"Don’t let those around you now slip away and out of your life. It is an opportunity you cannot afford to miss."
Hello, everyone. A few of you know me. A lot more of you don’t. It’s probably safe to say most don’t actually given the size of this event. As a way of introducing myself a little, I’m Ryan Sobeck. I went to Adelphi and graduated 2 years ago with a Bachelor’s in English. But I knew I wasn’t done learning just yet, so I came back to Adelphi and started my MFA in Fiction Writing immediately, which now comes to a close today.
I’m going to humble brag for a moment, though I promise it has a purpose. In my six consecutive years at Adelphi I have led a sports team and a club. I have written and defended a thesis. I’ve served on committees for the administration. I’ve won awards, and worked at internships. I’ve held a job on campus longer than most people attend this university. I’ve written another thesis. I have been a TA and an adjunct professor in the English department. And finally, after all that, I have been asked to be the graduate student speaker at Adelphi’s 120th commencement. I don’t think any institution will ever be so responsible for padding my resume as Adelphi.
When I was asked if I would like to be a speaker at commencement, I was honestly terrified. It was the worst great honor I have ever been lucky enough to receive—to be here now, speaking. Sweating. Half praying you’re on your phones and not listening to me. And while I seriously contemplated turning down the offer because it just seemed like too much pressure and responsibility, it was too great of an opportunity not to do. So even while I was thinking about how I could never do this—and I’m still not sure if I’m even doing it right now or if this is some pre-commencement speech nightmare I’m having—I began to think, despite myself, about what I would want to say. And what I kept coming back to was this idea of opportunity.
I’ve come to recognize that there are two types of opportunities: Presented Opportunities and Made Opportunities. Adelphi, and a lot of other colleges, present opportunities to their students. We are presented with opportunities to learn. Opportunities to work. Opportunities for internships and teaching. Opportunities to lead. To volunteer. To build a community. To make friends. To belong. And of course, along the way, we begin to make opportunities for ourselves—we don’t sit back and wait for everything to fall into our laps. We go out and make it happen for ourselves.
But we are on the cusp of leaving this structured institution that presents us with opportunities daily. We are about to go out into the world where every opportunity is made by our own hands. And the hope is after four or more years of getting opportunities presented, we’d be able to recognize one when it’s in front of us. And I hate to admit it, but it took me until now to recognize this. Because the first opportunity we must recognize for ourselves is sitting around us right now. It is each other.
Tomorrow many of us will get on planes and fly back to our home state or country. We will get in cars and drive back to Pittsburg, Chicago, Rochester, Suffolk County. And that supportive group of friends, our peers and confidants, that we made here at Adelphi will no longer be next to us on a daily basis. They will not be presented to us due to classes, clubs, and dorms. We will not see these people walking across our lawns, or catch our friends sitting together in some café. Normal life does not present opportunities for friendship like this.
I look at my own group of friends from the MFA program I’m completing today. There are six of us in total that are graduating, and there is no group that knows my writing, my fears, my self-doubts, my aspirations, or my dreams better than them. The friendship and trust we’ve made is because of the opportunities presented to us. But it is now on me, on us, to keep these relationships going.
It requires us to reach out and ask for each other’s time and patience. It will require effort to stay in contact and engaged with each other, rather than just assuming we will always be there. And I need them to still be there because there will be opportunities I try to make for myself that fail. I’m a writer. Rejection and failure is as familiar to me as air.
But good people to share life with are few and far between. You might not get an opportunity to connect and grow with a group of people like this again. Don’t let those around you now slip away and out of your life. It is an opportunity you cannot afford to miss. Thank you.
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