Editor’s Note: The following is the transcript of the speech made by the author as commencement speaker of the Northern Marianas College Class of 2021. He delivered this speech to his fellow graduates at the Saipan World Resort on May 21, 2021 during NMC’s Commencement Exercise.
Thank you so much for allowing me to be up here for a few moments. I am truly honored and privileged to be your student speaker today.
Before I continue, I want to recognize and thank our own interim president Frankie Eliptico for his leadership and our NMC Proa team, faculty and staff, for their unwavering courage and commitment to seeing the mission through. So thank you very much.
Graduates, today is a glorious day for ourselves, for our families and for our island community. I hope to reflect some of your thoughts about your experiences over the last few years, whether that be two, three, or four years or however long it took. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that we made it. And we made it together in the achievement of our personal goal of becoming college graduates.
As I think back, we have overcome unimaginable circumstances—from navigating our way this last year, in the face of COVID-19: from in-person classes to virtual blended learning to Super Typhoon Yutu in 2018 with no classrooms.
We did it. We did not give up. We remained determined, we persevered and have come out stronger.We are forever bonded by these common experiences. It was tough. Speaking of tough, let us keep in mind those of us who could not be sitting here today alongside us. They are no less than we are because life can be tough. We hope that being here today will encourage them. They are brothers, they are sisters, family members and friends. It is my hope that they never abandon their personal goals. And if that personal goal is to be a college graduate, then they need to come back to NMC when they are ready. Today we speak for them as well.
So here we are…the day which we have waited for a long time. As we begin to sail on our new course, I would like to leave you with these two words: servant leadership.
You see, I look into this crowd, our graduating class…and all I see are leaders. Leaders called to be men and women for others. Genuine leaders called to serve their teams and put the team first. Compassionate leaders who will serve our community, whether it be in our homes, our villages, islands, or in our nation.
There are four points that I want to speak to as these relate to servant leadership.
So the first is mistakes. As human beings, it is natural that we make mistakes. And these are signals to ourselves that we are trying something new. The most important thing about mistakes is what we do afterward. If we can look at it, learn quickly, adjust, and move in the direction of our goal to improve our lives, then there is no limit to the possibilities of our potential. That is what I see when I look into this graduating class.
The second is mentorship. I encourage each of us to find a mentor who has already walked the path that we plan to walk and shares a similar journey to our own. In walking with this mentor, we will accelerate our learning curve with the knowledge that they share with us. This gift will save us from the hassle of making unnecessary mistakes.
And when you’ve had enough work experience and walked on your own path for a while, become a mentor to the younger members of your team so they can grow as well. Their growth will lead to change and that change will lead to progress for you and me and for the people of our community.
This leads me to my third point which is to give back. Give back to your community. There is a saying here that goes: It takes a village to raise a child. And as we grow from childhood into adult, let’s make sure that we turn around and give back to our villages, give back to our community that gave so much to us. Get involved with those civic organizations of our community that aim to improve our society because it is the right thing to do.
And finally, let us remember that our greatest strength comes from being grateful for what we already have. Someone wise told me “in gratitude there is a great source of energy and of peace.” At the end of a good day or not so good day, remember to count your blessings. Let’s give thanks to whichever higher power it is that you believe in. Giving thanks for the gift of life, the gift of friendship, the gift of knowledge and education. Be thankful for those who helped get you here like Google, Wikipedia and coffee. Just kidding, I mean your family and friends. Be thankful and count your blessings as I count mine.
In closing my fellow graduates, my fellow Proas, remember today symbolizes our commitment to our personal goals and our collective goals. We speak for those who are not here.
We celebrate our individual achievements, but also those achievements of like-minded and like-hearted people…who know from experience that life is tough and it can be unpredictable. But if we continue to work hard and work together, there is nothing that we cannot accomplish as individuals and as a community. I am honored to be graduating alongside fine men and fine women, compassionate leaders in service within our homes, within our villages, on our islands and in this nation.
Congratulations once again, si yu’us ma’ase, ghilisou remi, kalangan and thank you.
James Kennedy Benjamin (Special to the Saipan Tribune)
James Kennedy Benjamin completed his Associates in Arts in Business degree this year.