Well, I went to bed the other night with my speech for the next day unwritten, and–wouldn’t you know it–as soon as I turned off the light and put my head on the pillow it came to me. I grabbed the pen next to my gratitude journal and scrawled on the back of my left hand:
Then I went to sleep.
Here’s what I ended up saying to the class of 2014 at the official beginning of their senior year…
Hello, everyone. I am Ashley Garrett and I serve as the President of the Wesleyan College Alumnae Association. I bring you greetings on behalf of the over 8000 women who have gone before you into the wider world after Wesleyan. I am excited to be here today because I love love love Fall Convocation–it’s the start of a great adventure, a journey.
We are Pioneers and just like the pioneer women a couple of hundred years ago, we have packed up the things we can’t live without and thrown them in our wagons and made our way to Macon, the first stop on that journey. And like those pioneer women, we might be looking ahead at all the ground we have to cover to get from here to there and feeling overwhelmed. I imagine that many of those pioneers said, “Hold on. You mean to tell me that I have to WALK across an ocean of prairie grass just to get to a mile-high WALL of Rocky Mountains and once I get over THAT, I can start my life? Honey, please.”
It IS overwhelming, when we look out at the start of journey and see all that lies ahead of us. So here’s my advice to you: Just do the next right thing. Do the next right thing. You don’t have to do all the things and you don’t have to do them today. You only have to do the next right thing.
This is the advice I would give my friend, Auburn, who is a member of the first-year Pirate class. This week, Auburn was elected the chair of her class STUNT committee. She’s looking ahead to February and thinking, “HOW am I going to make this happen?” Auburn, just do the next right thing.
Where’s my friend, Paula? Paula is a member of the senior Purple Knight class. She’s juggling Orientation leadership, a role in the theater production, backstage work on another production, and her course work. And Paula is already thinking about how to get her Actor’s Equity card after she graduates. Paula, do the next right thing.
I tell you this today because I am a Pioneer and I am also a Purple Knight. And I’ve walked across some oceans and climbed some mountains and I’m back here today to tell you that I know you can do it. You will get there if you do the next right thing. For you have courage in your purpose and strength to see it through. Class of 2014, all hail to you.
There was clapping and cheering and crying and it was everything I had hoped to say.
That’s Paula on the far left with her friends. Look at those smiles! These women will change the world.
I got to hug Paula afterwards and meet her mama. Paula hugged my neck and whispered, “I needed to hear that today.” There was no better outcome I could have asked for when I went to bed without knowing what I was going to say.
I got a hug from Auburn, too. She’s only been at Wesleyan for a few weeks and is still settling in, even though she’s a third generation Wesleyanne. While we were talking, President Ruth Knox came over to say hello and I had the honor of introducing Auburn to her. As luck would have it, Auburn is at Wesleyan on the Mary Knox McNeill scholarship for faith and service. That scholarship was established in memory of President Knox’s sister. It was pure magic, watching the two of them connect there on the steps. Ruth said, “I’ll be keeping my eye on you.” A light came on inside Auburn and I got to see it, that moment when a girl stood up taller, prouder. She messaged me later and we giggled over the delights of the day. The last thing she said was, “I feel at home here now.” Well, you can get to know her on her blog “Tales of a Wesleyanne!”
That’s Auburn in the middle with her mama’s classmates. Y’all might remember Virginia from that story “The Teacher and the Professor.”
When I went to sleep with those random words scrawled on my hand, I couldn’t have dreamed of where they would take me. What a fine morning.