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Graduating students take to the stage and podium

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​A graduating student at Montgomery College in Maryland enjoys the moment.

Photo: Sanjay Suchak/Montgomery College

Click here for more 2012 commencement photos

​Keynote commencements typically feature speeches from local or even national figures. This year, graduating students are taking the spotlight in their speeches, talking about overcoming obstacles and offering wisdom gained from experience, as well as outlining their hopes for the future.

Candice Grause was not atypical among student speakers this year. She juggled two jobs, a marriage and parenting with being a full-time student at Tallahassee Community College (TCC) in Florida. She recently graduated with a 4.0 grade-point average.

“You will change the world,” Grause—a social media specialist at TCC—told her classmates. “You will go out into the world and make a positive difference, no matter how big or small it may be. It’s not an ‘if’ or a ‘maybe.’ Our burden and our advantage is that we do not have a choice.”

An early start

Noor Tagouri, 18, will get her chance to speak on May 24 when she graduates from Prince George’s Community College in Maryland. Tagouri is the youngest student speaker in PGCC’s history.

“The message I want to convey to our diverse student body at graduation is you will always pave a path to success and your dreams will always be attainable,” Tagouri said.

Alumna pushes forward in nursing and life

Tagouri’s family is from Libya and was actively involved in supporting humanitarian efforts in the recent revolution. She is currently compiling stories of freedom fighters for a book she is writing to document their heroic efforts. She plans to study broadcast journalism and international development and conflict management at University of Maryland, College Park.

Brittany Johnson was only 15 when she first enrolled at Palm Beach State College (PBSC) in Florida. She had been homeschooled and went to college with little direction and a “fear of failure” because of her young age, she said during her speech at PBSC’s May 8 ceremony. She graduated in 2007 with an associate of arts degree, but returned to study dental hygiene.

“Remember where you came from, and never lose sight of where you’re going,” Johnson advised.

Support systems

Faith Proper was PBSC’s second student speaker. Proper, too, had been homeschooled. She had serious health issues before she attended PBSC, but, with the help of medication, was able to lead an active lifestyle at college.

Never too young to learn—or earn a degree

She became a student trustee on the Palm Beach State District Board of Trustees, a Phi Theta Kappa officer and won numerous awards and scholarships. Proper spoke about how, in the pursuit of her achievements, she sacrificed relationships. She said the most important lesson she learned at PBSC was that all those accomplishments weren’t worth anything “if you don’t have someone to share it with.”

She thanked the friends, family, peers and professors in attendance for “pushing us when we could push no further.”

Proper has been accepted to Emory University in Atlanta.

Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell student Gina Vela, who graduated with a nursing degree, was the featured speaker at the college’s May 11 ceremony. Vela is the first in her family to graduate from college. She gave her speech in both English and Spanish—a “conscious attempt,” she said, to include her parents.

“I am here today as a direct result of my parent’s encouragement and support,” Vela said.

Sage advice

Even though this year seems to be the year of the student in terms of speeches, leaders from business, government, entertainment and education were on hand at many ceremonies to congratulate graduates and offer advice.

Second Lady Jill Biden addressed graduates of Broward College in Florida on May 4, just after wrapping up the semester at Northern Virginia Community College, where she teaches.

She advised graduates to “lift up others, always go to your strength and never stop learning.”

Later that week, Biden traveled to rural Iowa to speak at the ceremony at Southwestern Community College.

In Tennessee, Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell delivered the commencement address to Southwest Tennessee Community College’s graduating class. Luttrell challenged students to “be part of the solution.”

“Challenge yourself to perfect your abilities. Use your toolbox of knowledge and experience. Learn to let go, learn the jargon, learn the culture, best practices and about range of career opportunities. And build relationships,” Luttrell said.

At Salt Lake Community College (SLCC) in Utah, soccer star and Olympic gold medalist Abby Wambach also talked about the importance of relationships.

“We all need each other...We push each other farther, past our own expectations," Wambach said at the May 3 ceremony.

On Wednesday, Walter Bumphus, president of the American Association of Community Colleges, will deliver the keynote at Hudson County Community College in New Jersey. That same day, Rod Risley, executive director of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, will present the commencement address at Santa Fe Community College in New Mexico.

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