To the Gamecock class of 2020:
Congratulations on graduation, despite the unprecedented difficulties that our state and nation have faced over the past few months. I know that this is not how you hoped your time at USC would come to an end. You probably imagined a few more nights in the Vista, at Gamecock baseball games or simply in the library surrounded by friends. In the midst of these disappointments, however, you have pressed forward to accomplish a great achievement.
As you begin the next phase of life, I want to share a couple of thoughts that I hope you will carry with you.
First, failure is not final unless you quit. In high school, I failed world geography, English, Spanish and – most ironically – civics. But thankfully, I had two great blessings: a mother who believed that all things are possible with faith in God and a mentor who spent the last years of his life investing in mine. No matter your background or past mistakes, your future is as bright as you want it to be.
And secondly, hold on tightly to the dreams that inspire you. In times of difficulty, it can be easy to let go of our dreams – to think they are too far away. But trials are often what shape and prepare us for our greatest achievements in life.
Many amazing people had to first taste disappointment before they experienced success. Walt Disney, for instance, was fired from his first job because he was “not creative enough.” Likewise, Oprah Winfrey was fired from a local TV station because she was “unfit for TV.” But rather than letting go of their dreams, these icons grasped them even tighter and used the trials as preparation for greater things.
Similarly, I challenge you to use this semester’s obstacles as a learning experience. Embrace this time, whether that means reading a book about a new topic, serving those who are at-risk or learning how to cope and find new purpose in hardship. In the process, I believe you will become uniquely equipped to be the future doctors, scientists, teachers, thought leaders and dreamers that our nation needs.
On that note, I would be remiss if I did not also ask you to please stay safe as the semester ends and we enter the summer. Whether you’re staying in Columbia, heading home to Spartanburg or starting a new job in Charleston, wherever your journey takes you, remember we are all working together to defeat this virus. Each decision we make for ourselves affects others, and that fact is critical as we continue with social distancing and staying home as much as possible.
Despite the current challenges, the future is still bright. America is still the greatest place on Earth. With that in mind, I want to leave you with a song that has stuck with me since I graduated high school over 35 years ago. Normally, I would attempt to sing this to you, but you are being spared that this time (though I’m sure you can find it on YouTube). The lyrics say, “hold on... to your dreams.../Believe in love, let love be the light/To show you the way.../And love will shine on you one day.”
Congratulations, God bless, and Go Gamecocks!