I delivered the following salutatorian speech at the USC African American Cultural Celebration on May 15, 2013.
Last year, I watched Brittany Allen and Christina Wilkerson walk across the stage at Black Grad at the top of their class. As I marveled from the balcony in Bovard, I tapped my neighbor and said jokingly, “that’s gonna be me next year.” As I stand here today, I realize that my greatest accomplishments lie not in my GPA, but in how I’ve been able to use my gifts to inspire change in my university and in the community at large.
Just four years ago, I remember crying when I decided to commit to USC. I didn’t feel like I could ever fit in here and figured I would just transfer to UC Berkeley if things got too bad. I got excited for the spirited football games, awesome opportunities and SBG rehearsals, but there was something missing.
In spite of all I loved about this school, I grew tired of having to go on scavenger hunts for black and brown faces. I felt something needed to be done to recruit and retain more minority students. Instead of waiting for the diversity stats to magically rise, I went to work with the support of then BSA President Eric Burse. Together with my longtime friend, Elizabeth Adabale, I co-created the Next Generation Committee to better showcase all that this university has to offer to Black and Latino students. As sophomores, we planned the first annual college prep workshop, bringing dozens of high school juniors and seniors to campus to receive hands-on assistance with college applications, personal statements, financial aid and tips on how to pick a major. We then worked with CBCSA, El Centro Chicano, and the Admissions Office to revamp the Black & Latino Admit Overnight to incorporate more student involvement and to help boost minority enrollment at USC.
My life changed dramatically when I spent a semester abroad in London that same year. While out of the country for the first time, I deepened my relationship with God, went natural and truly got to know myself. Over the last two years, my work as a Resident Advisor in Pardee Tower has allowed me to inform underclassmen about study abroad programs and other key resources on campus.
Upon my return to America, I no longer felt that my volunteering commitments at local schools were making enough of an impact on the world. Wanting to better utilize my creativity, I put my English major to use and started Makiah-isms, a blog that addresses life from the lens of a young Christian Black woman.
When I decided to become a writer, everyone thought I was crazy for switching my career goals with only one year left in school. As if a teaching career wasn’t unstable enough, I took uncertainty to a new level when I announced that I wanted to write for a living. In that moment, I had no idea that my gift would later allow me to help birth a social movement. This monumental and deeply humbling experience taught me that the only thing I have going for myself is my unique voice and that our strongest asset is our drive.
Fellow graduates, we can’t afford to wait for the world to accommodate our dreams. Instead of applying to jobs that demand less than our best and sacrificing true fulfillment for a steady paycheck, we must create new avenues that utilize our full potential. We are the solutions we’ve been waiting for.
If Barack Obama had waited to run until he saw a person of color in the oval office, we would still be waiting for the first Black president. If Harriet Tubman had waited for a hero to come and save her, she would have died a slave. If we had waited on the media to amplify our voice, there would be no #USChangeMovement.
Family, our visions can’t come to fruition unless we activate them. Being the change we wish to see in the world isn’t just a suggestion; it’s our deposit into the next generation of brilliant Black children who are depending on us to pave the way. What if Debbie really is the first female U.S President? What if Latiera is destined to find the cure for cancer? What if you’re the principal of the school that will become the model for U.S education reform? And what if I’m the TV writer who will eradicate stereotypical images of African Americans on television?
We know that we are powerful beyond measure. The people in this room have accomplished more in a few years than most dream to achieve in a lifetime. We have started businesses, released albums, ran political campaigns and hosted TV shows. But the real fight begins when we don’t have a team of like-minded people backing our suggestions in the boardroom. When you don’t have the resources you need to make progress happen, that is when your strategizing skills will be put to the test.
But don’t let this discourage you. We make up a network of incredibly intelligent and talented people who are going to take over the world. It is for this reason that we must stick together. Over the past few years, the lectures, long e-board meetings, event planning struggles and networking sessions have prepared us for this very moment. As we begin this exciting and terrifying chapter of life, we must remember that we are not alone. We have each other, but most importantly, we have God, the granter of the gift that we will use to change society. Joshua 1:9 reads,
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
I never would’ve guessed that the same Black community who had to stage a “say hi” campaign in order to get Black students to speak to each other on campus would become the powerful and unified force that we are today. Keep this momentum with you as you venture out to fulfill your God-given purpose.
Thank you and God Bless!