from good to great. Those leaders are defined by their combined qualities of ambition and humility.” Collins realized that each of the notable companies he researched had leaders with a specific combination of what he cited as “extreme personal humility” and “intense professional will.”  Humility and good will – what a combination!

Finally, embrace and follow your passions – they will keep you focused and energized.

Holding your passions close will help you weather the spectrum of the exuberant highs to the darkest lows. In the end, it will be your passion to help others regardless of background or orientation that will carry you through.

Our greatest ability is to acknowledge and share passion. After all, it is the magic of passion that pushes us to achieve great things – those grand human achievements despite staggering odds. For passion drives breakthrough discoveries and awe-inspiring advancements.

I challenge each of you to reflect often on why you have pursued your career interests. Why are you here? For most of you, I’m sure at some point in your lives, you were touched by a person or an event that triggered your passion for your calling. Or maybe it is your observations of the world today.

I’ll give you my take on “WHY?” And maybe there is truth to this for some of you.

The world is staring down major problems, and we need you. We really need you! We need your energy, your insights, your creativity. We need your passion for living lives of great meaning. You know the problems I mean, because we have been experiencing them together.

  • Divisiveness and negative speak
  • Continuing threats of terrorism here and abroad
  • Population growth and equitable access to services
  • Inadequate water and food supply
  • Hunger and homelessness
  • Climate change
  • A delicate global infrastructure that is fragmented and in jeopardy
  • Access to quality health care
  • And, yes, the likelihood of future pandemics or other risks to public health, and more…

You will be the agents of consequential action and positive change.

You will be the thinkers, writers, scholars, artists, designers, scientists and more who will secure the health and well-being of future generations. Pursuing your ambitions, your dreams, while at the same time living model lives built on sound ethical foundations, will be our salvation.

When you are able to combine your body of technical knowledge with your love and passion for serving others, you will know great success and happiness.

And know that change will come quickly and often in your time – I encourage you to embrace the opportunities and the choices that change offers, and not to shrink from them.

You, the fine Furman University graduates of 2021, you are living proof of humanity’s resiliency and creativity when faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges. It is now your turn to lead the way with selfless service and compassion.

I remember like it was yesterday, sitting where you are now, absolutely brimming with joy and excitement, and yes, combined with a bit of trepidation facing the unknown. I had no idea what my pathway would look like, but I am eternally grateful to my Furman family for always being a reliable touchstone and fountain of learning and exploration throughout my life.

As you now join the proud ranks of wonderful Furman alumni, I encourage you to pursue your dreams. Do not compromise.

Finally, think often of those who have helped you to arrive at this day. Throughout life, you will learn, success is also a product of trust, collaboration and mutual support. Don’t hesitate to seek help often. Be grateful for the support you receive and honor those who have gone before you.

Lead bold and thrilling lives to the fullest. And share your stories proudly, because we now want to follow you!

My deepest, personal congratulations to you all. Congratulations and Godspeed, class of 2021!

Last updated May 9, 2021
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