Transcript of Speech by Conor James O'Kelly '17

Remarks by Conor James O'Kelly '17
2017 Undergraduate Commencement of the University of Massachusetts Amherst
Friday, May 12, 2017
McGuirk Alumni Stadium, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Growing up, my father used to write me small letters and put them in my lunchbox on the first day of school. As someone with anxiety, these notes were extremely comforting. When I became a senior in high school, I was saddened by the fact that the lunchbox notes would cease, as you can’t have your parents pack your lunch in college. However, every year, hidden deep in my luggage would be one of those famous notes that I so looked forward to. This semester, my father even hid the note in a deep fryer for my apartment. But I realize that the note for this semester might be the last lunchbox note I get as I transition into the adult world. So, before I leave UMass Amherst, I thought it appropriate to leave you all with a lunchbox note of my own creation to help ease your anxieties.

First and foremost, remember not to sweat the small stuff. I know that when we get caught up in classes and jobs and internships and even eating at the dining common, we tend to get swept up in our own fears and worries. Let me tell you, that this is all small stuff. All of it. I firmly believe that the most important aspects of college are not the grades you receive, the romances you have or the partying you do. If you can discover one small piece of who you really are at the end of your four years here, it was a successful journey. Always remember to tell yourself that at the end of the day, no matter what you do, you’re still you.

 Remember that life can get hard sometimes. I can tell you from personal experience, life has a funny way of laying it on thick. I can recall when I was a terrified freshman crying his eyes out because I hadn’t been away from my parents for more than a few weeks. Today, I can say that I have made the most out of my years here at UMass (without crying home to my parents). Once you acknowledge that you will struggle at some point during your journey, you will grow as a human being. When asked the question, “why do we fall,” you can respond, “so we can learn to pick ourselves up again.” We all have bad days, right? But it’s the bad days that helps us appreciate the good ones, right?

Finally, always remember that wherever you are in this vast world of ours, you are loved. Whether it is by your significant other, a friend, a family member or even a small case of loving yourself, you are truly loved. We all have felt lonely at some point but because you exist in this confusing plane we call life, you are and will always be loved.

I came into this university a pessimist at heart, feeling as though the world was doomed at its inception. But now, after four years of discovering others and myself, I can’t help but smile for our future. The lights may be dim for us. The nights may seem long. But it is the triumph of the human spirit that will save us in the end. And by simply looking out into the future of our world, I feel safe.

My father usually ends his notes with a quote of some kind. One time he quoted the very last line of my favorite books, The Great Gatsby, but most of the time it’s usually silly quotes from Thomas the Tank Engine. However, I would like to leave you today with a quote of my own design. It is with my hope that you take what I say to heart and realize that home is a small note tucked safely away in your lunchbox.

“This world was not meant for those who simply wish to live the dream. It was meant for those who wish to change the dream.”

Thank you.