This is the commencement speech delivered by Derrick Calvert at KIPP Northeast College Preparatory’s first graduation on June 4th.
Good evening, KIPP Northeast College Preparatory parents, family, friends, administrators, teachers, and all stakeholders who had a part in this special day. I am honored to have this opportunity. It’s my first. When I got the call, I was immediately overcome with joy. It was shattered by this overwhelming feeling of terror. At that point, I immediately thought back to your first presentation in my class where I said to you “it’s not that hard, just relax, and let it flow.”
Then I heard Fred say, “Yeah Mr. Calvert, it’s easy for you to say. You don’t have to do it.” Well to all of you who took my freshman English class, I want to say that I was wrong, and I feel your pain. Thank you for this opportunity to come back and share in the ultimate day of accomplishment for you. I was trying to think about what to talk about, so I thought about lessons that I wish I had known when I was 18.
I wish I had known that…
- I wouldn’t grow up to be an NBA superstar and I may need a backup plan.
- In just four short years I’ll be bald.
- Hot cheetos powder stains white t-shirts.
- Forrest Gump’s mom was right, life is surprisingly a lot more like a box of chocolates than you realize. You really never know what you’re gonna get.
- Some friendships are as long lasting as the memories that we share together, and some become as hollow as an old tree.
- Struggle is inevitable, but success is impossible without struggle.
- Success does not happen without a plan.
- The older you get, the more you learn that life becomes less about how you respond to success, and more about how you react after massive struggle.
- And finally, you are who you think you should be.
The bald thing would’ve obviously been my greatest priority had I known. I probably would’ve prepared differently, you know lifted some weights, gained another 30 pounds, grown a beard earlier, stuff like that. But I know you’re supposed to learn something from me, so for the purposes of this speech we’ll talk about the last point “you are who you think you ought to be.” I’ll do this by sharing a lesson that I learned about this in my own life.
The true definition of freedom is the ability to exercise choice. In order to experience this, you have to understand your self-worth.
Story 1: First generation college student
Most of you know that I’m a first generation college student, and I entered college with a 14 on my ACT and a schedule full of remedial classes. I had no idea what to expect. I had never seen anyone that looked like me go to college, finish college, or even mention college. Oh and because I was unsure about college, I was a last minute admit. I had no money. It was clear that I didn’t belong, and I honestly don’t even know how I got in.
I’d like to tell you that I got there and worked hard and everything panned out great, but if I did, I’d be lying. I got cut from the basketball team, Hurricane Katrina hit, so I had to go home for a couple of months, and my GPA was shot, barley a 2.0. I finally got a break and made the basketball team my sophomore year, and still with no scholarship money. Did I mention that for half of the year, I rode the bench because I wasn’t developed enough to play? Eventually, I got a chance to play and impressed the coach enough for him to give me a partial scholarship; which then was followed by academic probation and the threat of losing the little scholarship I did have, and being kicked out of college.
I had to wake up and stay woke. I realized going home wasn’t the best idea because I might not have gotten another chance. So I decided that I did belong there. I belonged in college with people who were light-years ahead of me academically. They would go on to become civil rights attorneys, neurosurgeons, and own their own businesses. I belonged on the basketball team with guys who could’ve and would go on to play pro basketball, play overseas, and who would go on to coach college championship teams.
I learned, at this time, one of the greatest lessons of my life. I am who I think I ought to be. There were no limits on my life because I know when I want it. I put the work in, and learn from my mistakes. I ended earning a full basketball scholarship, graduated with a degree in English, and went on to receive two masters degrees in English, and Educational Leadership, which has set me up to continue my path towards success. I learned that there are no walls that I can’t go through. And if I can’t go through it, I’ll stand there and chip at the wall, piece by piece until the wall admires my persistence and let’s me pass.
In closing, this is a time of great joy and anxiety for your parents and teachers, but I can say as your surrogate parent and former teacher, I am not worried about you. I’m proud of you, and thank you for the work you have done. So remember, when you are afraid because it’s your first time away from your family, you are who you think you ought to be. When you don’t understand anything the professor is saying and you want to give up, remember, you are who you think you ought to be. When you miss a deadline, and there is no hope in making it on time, remember, you are who you think you ought to be. When you oversleep and have to rush in to a final right before your professor locks you out, remember, you are who you think you ought to be. When your financial aid is short, and you don’t know where the money will come from, remember, you are who you think you ought to be. When life abruptly changes; like an unexpected child, unexpected death, or unexpected circumstance, remember, you are who you think you ought to be.
Even if or when you have to pick yourself up and start all over again, remember, you are who you think you ought to be. If you don’t remember anything else from my speech remember this: You are not defined by your circumstances or failures, but by how you react to the consequences. You are who you think you ought to be.