award-winning educator, mental health advocate, social entrepreneur, inspirational speaker, author/writer, program executive, and radio host

© 2015: S. L. Young / Email: info (at) / All rights reserved

The Highly Unlikely and Improbable Commencement Speech

School is supposed to be a place to learn, explore, and grow.  However, for these things to occur, there must be an environment that is encouraging, dynamic, and most importantly supportive.  Educators have a responsibility to adjust their teaching styles, and sometimes standards to accommodate multidimensional learning styles or needs.

My unique experiences and perspectives reflect this realization based on my arduous journey toward academic success.

I am a former at-risk student who struggled for many years to connect with passive and one-dimensional teaching styles that didn’t meet my learning styles or needs.  The near-travesty in my story is that I was a choice away from leaving school in the 10th grade --- after failing 6 of 7 classes and missing approximately 1/3 of the school year.  My almost untimely departure from high school was due to my reckless behavior, along with a lack of administrative support because no one ever asked me about a way to make the learning process significant for me.  No one asked a question; I didn’t know a way to communicate my needs; my teachers and administrators didn’t care about me --- as evident by their actions; as a result, I didn’t care either.

I was a lost student who desperately needed attention, support, and direction.

Fortunately, I met my academic role model and administrator – Gwen Felder – who cared about me; although, it wouldn’t be until many years later that her impact was fully realized.  However, during a critical moment in my academic life, she provided desperately needed support (unwanted at the time), hard conversations, and the push to attempt to make me believe that I was much better than my current situation.  This support and encouragement was something that I didn’t have, needed, and remembered later in my life while making important decisions.

I truly believe that if it wasn’t for this caring administrator – Ms. Felder, I wouldn’t have achieved many of my life’s accomplishment.   As a result of my experiences, I’m compelled to share my academic story because I’m passionate about helping others. Also, I've dedicated my life to inspire others to overcome their educational or life challenges.

The reality is that too many students are systematically left behind --- especially those who are individuals of color (like me).

Some students who struggle might feel that it’s too late to make positive changes, that they’ve tried enough, or that a classroom learning environment isn’t right for them.  This might be the case, but I thought the same thing too until one day after having success in another area (e.g., corporate success), I realized that I was capable of much more.  I recognized almost too late that the environment, the teacher, my connection to the material, and the teaching styles all mattered.  Therefore, struggling students must be asked about all of these things to begin to identify options that can aid in the removal of any unnecessary barriers that may limit a student’s ability to learn, which often involves eliminating preconceived notions about who these at-risk students are or will be.

On Friday, June 12, 2015, my educational circle-of-life completed after I delivered the commencement speech in the same school district that directed me to leave school in 10th grade to get a job.  This already exciting and very emotional day was made even better because my mentee graduated high school during this ceremony.

The lessons from my story is that individuals should never give-up on themselves, their dreams, or their future because all of them deserve to be developed.  My highly unlikely and improbable commencement speech is shared to hopefully inspire others who struggle, worry if things will ever get any better, or are about to give-up.

Remember that there’s always a possibility for positive change, improvement, and success as long as you’re willing to give yourself an opportunity to make a change, which begins with allowing yourself to muster just a little bit of courage to take an earnest chance.

Maintain “hope” and give yourself a diligent “chance” to succeed, but also remember that no matter the length of your journey --- don’t forget to always be your best!

Information on Mr. Young’s journey to overcome his educational challenges is detailed in his book “Above Expectations – My Story: an unlikely journey from almost failing high school to becoming a college professor”.

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