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Bloomington Commencement Feature

Indiana University Bloomington Commencement Speech by McKayla West Bull, Graduating Senior in the School of Public Health, Delivered Saturday, May 6, 2017

Last year around this time I was jumping for joy around in my bedroom in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Tears of pure euphoria streamed down my cheeks as I did my best to explain- in Spanish- to my host-family about the world’s biggest collegiate bike race and how incredible it was that my team, Phoenix Cycling, just became Little 500 champions. Live-streaming the race from another hemisphere, I watched my teammates step onto the same podium we stood on the year before, this time instead of a silver trophy, they held gold. These two moments are among the many highlights of my IU story, but this hall is filled with thousands of different IU stories. Each of you has your own unique story with your own unique highlights.

We all come from diverse communities, all over Indiana-all over the United States-all over the world. Yet, we were all drawn to something about Indiana University- maybe it was a highly-ranked academic program or the way the spring tulips at Sample Gates complement the limestone architecture.

Our stories collide here at IU Bloomington, if only for a moment.

Tossed together like a mixed bag mystery salad, the class of 2017 wrote our opening scene move-in day. Turning the page on our youth and beginning our undergraduate chapter, we came barreling into Bloomington with our lives loaded in plastic containers and our stomachs filled with butterflies of excitement, anxiety, thrill.  

Think back to your first day at IU. Who were you? What did you believe? What did you know?

I’m willing to bet big money that you are a better person today than when you stepped foot on this campus, but let’s do a little experiment. Class of 2017, raise your hand high in the air (and keep your hand raised) if you’ve done any of the following at IU (you guys ready?): Raise your hand if you… volunteered your time or been a part of a student organization. Raise your hand if you studied abroad. Raise your hand if you’ve landed a new job opportunity or internship, (keep your hand raised if you’ve done any – there you go) keep your hand raised if you’ve worked your rear-end off in a class. Raise your hand if you’ve had fun.

Now look at all these hands raised! (Awesome, thanks guys. You can put them down.) Look at all this community has accomplished and overcome! And we were never immune from being vulnerable: it’s never easy to ask questions in class, learn a new skill on the job, or experience a culture that’s not your own- but being brave is the commitment to constantly pushing yourself away from the known. 

 Today’s ceremony is the final punctuation mark of the final sentence of our undergraduate chapter. Although endings can be heart wrenching, the wonderful thing is we will never stop being Hoosiers. We will always have these pages of our lives to turn back to, with memories to cherish and saved snapchats to smile at. Where will the setting of your story be in one year? How will your character have grown and developed in ten years? In thirty years?

The uncertainty of the future can feel overwhelming and intimidating, but take solace in knowing you are capable of overcoming any challenges presented to you. You didn’t give up when you couldn’t find Ballantine Hall on your first day. You didn’t give up when you had to pass Finite or Calc. You didn’t give up when you had several important exams fall on the equally important week of Little 5. As you continue to write your story, keep taking risks but don’t get so focused on a checklist you forget the here and now. It’s easy to get caught in this hamster wheel where the monotony of life tricks you into thinking, “I’ll be happy when I have… that dream job…. I’ll be happy when I have… a graduate degree…. I’ll be happy when I have… a big house.” Rather than waiting for future chapters, hang onto every word of your story as it’s being written in real time: feel how vibrant and enriching life can be if you savor the flavor of this very moment, this very heartbeat, these very friends and family around you.

I don’t know how the plotlines of our lives will unfold, but I know they will be filled with stories worth reading.

Class of 2017, today you turn the page on your undergraduate experience and begin a new life chapter. You are officially ready to enter the world and create positive waves. As we disperse into new territory, we carry this Hoosier spirit with us, this drive to create positive change, this desire to innovate, and this determination to live life vibrantly with joy, laughter, and love. 

Bask in the glory of your story, and make it a page-turner. Promise to never lose your sense of wonder and zest for life, and you will organically fill the remaining pages of your book with stories that inspire, motivate, and make the world a happier place to call home.

Be proud of all you have achieved and overcome. Rejoice in knowing you are a college graduate. Revel in this moment. 

Inhale, feeling the pure triumph of becoming an IU alumnus. Exhale, feeling confident in who you are and where you are going.

Congratulations, class of 2017!

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