BPL 2020 Commencement Address - Endiya Griffin

 A few months ago I was in a really rough place— a place that I am still working on getting out of, but it’s easier now because I can see it.  

It was the beginning of senior year— a point in your high school career and in life that is kind of notorious for resounding moments of awakening. Realizing you’re almost an adult, realizing that the moment everyone has been preparing you for for the past 13 years is just around the corner. Wondering why your perpetual eager anticipation for this moment has suddenly dissipated.

I was in the midst of applying for universities and I kind of considered myself one of “those kids”. The type of kid that would literally lose it at the mere thought of a godforsaken “B”— by the way I’ve only gotten two ‘Bs’ throughout my K-12 and college career and I promise you that was not a humble brag.  

I checked all the boxes, right? I’ve wanted to be my high school valedictorian since seventh grade— I did it. I wanted to have a college degree by the time I graduated high school— I did it.

I was achieving the goals that I set for myself, yet buried in the pit of my stomach and daring to burst to the surface anytime someone tenderly asked how I was doing was this earth-shattering sense

… of regret.

I had no idea where to place it or if I even wanted to hold it for long enough to figure that out.

I was being forced to reckon with my own reflection. Something I had seen through perfunctory glances but I had never really stopped — to look upon my own face. To notice the cluster of freckles on each of my cheekbones or the misplaced hairs scattered on the perimeters of my eyebrows.

To stare profoundly into my own eyes and see the microcosm of memories, vignettes colored in sepia tones, my truest of aspirations, my deepest of despairs.  

These eyes that I had peered through for nearly 18 years, but never into.

“Without deep reflection, one knows from daily life that one exists for other people”

That’s Albert Einstein. Using quotes, I know grad speech faux pas.

But in all seriousness, I took the quote to mean two things:

  1. It’s easy to understand that we live our lives for other people
  2. Unless we reflect deeply, we can only lives for other people

I realized that all my life I had been afraid to live for myself.

As a child, my big brown eyes constantly scanned the faces of adults longing for the slightest glint of approval as I read above my grade level or got a perfect score on a test. There was always someone to impress.

I masked my insecurities with accomplishments. I fell into this white supremacist, capitalist trap of meritocracy thinking the longer my resume was, the higher my grades, the more valuable I would be.

My life was driven by insecurity.

Was I intellectual enough? Interesting enough? Pretty enough? Involved enough? Funny enough?

Was I enough?

And no matter how many multisyllabic words I could weave into a single sentence, I could never give myself a straight answer. I could never console that little girl who yearned to be cherished for her childish ways rather than praised for her precociousness.

Throughout that 2019 fall semester, every time I logged onto my Common App a stock image stared back at me through the screen, the clause “your future starts here” plastered across a woman’s face, my answer to that everso existential question diminished a little more.

Was I enough?

Until finally that earth-shattering regret that bored into the pit of my stomach could no longer be suppressed.

Through teary eyes and frustrated sighs, I reconciled the facade of the girl I’d tried so hard to maintain and the woman I needed to become.

Passion replaced inhibition in the driver’s seat of my life. Living to prove something to someone was difficult at best and suffocating at worst. I needed to breathe.

I no longer relished the entries on my resume.

I began organizing with grassroots movements whose work was alive and beat with the pulse of liberation. Creativity flowed out of every part of my being— I painted and sketched and photographed and theorized and ideated. Gasping the breath of innovation into my lungs and all but refusing to exhale.

And ironically enough that period of zealous breathing was brought to ellipses by a respiratory virus.

As COVID-19 temporarily shut down the organizations I had fallen in love with, barring my access to many of the people and things that brought me joy, I was plunged, not quite as deeply this time, into a bout of depression.

The moment that I had pulled all-nighters for— yawning and with highlighter staining my fingertips. The moment that I had literally practiced walking for since like 9th grade. The moment that I had created a playlist for— and there was a LOT of Queen Bey’s Homecoming album on that playlist.

That moment had vanished before my eyes. I wouldn’t be sashaying across a stage in too-high heels as I peered into the crowd to see my mom and grandma holding up signs and fighting back tears. I wouldn’t be tossing my kinte cloth-clad graduation cap in the air. My principal wouldn’t be lip synching to Beyonce’s rendition of “Before I Let Go” as she dismissed us from the auditorium— listen y’all I told you I had this planned out!

It would be me. In my room. Sitting behind a computer screen. And finishing out my senior year via Zoom.

All of that ardency that had welled up inside me, birthed by that college apps epiphany threatened to run dry as I acclimated to the droning of online conference calls and assignments, nearly forgetting the animation that had surged through my body weeks before.

As this moment has brought uncertainty and pain, it has also called for unprecedented adaptation.

We’re finding out what happens when we strip bare the fast-paced monotony of everyday responsibilities. We’re discovering what it is that we’re actually passionate about— the things that we wake up with a burning desire to do whether or not we’re getting graded or paid.

It’s exposing the integrity we hold for ourselves and our dreams, asking us who’s in the driver’s seat.

It’s ushering us to the brink of the rest of our lives and daring us to jump off that cliff. Daring us to pursue our fascinations with a fervor insatiable.

Asking “will you take that leap into the beautiful unknown”?

And I know I will. How ‘bout you?

Congratulations, Class of 2020. This is how we graduate together.