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Commencement 2005

Student Speaker Leslie Gant

Three weeks ago I was riding my bike on River Road. I was just a mile or two from AU when BAM!! ...a car hit me from behind. I lost consciousness and the next thing I remember, paramedics were wheeling me into the trauma unit at George Washington Hospital.

It turns out a driver slammed me with his van, claiming he didn't see me, even though it was broad daylight, and I was wearing a hot pink tank top and bright shorts. I was left with a shattered cheekbone and wounds that made me look like I had endured a shark attack. It amazes me to think if I hadn't worn my helmet, I may not be here with you today.

At the time of the accident, I was entangled in all the chaos of a soon-to-be graduate. Like all of you, I was juggling classes, an internship and work; gearing up for finals and pulling all-nighters; lining up contacts for potential jobs; and agonizing over countless "what if" scenarios.

Basically, I was wondering what the heck I was going to do after May 8th. Goodness! That's today, isn't it??! Being confined to a hospital bed for nearly a week gave me a chance to slow down and take the time to reflect on my journey over the past four years and what I hoped to do next.

I'll admit, this past fall semester was pretty rough. Perhaps like some of you, I panicked that I wasn't ready to graduate--that despite great classes and internship experiences, I wasn't equipped for the cutthroat world beyond our cozy AU campus. I even considered prolonging my education by a few more semesters. Luckily, to the relief of my parents I'm sure, it only took one semester to learn what I needed to know; to feel ready and eager to face the world.

In January, I was assigned a seasoned mentor--Michael Cascio, a vice president at National Geographic Channel--through SOC's Alumni Mentoring Program. This past semester I also had the most stimulating, motivating professors I have ever encountered; among them: Chris Palmer, who produces IMAX films, and Mark Bergel, who directs a local non-profit organization.

Chris reminded me of the value of living with integrity and encouraged me to always ask myself: "What is the best use of my time at this moment?" Mark taught me that the most important voice to listen to is the voice of our conscience and our dreams.

And both gave me a healthy dose of what I'd like to call the "Vitamin C's"--a good prescription for all of us:

1. Confidence in our ability to succeed

2. Courage to pursue our deepest interests, and

3. Commitment to put forth our best effort.

A few months ago, Chris Palmer gave my class an assignment to write our own personal eulogies. My first reaction was, "How morbid!" But it wasn't morbid at all. It was empowering to write about all of the hypothetical things I'd dreamed I'd accomplish in life, like hosting a travel show or producing documentaries for social change. When I finished, I felt convinced I was on my way to making those goals a reality.

I thought about this eulogy assignment as I lay in bed at the hospital, and asked myself why so many people fail to achieve the dreams of their youth.

So let me ask you the same question my professor Mark asked my class. "What thoughts or barriers will you allow to get in the way of achieving YOUR dreams?"

The fact is our passions matter. But we can't just think about them. We have to live them. Life is a verb. It doesn't matter what we say we care about. It matters what we do.

Fellow classmates of 2005, this is it. Today is our day. As AU alumni, we're embarking on a new journey. Many of us have already mapped out the route we'd like to take, but know that there's nothing wrong with asking for directions, changing routes, and even off-roading sometimes.

And if we occasionally fail or fall? It doesn't matter. What matters is that we get up, keep pedaling and, above all, enjoy the ride. P.S., guys--helmets do save lives!!