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Valedictory Address - Tracie Parkinson

Spring Convocation 2008


Good morning.

Mr. Chancellor, Mr. President, distinguished guests, fellow graduates, ladies and gentlemen, I feel very privileged to address you today. I promise it will be short.

If I had to compare my undergraduate university experience to anything, it would be walking into an electrical fence. I have actually walked into an electrical fence. Twice. Within the same hour of the same day, embarrassingly enough, so I am actually speaking from experience. They’re similar in that you get a jolt going into it, the feeling goes straight to your head, and just when you feel like you’re going crazy, it’s over. When you come to your senses, you start laughing because in retrospect the whole experience was actually pretty funny, but in the end you learn one thing: don’t do it again.

In all seriousness, university does teach us more than that. The U of W has taught us the value of hard work, perseverance, dedication, friendship, responsibility, commitment, accountability, patience, determination, endurance, diligence, persistence, extemporaneous…ness…, continuance, and any other two, three or four-syllable motivational word you can pull off of thesaurus.com. Some other important lessons we’ve learned, ones that are more explicitly obvious, or ones that we’re more consciously aware of, are that procrastination is our best motivator, caffeine is our friend, and the hours between midnight and 6 am often produce our best pieces of work. This speech is not one of them. However, out of all those life lessons I’ve learned at the U of W, the most important thing I’ve learned so far is that success is failure. This really may not make much sense right now, and you’re probably wondering what the voltage was on that electrical fence or if I actually walked into it more than twice, but it’ll make sense eventually.

What I mean is, often enough we need to mess up, fall flat on our faces and make huge mistakes in order to succeed in the end. Education students, maybe you need to give an absolutely horrible lesson plan to your students to realize what you need to avoid later. Science students, sometimes you have to learn that mixing A + B instead of A + C will not make solution D, but will actually make your test tube explode across the room. Organic chemistry taught me how to follow instructions. Succeeding is messing up, making complete morons of ourselves, but taking those experiences into stride, cleaning up the mess, and learning from them so that you don’t do it again. But most importantly, acknowledge your failures, don’t be ashamed to admit that you made a test tube explode across the room, as long as you can laugh about it later. So in a way, completing undergraduate university is like one big success made from many failures. Take all the little things into stride, deal with them, and succeed in the end.

I would like to conclude this speech by acknowledging some of the people that have helped us along the way. To the guests here, we all really appreciate your help and support over the years. Friends and family, you’ve seen us at our worst, so thanks for putting up with us. And definitely to the faculty at the U of W. From professors who have to get up early and deal with us all day, to the cleaning staff who have to clean up after our really disgusting messes. You’ve all contributed to our experience at the university in some way or other, so thanks for everything. With that, I’d like to conclude with a quote from Conan O’Brien: "If you can laugh at yourself long and hard every time you fall, people will think you’re drunk." Thank you and drive safe.