Student address by Mary Morrison ’23
Furman University Student Commencement Address
Mary Elizabeth Morrison ’23
May 6, 2023
Hello, everyone. I’ll be honest, full disclosure, off-script: When I was walking in here, you don’t realize how many people this stadium can hold until you’re standing right here. And it’s a lot.
But thank you for being here, and welcome to Furman’s Commencement for its 197th graduating class. I am honored to have the opportunity to speak with you all on this monumental day as we celebrate the accomplishments of the Class of 2023.
At 6 months of age, I was adopted in Bucharest, Romania, given birth from a woman younger than I am today, who knew she couldn’t give a child a good life. My adoption was never a secret, I knew this as early as I could comprehend it. Growing up, it wasn’t just that I had darker features compared to my family, it was not knowing a part of me that affected me the most. I could never look at my family and say, “That’s where I got the shape of my nose,” or “That’s where I got the color of my eyes.” Though I couldn’t articulate it as a child, these internalized differences made me feel lonely and at times, like I didn’t belong.
I had a fortunate upbringing in many ways, and that I never want to dismiss. My family is here today, and I would not be if it weren’t for them. But it was and is hard to not know something. When you know, you can be who you are without question. When you know, and when you are sure of something, that is when you can undoubtedly thrive. But many times we don’t know, and many times we aren’t sure.
Belonging has been at the core of who I am for as long as I can remember. And it’s uncomfortable to talk about – so why am I?
Because Furman is a place where I know I’ve belonged. Take a moment to think about that sport, club, sorority, fraternity, class, professor, friend, who helped get you here today. Consider the moments, big or small, that you felt seen, where you felt known, and hold them especially close this evening.
Consider the moments, big or small, that you felt seen, where you felt known.
Belonging is essential to the well-being of all humans: every single one of you sitting out here today. Yet it isn’t something that can be purchased, forced or earned. It is not a right.
And this school cultivates it unlike any other. It’s a place so unique that we can walk into the dining hall, say hello to staff like Billy and Miss Robin and be greeted back by name. It’s a place where employees like Mr. Jim – we love you, Mr. Jim! – come to every single Furman event to support his Paladins, win, lose or draw. It’s a place I can ask any professor in any department for help at any time, never doubting that I will in fact receive that help, not because I pay tuition, but because I am a learning human being, who belongs here at Furman.
Even though I may not be able to refer to the person who gave me my eyes, I look at you, class of 2023, and I know something for sure. Even if you have never met me, you contributed to Furman being a home. You know how to make people feel like they belong. So my message for you is to go out there, into the world, wherever you plan to go, whatever you plan to do, and continue to make people feel like they belong. Take every moment you had here at Furman where you may have felt you belonged and pass it on to the next set of people in your life as best you can. You are capable of it; I can attest to it.
Thank you for making this a place where people can belong.
And to my family who is sitting out there today, I may not be able to look at you and know where I got the shape of my nose or the curls in my hair, but I look at you and I know where I got my support, my love and my strength.
I look at you, Furman, and know where I got my passion, my confidence, and where I found myself.
Thank you for that. Thank you for making this a place where people can belong. Congratulations, Class of 2023. We did it!
- Mary Morrison ’23, who received her Bachelor of Arts in psychology, transferred to Furman in the fall of her sophomore year. She received the 2023 Lib Nanney Award for excellence in psychology and is a member of the National English Honors Society, Sigma Tau Delta. She has served as a peer leader for the Furman Body Project, sung in Furman’s a capella group, Futones, and was the sisterhood recognition chair for her sorority, Kappa Delta. She completed multiple internships as a Summer Fellow and studied away in Denmark last May. After graduation, she plans to take a gap year as an infant teacher before returning to school next fall to pursue a doctorate in occupational therapy.