ome people would be nervous, speaking to a group this large. But I am a University of Phoenix graduate. I know a thing or two about getting up and presenting before a group.

When presented with the opportunity to speak today, I started and discarded half a dozen different speeches. What can I say to all of you – my fellow graduates – that you don’t already know?

At traditional college commencements, speakers tell the graduating class to go out into the world and make their mark. As non-traditional students, though, we have already been out in the world. We have also been at the end of our rope, pushed to the limit, over the hill, on the edge and around the bend. No, we don’t need to be told about the real world. We are the real world.

So I can’t give the usual “the world is yours for the taking” speech. What I can do is take a moment to recognize what we have already accomplished. All of us, one and the same, taking this opportunity today to celebrate a major milestone in each of our lives. Finally, we can take a deep breath, raise our heads high, and enjoy the well-earned feeling of success.

I can also share with you a bit of my personal experience. When I left the Marine Corps, I was worried about going back to school. I remember telling my Grandmother that, if I did go to college, “I would be 30 years old before I got my degree.” She smiled and said, “Boy, you’re going to be 30, anyway.” Those words stuck with me through obstacles and challenges, ups and downs. And here I am at 38, a college graduate. And if all goes as planned, I will have a Masters Degree when I am 40.

So what exactly has the University of Phoenix done for me? My experience at UOP has helped me make improvements in three areas of my life: academically (of course), professionally, and even personally.

Academically, I am more than prepared to start Graduate School in September. The instructors I had believe in what they do. Teaching is more than just passing the time in front of the class, and I was fortunate to have instructors who inspired me to do more than just pass. They made me want to do my best. And here I am today, graduating with honors.

The University of Phoenix has a well-earned reputation for rigorous coursework, high standards, and a quick pace. To keep up, I developed great study habits, actively participated in learning teams, and made and kept my commitment to my education. These same traits will be my strengths as I pursue my Masters Degree in Adult Education.

Professionally, I have benefited already from my time at University of Phoenix. This school prides itself on providing “education that goes to work,” and I can attest to the truth of that. Be it Human Resources, Accounting, Project Management, Communication, or any of the other courses, nearly everything was immediately useful in the workplace. This school combines theory with real-world applications, drawing as much from each of our lives and experiences as from our textbooks. We were connected to the material, and it mattered to us. We listened because we understood that what we were discussing in class often mirrored what we were dealing with at work. I have learned – and retained – so much of the material at UOP, because I had an opportunity to use it in the real world.

And what impact did the school have on me personally? I learned what a fantastic support system I have in my life. Anyone graduating today knows the time and effort required to get to this moment. We spend hours at the computer creating and rehearsing PowerPoint presentations. We edit and finesse page after page of individual and team papers. We study textbooks and course material until our eyes cross. And of course, we meet in study groups to talk about current events, collectively daydream about a life after college, and occasionally discuss things about class.

All of these activities take time. Because we are busy with school, we miss a lot of what happens around us. Houses get cleaned, meals get cooked, dishes get washed, and lawns get mowed. For others, there are children to pick up from school, drive to and from sports and other activities, and watch over and care for. Life goes on at the same hectic pace it always has, but we are often sidelined by school work. If you are like me, though, you discover that no one goes to school alone.

For me, I had someone at home telling me over and over, “you go study and I’ll make dinner.” While I wrote papers, someone else vacuumed the house and folded the laundry. While I cursed and swore at my laptop over yet another project, I had someone willing to do whatever was necessary to help me. My support system was the difference between success and failure. Without all the help and assistance from my better half, I could never have made it to this day.

And I know we all had the same help. Hopefully, in all the excitement of this day, each of you will take a moment to share a bit of your success with those who helped you achieve it. In fact, on behalf of the entire graduating class, I say thank you to all of you who helped us make it to this day.

My fellow graduates, we have proven to ourselves and everyone else that we have what it takes to graduate from college. That’s a pretty cool thing. Everyday, we prove ourselves as valued and valuable members of our workplace teams. We contribute and we excel and we make a difference. Be proud of all that you do, because it is in your actions that you will discover who you really are.

For as long as we have worked for our degrees, we have been described as non-traditional. Well, I say we embrace that label. Be non-traditional in all that you do. Chase your next dream. Build a better mousetrap. Be a role model. Do things now that will make for great stories later. Be wild. Be brave. Heck, you are all invited to come skydiving tomorrow with me and my Mom.

The motto of the University of Phoenix is simple – “You Can Do This.” As we all move forward, I remind everyone of the power in that simple phrase.

Thank you for your time this morning, and again, congratulations.

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