How Did We Get Here?

Amber Klein gave this speech at the Winter 2016 Commencement at Clarion University of Pennsylvania.

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Amber Klein speaking at Winter 2016 Commencement.

Good afternoon. I want to thank President Whitney, Council of Trustees, the distinguished members of the faculty and the administration for selecting me to speak here today.

To Clarion University’s fall 2016 graduates, I want to ask…how did we get here?

I know this question sounds simple; when the basics are, for most of us is that we all arrived at this point after high school when we took our SATs, applied at Clarion and worked hard for four years (or in my case, five) until we made it to this final point; so, that we are sitting here today, ready to graduate. However, I’m not referring to the nuts and bolts of how we got here. I’m truly asking, how did we get here? How have we managed to make it to this day, how has Clarion University shaped us so that we are prepared to take that next leap in life?

When you pictured Clarion University did you imagine that it was a university nestled in a quaint little town with a population of less than 5,000 people? A place that is the epitome of a community…because that’s what Clarion is. We have all taken a chance to be here and trusted that it was the right choice for us.

Right out of high school, or maybe a couple years down the road, or maybe even several years later; the day we decided to go to college, we all chose Clarion University, putting our trust in Clarion University and what happened along the way is how we arrived at this point right now; graduating, among our professors, family, and friends.

I now want to direct my focus towards the parents and friends among the audience. Because I want you to close your eyes as I take you through a day here at Clarion University. Imagine as your son is reaching for his Jansport backpack and sprinting out the door because he hit snooze one too many times this morning. The sound of the door slamming shut echoes behind him and the freshly fallen leaves mixed amongst gravel quietly crunches beneath his shoes with each fast-paced step he takes. He reaches into the right sleeve of his jacket as he’s pulling it up over his arm before zipping it into place and he swings the straps of his back pack up over his shoulders. He comes to an abrupt halt at the cross walk, but pauses for only a moment because within seconds a car is stopping to allow him and the line of students around him to cross the street. He jots towards Marwick-Boyd, sweat building up along the base of his hair line, as he turns the doorknob his hands begin to tremble, as he’s about to face a fear that most students know all too well, the fear of public speaking. Slowly he turns the door handle with his right hand, the note cards for his speech are gripped tightly in his left. He walks into the class room; all eyes are on him as he approaches the podium. The trembling in his hands becomes faster, his legs begin to shake and his breath starts to constrict, and the sweat from his palms perspire onto his note cards. Then he takes a deep breath, closes his eyes, remembers everything Dr. Prioleau has taught him thus far in his Public Speaking course and he executes an excellent opening.

I can continue to tell you how after his public speaking class he walked from Marwick-Boyd over to Davis Hall where Dr. Welsch will teach him how to effectively compose an essay, starting with the thesis, or where he’ll learn proper grammar usage from Dr. Foster. Or even how to communicate an argument visually, experimenting with different mediums in one of Dr. Rosati’s classes. But his experience doesn’t end there, after his time at Davis Hall he may familiarize himself with team-based learning skills in one of Dr. Ashcraft’s classes, over in Harvey Hall. Skills that he’ll utilize in the future when working in teams later in life; a skill he’ll inevitably need in any career. While he’s at Harvey, Dr. Potter can teach him how to compute a standard deviation in R Studio.

He then can find academic and social support with Dr. Slattery and life lessons from Dr. Klenowski in the Criminal Justice program, or even learning the ways of the legal system with Dr. Eichlin in Still.

Or he can spend his time in the Grunenwald Science and Technology Center where Dr. Montgomery can teach him about the stars and our solar system. And if he’s struggling with a math course he can be sure Dr. McConnell will go through every explanation and algorithm until he finds one that your son understands.

I’m not saying life as a student at Clarion University is an easy one. I know the struggles all too well. In the spring of 2014 I struggled with a difficult pregnancy and that fall semester I returned to Clarion as a single mother with a ten-day old baby boy. It was my professors who provided me with the support I needed so that I could persevere, despite these obstacles, so that I could be here speaking to you today.

Clarion challenges us and pushes us to our limits; however, I am saying that overall the faculty here at Clarion consists of professors who will do anything to ensure that their students will not only make it to graduation, but that their students will learn and understand what it takes to succeed outside of this campus. So, that each one of us may continue to grow as we go on into graduate school or as we start out in careers. Clarion University and its faculty has successfully provided us with what it takes to succeed after today. For the last four or more years, we have learned how to become better writers, listeners, speakers, and how to excel in our chosen fields. In the end we have learned how to become better people.

So how did we get here?

We got here through our own hard work, determination, and sleepless nights and from the support that was provided to us by our friends, family, the university, and from our professors who continued to push us harder; even when we were ready to give up.

One of my favorite actors, who provides me inspiration is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. He once said, “Success isn’t always about greatness. It’s about consistency. Consistent hard work gains success. Greatness will come.”

And that is why we are here today, right now wrapping up and closing this chapter of our life, prepared to open the next.

Congratulations Class of 2016 and good luck in your future endeavors.


Amber Klein graduated in December 2016 with a Bachelors of Science in Psychology, an Associates of Science in Criminal Justice, and a minor in professional writing and rhetoric.  She plans to move to Pittsburgh to find employment in her field and attend graduate school for her Masters in Social Work. She believes that her purpose in life is to help people, especially those who are less fortunate (because of her past); therefore, her long term goal is to work in a field that allows her to do just that. She wants to write in her spare time.

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