I graduated with my MBA in December of last year. (You can read about how I did it debt free here). I applied as the commencement speaker for the ceremony. Although I was one of the top finalists my speech didn’t get selected. So I decided to share it with the world anyway. It talks a little about my story and some of the struggles I’ve been through.
“Good Afternoon everyone. I’d like to first thank President Wildenthal, Dean Cunningham and Dean Pirkul as well as all the professors with whom I had a privilege to work and build relationships with during my undergraduate and graduate studies here at UTD, and all of UTD’s professors and staff. Your knowledge, kindness, support and belief in me and my fellow students are the reasons we are all here today. I am forever grateful for an opportunity to have met so many wonderful people. And I am proud to be a Comet.
Today is our day and it’s a very special day for me. One of my biggest goals and dreams has finally come true. Although getting an MBA or another advanced degree in my opinion does not necessarily give us a golden ticket to success in life, (at least it didn’t give one to me, :)) what it gives us are the connections, skills and resources that will accompany us throughout our entire life. All of those will help us be successful in various areas of our lives. I’m talking about tenacity, discipline, resilience, patience, ability to get outside of our comfort zones and team work. I am extremely proud and honored to share this accomplishment with all of you here today.
But as I’m sure for many of you, this wasn’t an easy road for me. It feels like it was just yesterday, when I was a young 20-year old girl from Belarus (a small country next to Russia with the size and population smaller than Texas) who had the courage to come to US despite all odds with a dream of going to college. I was scared, I was lonely, I was insecure and I was struggling with an eating disorder. When I finally had the courage to start pursuing college, I wasn’t even sure if I could pass a GED test that I had to take. For the longest time I thought my only worth was in how I looked. Today, I am graduating with two master’s degrees. And I would like to address all the amazing women sitting here in front of me: we are so much more than how we look. We are smart, intelligent, strong, courageous and capable of great things. And don’t ever let anyone underestimate you or your abilities, because you are a woman.
My message to all of you today is this:
- Do not let your past determine your future. There was a time when I was very ashamed of my past and some of the things I’ve done and been through. But shame and embarrassment do not leave room for healing and growth. Although we cannot change the past, we alone are the Masters of our future. And today I am proud of the woman who I have become and I encourage you to look forward not backwards. We are all capable of rewriting our stories.
- Be authentic. Stay true to who you are. Ask these questions of yourself: Who am I? What do I stand for? What is important to me? Don’t let other people’s or society’s expectations define you. It’s your life and you decide how you’re going to live it. For the longest time I tried to follow other people’s ideas for my life. And then I realized that life is too short to live for someone else. Let’s focus on being the best versions of ourselves, not merely trying to live up to a social standard of success and at the end of our lives we will feel the happiest knowing that we did our best to deliver our true selves to others.
- Don’t be afraid to dream big. No matter how big and unreachable your dreams may seem, no matter how difficult the obstacles you’re faced with, find the courage within yourself to keep going, even if everyone else may tell you it’s impossible. You will become a better person, and you will build strength to face life’s challenges as it is inevitable that we will have more of them once we leave the doors of UTD. You will also find, that when you are going after your dreams, and working on something you truly care about, you will find support and encouragement from those who truly care. I really like the quote from Paolo Coelo’s Alchemist:
- Seek out mentors and ask for help and support. There is absolutely no chance I would be standing here today if it wasn’t for all my mentors, friends and the help of my professors. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. If you are struggling with something or going through serious life changes, such as a new career, marriage, relationship, health issues, children, maybe starting a company, whatever it is for you, do not be afraid to ask for help and support. Another quote I really like states: “No one who achieves great success does so without acknowledging the help of others”. And vice versa don’t ever underestimate the difference that you can make in the lives of those around you. Once you leave UTD don’t forget to give back and help others who are in need.
- Lastly I want to encourage you not to rush things. Enjoy this moment, live it and breathe it. You have accomplished a lot, be proud of yourself. Celebrate you and all those who helped you get to this moment. Don’t be in a hurry to grab the C-suite, start your new job, get that next promotion, get a bigger house, new car etc. None of those things bring true happiness. True happiness comes from doing meaningful work and from having meaningful and intimate relationships with others. So please take this day to express gratitude to those who care about you and truly be present with the people in your life. Thank you! “