Undergraduate Student Address by R Remi Matthews ’19

Welcome all to today's commencement ceremony. I’d like to extend a good morning to President Liebowitz, members of the board of trustees, honorary degree recipients, beloved faculty, staff, alumni, friends, family and of course the graduating class of 2019.

It is my absolute honor to be able to speak in front of you all today. This speech is dedicated to the ones who did the impossible thing. The ones who did the unthinkable. And whatever that thing is, I'm proud of you. The people in this room are proud of you. But neither of those things matter until you are proud of yourselves. You see, we made it to graduation, we can take a deep breath now. You are amazing. You are incredible. You are powerful beyond measure. And as you set forth into the real world, as people like to call it, remember that you're far more prepared than you think. And if you ever forget it, just remember the people who sit among us.

Among us, we have students who have managed to secure three degrees in four years. Among us, we have students who have incorporated two different majors together in ways to be innovative that challenge each respective curriculum. Among us, we have students who use their voices to speak out on issues others refuse to acknowledge. Among us, we have students who devote their hearts to others in ways that make the world envious. Among us, we have students who use their difficulties to sculpt the masterpieces they are. Among us, we have students who exemplify greatness.
But we have not always done so. Do you remember your first semester at Brandeis? How great was that? My first semester at Brandeis certainly wasn't the smooth ride I had imagined.

CoSci 11A, the ... yeah, y'all know. The introductory computer science course was making me question my entire existence. And not just as a computer science major, but also as a Brandesian. Impostor syndrome had made a cozy home inside my thoughts and he paid for four years' rent up front. There was no way I could be a computer science major. I'm not qualified. I can't code like my classmates can. Or so I thought. And throughout my time at Brandeis, I've had to constantly validate my prowess in the spaces I entered. Coworkers questioning my abilities, students underestimating my knowledge, others encouraging me to change my path. Every day felt like an uphill battle and I was growing more and more tired.

Brandeis was like a pressure chamber, for even the most personal aspects of my journey, making me malleable beyond what I believed to be the most solid of my foundations. But I was able to overcome that. I didn't do it on my own. I did it with the help of the butterfly effect. The butterfly effect, a concept in chaos theory that states that one small change of one moment can result in vastly large differences in a later moment. For example, a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil can cause a hurricane in Texas. We've all experienced it. We've all experienced the gift of interacting with others and I hope you all will think about the ways in which it has effected your lives as well.

Our lives have been affected by the people around us who have prepared us for this very moment. Our supporters, our motivators, and yes, of course, even our haters. Personally, I thank God for granting me another day on this earth to fulfill my purpose. I want to thank my parents for being the blueprint of hard work and the epitome of success. I want to thank my younger brother for being the driving force behind me since he aspires to surpass me with each step he takes. I want to thank my friends that were there for me from day one to today and everywhere in between. To my Posse, to my Posse that continues to hold my back each step of the way. To my professors that challenged me to be the powerful person I am today, thank you.

And I would be remiss not to properly acknowledge the commencement speakers who came before me, who are all in this room today, to Joel Burt-Miller, Mercedes Hall and Wil Jones speaking on behalf of the class of 2016, 2017 and 2018 respectively.

What's unique for me about being in this position today is that each one of those three students I mentioned served as a personal mentor to me from literally my first day on campus. Whether it was navigating the space physically, emotionally or academically, I thank each of you. Without you guys, I wouldn't be able to see the strength I had within myself to accomplish all the barriers set forth before me. So this has been a long time coming for everyone in this room, but there are some people in this very room who never would believe that they would be right here right now. And to those people, I feel you. And I hear you. But I want you to understand that this moment right here is a testament to your true power. You spent years honing your craft, exploring the world, expanding your mind and understanding your incomparable potential for greatness. Whether you acknowledge it or not, you yourselves played a momentous part in getting where you are today. You dared to be great and the butterfly effect worked in your favor.

And what you've accomplished here is no easy feat. See, Brandeis students, we're some of the hardest working, most driven, overly-dedicated students on the planet, period. We are resilient. We are determined. And Brandeis has only strengthened those aspects within our own identities. So of course we can talk about your 128 credit hours’ worth of class conversations and assignments, but don't forget about those other seemingly lesser conversations and experiences you had here. Don't forget about the afternoon debates with your friends over lunch, over which professor pushed your time management skills to the absolute limit. Don't forget about the laughter you shared with the Stein staff like Joy and Cathy as they took your third order of mozzarella sticks that night.

And who could forget every conversation about whether or not Sherman is the better dining hall? Spoiler alert: it is. Yes it is. But don't forget about the events you attended either. Waiting in line for TSA's night market, dancing to all the jams from 2012, or attending the AAAS department's 50th anniversary keynote talk with Juliana Richardson and Angela Davis. Did I mention every midnight buffet ever where you almost broke your glasses trying to grab that last thrown shirt? It's these little moments that may or may not seem significant at the time that have prepared you for whatever life is ready to throw at you. Now, I know what some of you all are probably thinking. R, how are mozzarella sticks from the Stein going to prepare me for a life of career change, climate change, taxes and my impending existential crises?

Well, you've been exposed to a lot of things, people and experiences here. And each one has helped shape you into the person that you are at this very moment in time. So choosing which dining hall you ate at on Tuesday could be the difference between having a potentially life-changing conversation at lunch and the lack of curly fries in your life. As I said earlier, we've all experienced the butterfly effect. And I say this to remind each of you that the power within you has helped you overcome some of your toughest obstacles, fluttered the wings of your butterfly effect decisions and shaped you into your best self. So take pride in your own power. That same power that pushed you through your time here will continue to push you to greatness and I truly believe that each and every one of you sitting here today is destined for success because you are not here by chance. You came here and you made it.

And now you have the responsibility of taking that power and using it to actually do something. We are the driving force behind our future and it's up to us to hold and take it into our arms. Some people stand by and watch what happened. Some people don't know what happened. And some people make things happen. Class of 2019, let's make things happen. Let's have a butterfly effect on the world. Thank you.