Tidewater Community College, 47th Commencement, Dec. 18, 2008
Student Address by Charity Pierce
Good evening fellow graduates, families, friends and Tidewater Community College faculty and staff. I would like to be the first graduate tonight to publicly announce our elation for this momentous event. As in the African tradition of my native homeland, Nigeria, and deeply ingrained within my ethnicity, Yoruba, I would like to begin by honoring my elders and teachers.
First I would like to honor, Brig. Gen. Katherine P. Kasun. Thank you for invigorating our minds with the wisdom we need. To Dr. DiCroce, Dr. Summers, all Provosts, Deans, faculty and staff, we, the graduates, want to thank you. Your services are not and will not be forgotten. To our family and friends, thank you for the love you undeniably shared with us. And finally in regards to my ancestral tradition, I would like to honor my mother Beverly Pierce, father James Pierce, older sisters, extended family, ancestors, and most importantly God. It is because of your presence within my life and God’s unquestionable power that led me to the path of my destiny; this same path that led me to right here, right now.
Friends allow me to be frank with you. When I received the nominating phone call for student commencement speaker, I was a bit anxious. For hours I pondered the topic of choice. What should I emphasize? How do I accurately assess the graduating class and offer the optimal advice towards a productive and goal-oriented future? Without shame I will proudly declare that my anxiety led me to drive back home from Virginia Commonwealth University, with the sole purpose of speaking with the Chesapeake Campus leaders in person. As I sat down with the faculty who know my academic and individual personality best, their advice came to a consensus. I was told to simply, “Write about what you know. Use the wisdom your family gave to you.” So, in reverence to my ancestors, my culture, I want to exclaim with a fervent passion to all of the graduates under the sound of my voice and all of the future leaders continuing the legacy in the next generation: “Ayanmo ni Iwa-pele. Iwa-pele ni Ayanmo!” This profound Yoruba declaration is translated to “Destiny is good character. Good character is Destiny.”
I was introduced to this proverb while pursuing the degree I am honored with today. It was within my last semester that I took the opportunity to discover who Charity Pierce is, historically and spiritually. In the class, Religions of the World, our final assignment was to research a religion of our choice. I longed to learn about the history of my ancestral home and decided to study my African ancestors from Ile-Ife, also known as Yoruba. During a study session with my elders and Babalawo Adeyemi Oyeilume, I was taught this affirmation. I became consumed in the consideration of my life, spiritually and academically, at that very moment. I realized that my desire to have good character, Iwa-pele, led me to meet and network with persons of great distinction. It was only by the actions of Tidewater Community College that I was able to present myself to powerful and nationally recognized social activists in person. As examples of opportunities the college provided for involvement, I met and learned from exemplary leaders such as Dr. Carroll F. S. Hardy, who is President of the nationally renowned Stuart Educational Leadership Group; Dr. Aminata Njeri, who is CEO of “Leadershipology”; Delegate Algie T. Howell of the 90th District; and the actual North Atlantic Treaty Organization Diplomats and representative members, through the Norfolk Azalea Festival. These accomplishments were only made through my desire to have good character. It was not by my social status that I was chosen to travel to Washington, D.C. and meet thousands of like-minded students from all over the nation. It was not by my family name that I was able to visit Virginia’s capital and speak face-to-face with our Delegates about the highlights and concerns of Tidewater Community College. It was not by my beautiful presence and charm that I was chosen to represent all of TCC as the student diplomat and work hand-in-hand with NATO. No, it was not by my extensive leadership experience with Student Government Association that I was chosen to be the student commencement speaker today. It was only by my desire to have good character, or Iwa-pele, that I achieved such accomplishments. For I am an average student who acknowledged opportunity and took it. But what we must realize is that my destiny, Ayanmo, is not a mirror of your own. What you have is your own special destiny.
At this very moment I ask that we all realize and prioritize our lives. Where have we all come from? All of us have walked different journeys. We all have different experiences. Some of us are hard-working single parents whose finances are continually depleting. Yet you still continue in your educational journey with Tidewater Community College. Why? Because not only does this admirable college excel beyond its potential, but has the advantage of being affordable.
Some of us are women who have realized that education is only the first step to social independence and status. What better place than Tidewater Community College, which is led and maintained by inspirational women? Some of us are men who are proud to be here, graduating. You may be reminded of someone in your past who told you that you would never make it to this point. You proved them wrong. Yes, we all come from diverse backgrounds, yet all crossroads have led us to one common goal. We have arrived on destiny’s doorstep. Today on December 19th, we will all receive our diplomas. But what we must realize is this is not the end. It is a beginning. It is now that we can use our intelligence. It is now that we can use our zeal for education. It is now that we must use our leadership capabilities and responsibilities to lend a helping hand to our brothers and sisters here in America and abroad. From here we have graduated, so now we can go anywhere. To stop now and indulge in contentment is not an option.
Before I leave this podium, I would like to have one more lesson with the class. I would like to share one powerful word: Ase. In the Yoruba context, Ase means total divine power. Ase is derived from ancient African practices to honor and worship our God. It is understood that this three letter word, A-S-E, can be used in exchange for the declaration “It will be so!” So as we continue in our unprecedented journey, I say Ase! To those of you who will continue in this fight for education to become our scientists, lawyers, doctors and politicians, I say Ase! To those of you who will transfer to four-year institutions to become innovative engineers, multi-faceted entrepreneurs, multi-billion dollar business CEO’s and corporate moguls, I say Ase! And to those of us who will gain all the wisdom needed to become educational leaders of the future, I say Ase! I say Ase to all of you, my educated brothers and sisters. And remember as you walk across this stage that this diploma does not mean a life of ease. It requires initiative. It dictates action. From here you have graduated. Now go! Go any and everywhere spreading the honorable legacy of Tidewater Community College!
“Ayanmo ni Iwa-pele. Iwa-pele ni Ayanmo! Ase!”