Commencement: Celebration and New Beginnings

Commencement: Celebration and New Beginnings


The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.   —  Lao Tze

This Wednesday marks my favorite day on the Fedcap calendar—Graduation Day. I like to think of it as Commencement—the start of a new beginning. This day—June 14—is the day when over one hundred and fifty men and women will cross the stage at John Jay College and receive a diploma for an extraordinary accomplishment—many against unimaginable odds. And this is the day that many will embark on a new life, filled with the power of possible.

Our graduates come from all walks of life. They represent a full roster of the people we exist to serve—those with barriers to employment—individuals with physical or mental disabilities, youth aging out of foster care, veterans, the previously incarcerated, recovering addicts, and older workers who have been nudged out of the workplace.  Each graduate harbors a story of triumph in personal courage and determination.  Each story is an example of resilience and hardiness and strength. And each moment among cheering parents, relatives, children, grandchildren, and friends inspires me, our staff, and our board of directors to keep on doing the work we are doing to make possible what for many was once only a dream.

Graduation opens the door to job placement, many in our own businesses. We see folks settled into custodial jobs, culinary arts, data entry, and security. Many of the graduates are already employed, and many will be, based on the skills and strengths they have built through our programs.

Our Commencement ceremony reminds me of the power of one person to make a difference. One graduate, through perseverance, gumption, will, and passion can alter the course of her or his family history. Where there may have been hopelessness about a bright future, there is now resolve. Where some focused only on the outcome, they now understand the journey is where the action is. These are lessons learned only through taking a goal one day at a time, one step at a time, showing up day after day until this day—graduation day is upon us. And now, commencement begins—commencement to the next step, the next journey—it is thrilling to imagine what that could and will be.

And the day reminds me of not only the power of the graduates to make a difference in their own lives, but also the power of their families, friends, and “chosen” families to do this for others. Without the support and the backing of those closest to us—those who believe in us—where would we be? Many of us would not be where we are today.

And finally, I am reminded of the difference, every day, that our staff makes in the lives of the graduates and their colleagues. Each of the staff, including many who have crossed the stage before this graduating class of 2017, has the power and ability to mentor, inspire, and lead others to places they had not dreamed were possible.

We each have an opportunity every day to help others move from impossible to possible. I go to bed each night wondering: What did I do today to help someone discover their “possible”? What will you do?