Student commencement speaker Julia Tasca delivered the following speech Saturday, May 13 at graduation exercises for Gwynedd Mercy University. Dr. Kathleen Owens, university president, presided. Tasca earned her Bachelor of Science degree in biology with summa cum laude honors. The Collegeville resident will begin studying for her master’s in chemistry at Villanova University in the fall.
Thank you Dr. Owens, families, faculty, staff, honored guests, and fellow members of the class of 2017. It is truly an honor to be standing before you. Graduates, we should feel proud of this moment, for after years of dedication and countless trips to Chipotle, we are finally here.
Writing a speech that captures these past years for a diverse group of graduates from various disciplines isn’t easy. We have different majors, backgrounds, and future plans. Yet, despite our experiential divide, our commonality is this: we are soon to be graduates of Gwynedd Mercy University.
To some, a degree signifies just a bigger paycheck, and while it does make us more competitive in the world, a Mercy education is much more than that. It instills within us a lifelong bond that allows us to continue the quality of work we have been accustomed to during our time here. Although we will physically diverge after this moment, our spirits will remain connected through Gwynedd Mercy’s Core Values.
Community is the Core Value that makes this lifelong affinity for each other possible. A community is not something that can be written into a curriculum; it’s a natural quality that comes about because of the people around us.
Each person in Gwynedd’s community helps cultivate the oneness of Mercy students as well as the harmonious atmosphere that prevails on this campus. Even in 2017, a time when most people are utterly fixated on their phone screens, this environment remains personal and inviting.
In the biology program, we’re taught that diversity — another of our Core Values — actually drives evolution. Diversity fosters communal growth when it urges us to be more accepting of those who differ from ourselves. Being a Mercy graduate is about celebrating those differences rather than being critical of them; in doing so, we continue to propagate the uniqueness of a Mercy community wherever we go.
As a community of Mercy graduates, we also share the core value of integrity. Although we will often be faced with ethical dilemmas, we leave here equipped with well-calibrated moral compasses. At Gwynedd, I was taught to align myself with the values and ideologies that are most important to me. In doing so, I have been able to cultivate a sense of self, and I’ve come a long way since I’ve gotten here.
Before I came to Gwynedd, I struggled severely with drug addiction. I lacked a purpose. I saw little value in my life because I felt undeserving of being anything more than an addict. Drugs allowed me to escape from feeling so small and hopeless. I continued using until one day, I realized I was destroying my body and putting my life at risk.
The community that helped me at that time was my family, and thanks to them, I’ve been able to maintain sobriety for six years. But during the first few years, I found that attaining sobriety is not the same as acquiring a purpose. Even sober, I often wondered if life was worth living.
Gwynedd showed me that it is. The Gwynedd Mercy community showed me what addiction had kept concealed from me for so many years. I finally mattered to myself. I gained the confidence I lacked before coming here. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that we remain unchanged if we are unmet by things that challenge us.
In my ecology class, I learned that life can flourish in harsh places that have been obliterated by natural disasters. Previously existing life gets completely destroyed, but those that can make do with what little is left find a way to thrive in that wreckage. So, even though addiction destroyed a part of me that I never thought I could rejuvenate, Gwynedd showed me that new things can flourish in place of the damage.
So, I ask you to think back … if you can recall a time when you were supported by this university and made to feel dignified, yet humble; if you were ever reminded of your purpose through the teaching of the Mercy values; if your uncertainties were quelled by the support of a loving community, then you’ve experienced the same things that have made me feel validated and useful in life. It is because of the rewarding nature of Gwynedd’s community that I am finally able to give back and be present for others.
After having gained so much from Gwynedd, like so many of you, I am terrified of the imminent uncertainty that the post-academic world holds. But thinking about where I began and seeing where I’ve ended up helps to abate the fear and sadness I feel about graduating. I know that after I leave I will remain connected to Gwynedd through a new community – a community of more than 20,000 Gwynedd Mercy alumni.
So, as you go forth to carry out your dreams, don’t forget about your experiences here, as they will remind you that you are undoubtedly capable of facing the unknown with confidence and fortitude.
I’d like to close with a quote from the final book of “The Chronicles of Narnia” by C. S. Lewis as a reminder that this isn’t truly the end, but rather the start of what will be a long and prosperous journey.
“(In a way) this is the end of all the stories. But for (us) it is only the beginning of the real story. All (our) life in this world and all (our) adventures had only been the cover of the title page: now at last (we are) beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has ever read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
Thank you and congratulations, Class of 2017.