Aspen English’s Address to the Class of 2023

Published: April 28, 2023 | Author: Southern Utah University | Read Time: 4 minutes

Commencement speaker Aspen EnglishSouthern Utah University student Aspen English is from Monticello, Utah and is graduating with majors in English and communication. She is the valedictorian of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, the Outstanding Communication Student, and the Top Rhetoric & Writing Student in the Department of English. During her four years at SUU, she has been a Student Programming Board event director, Student Leadership and Involvement marketing director, and most recently, editor-in-chief of SUU News.

English’s Address at the University Commencement Ceremony

Good morning alumni, faculty, staff, community members, and most importantly, everyone who Googled “Which side of the cap does my tassel go on” today.

Back in 2021, I had an idea.

I was just beginning my junior year, and a lot had changed in the past year. Of course, the pandemic had completely altered several semesters of my college experience, but despite all of that, I managed to make it through the year. I officially declared both my majors, I was hired at SUU News, and I found my dream summer internship. I realized I was a completely different person that I had been just one year prior.

So, a project called “One Year Later” was born. It was a concept where I interviewed SUU students once during the 2021–2022 school year, and then again a year later. The interview consisted of ten questions, the same ones for both years. I wanted to know if other students felt the same way I did — if others could feel how quickly our lives were changing, how quickly we were changing.

The first set of interviews were surprisingly emotional but also some of the most fun experiences I had that year. I met with friends, acquaintances, and even total strangers. I asked them who they were, what the hardest parts of their lives were, and what they liked about themselves. I asked them what they believed in, and I asked them what they would tell their future self a year from now.

“I would tell myself that I am going to be okay,” one student said. “I’m going to continue learning about myself, about the world, and about my friends and family.”

“I would ask myself if I passed O-Chem.”

“I would tell her that I’m proud of her.”

Then came the hard part. I waited at least a year between each interview, then I invited each guest back to the recording studio for their follow-up. Some were still in school, but a few had graduated. Some of them I hadn’t seen or talked to at all in between the two meetings. But all of the guests had one thing in common: they had all changed. A lot. Majors, career paths, friends, religious beliefs. In just one year, each person I talked to had grown into a different, more authentic version of themselves.

As I asked them each the same ten questions for the second time, we paused to listen to their answers from the year before. They got to hear from their past selves, and we laughed as predictions came true (or in some cases, laughably false). And at the end, I asked them to fill in the blank: In the past year, I have learned ____.

“In the past year, I have learned to trust myself. I have learned that whatever the world has to throw at me, I can handle it.”

“In the past year, I have learned that I am golden.”

“In the past year, I have learned that I have value, and that life is meant to be enjoyed, not just endured.”

I am not the same person I was a year ago, two years ago, three years ago, four years ago. And neither are any of you. We are better. We have taken classes, participated in clubs, and gained skills. We have earned our degrees, through hard work and late evenings in the library and staying up way too late putting the final touches on that essay.

We are better because of the faculty and staff at this university. We have summoned up the courage to go to office hours, found our mentors, and made lifelong friendships with those who have taught us. We have received good feedback and become better because of our professors’

One year from now, we will be all over the world — flying planes, saving lives, writing books, running businesses. And it will be, in part, because of the experiences that SUU has given us. So, to my fellow graduates, instead of saying “congratulations” just to you, allow me to also congratulate the versions of yourselves you were one year ago, two years ago, three years ago, four years ago. We couldn’t have done it without them.

Tags: College of Humanities and Social Sciences Communication English

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