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Educational leadership graduate delivers 2022 commencement address

Warner educational leadership graduate delivers 2022 commencement address

Lorna Washington ‘22W (EdD) was one of this year’s commencement speakers, representing the University of Rochester’s graduate students at the University’s first institution-wide commencement in decades. Washington, who received her degree in educational administration, with a specialization in K-12 schools, delivered her address “Why Not Me?” to the 4,000 undergraduates and graduate students attending the ceremony on Friday, May 13, in Fauver Stadium.

Washington’s speech

Thank you, Dean Sturge-Apple, and good morning, everyone. I am thrilled to celebrate this exciting day with you, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to represent the graduating class of 2022. I would like to acknowledge President Mangelsdorf, the platform party, and everyone who worked hard to make this a special day for us. And I can not stand here today without thanking those who supported me throughout this journey, my husband Rodney, my daughters Jazzlynn, Asia and Sierra, siblings Nichelle and Rashad, my parents, Wallace and Brooksie and all of my special friends and family. I may be the one on this stage today, but each of you is graduating right along with me… WE did this!

Lorna Washington at podium

When I was asked to be the graduate student speaker for commencement, to say I was surprised would be an immense understatement. Then I thought to myself, why not me? As a lifelong learner, I have come to understand at times, some of us may diminish… what WE have achieved while inflating the accomplishments of others.

As we build our emotional intelligence, we must recognize the strengths, abilities and talents that each of us brings to every table. Each of us is uniquely equipped to do exactly what we were designed to do. Dr. Maya Angelou said it best, “If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be!” There is only one of you in this world, and we need you!

With this in mind, I thought if anyone had extensive knowledge of this institution, it would be me. I have over 20 years of connection to this reputable establishment, receiving a bachelor’s from the College of Arts and Sciences, a master’s from the School of Nursing and now a doctorate from the Warner School of Education. Additionally, I served as the Assistant Superintendent of the University of Rochester EPO Partnership with East High School. I tell you this not to boast, but in hopes that you will remember who YOU are when opportunities come your way; and not ask ‘why me,” but ask yourself, “why not me?”

As an administrator with the Rochester City School District, I typically was the one working behind the scenes at high school graduations, ensuring that we had addressed all of the last-minute details. When I was selected to give this speech, I realized rather quickly that I should have paid better attention to commencement speakers! I understood almost immediately that I had no idea how to write a commencement speech or what a good speech should entail. So, I did what any self-respecting graduate student at the prestigious University of Rochester would do—I Googled it.

Recently, we have endured some of the most challenging times in our society while walking out our educational journeys. From political instability to racial tensions and the never-ending effects of COVID-19 and its ever-evolving variants, it is a wonder that we have been able to keep our minds on our studies even to allow us to reach this point. 

Over the past few years, there were many days I felt I needed my own personal ‘Hype Man’ to keep me motivated to get through some of my courses. Thankfully, family, friends, and my faith in God built me up when times were hard. And I, like some of you, relied on music to help settle my mind when things became overwhelming. Fortunately, there was a song that helped to focus and inspire me to continue pressing on. I want to share a few of its words, hoping you, too, may be encouraged when you are met with challenging situations. The song is called “Why Not Me,” by Tasha Page-Lockhart, and the words that I would replay continually said: 

Why Not Me? I’m the perfect person to go through this storm. 
It won’t break me; it won’t kill me; I’ll move on, 
And then I’ll come out even better than before, 
And I’ll never see this place anymore, 
‘Cause my faith is getting stronger every day,
I’m removing everything that’s in my way,
And the fact that I survived another day,
Makes me say… why not me?

When we look back on our experiences here at the University of Rochester, it is hard to imagine the University will no longer be a major part of our daily lives. For many of us, this place has become a part of who we are. 

And although today signifies for many of us the end of our educational careers, it is essential to note – as President Mangelsdorf did earlier – that this Commencement is also a beginning – the start of a new journey. And even though we have accomplished great things here at the University of Rochester, we must realize that it is not our degrees that have set us apart, but we ourselves. We are the secret sauce to our successes.

Lorna Washington smilingAs our time here comes to an end, I would like to encourage you to live out the mission of the University. I urge each of you to exemplify the tenets of Meliora in your own unique ways and make this world “ever better.” Please do not settle for things being the way they are just because that is how they have always been. Leave your mark by challenging the status quo, leading the cause for what is right even when it may seem difficult. Never forget to reach out and help someone else along the way. Consider serving as a mentor to a student, whether they are in high school or college. Help them reach their potential so that together, we can prepare a path for others to follow. 

Remember, we all achieve when we work together to succeed. 

As I stand here today, I am reminded that a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., my Soror, Beatrice Amaza Howard, an educator, was the first African American woman to graduate from the University of Rochester in 1931. And today, nearly a century later, I, Lorna Washington, am graduating as a Doctor of Education. I pray this inspires someone else to do the same. 

Earlier, I spoke about a song that helped me through challenging times. There is another verse that I would like to leave with you that I think is particularly appropriate for all of today’s graduates. It simply says,

This is my moment, there’s no turning back
It took me a while, but I have no regrets
I’ve given my all, letting go of the past
I’m not going to break, and I won’t be afraid
This is my moment, this is my time
Just move out my way, ‘cause I’m not backing down
Now that I realize who I am… I’m ALIVE!
So why not me?

Congratulations, Class of 2022…. Meliora!