On May 19, 2007 I delivered the following commencement address at Symphony Hall in Atlanta, Georgia at the 49th Commencement Exercises for my alma mater, St. Pius X Catholic High School.
Today, I will attempt to follow former Senator Bob Dole's rule of three B's for speeches: Be brief, be sincere, and be seated.
It is truly an honor to be here. I'm here as an example of faith. During my lifetime, people had faith in me, and I in God and myself. That faith was important because my grades weren't always the best. You see, I was never a scholarly student at Pius. I was never a member of the National Honor Society and was even one of those kids whose teachers had to sign a sheet detailing my weekly progress and homework assignments. In addition, I may hold the record for most work details earned by a student during one class period. Fr. Dominic Young once gave me three during his Religion class. The first for arriving late, the second for talking during class, the third when I laughed because my friend got one. And, Fr. Dominic was one of my favorite teachers!
Looking back, I needed a lot of faith from others and myself considering how I got started at St. Pius. My first semester, I got a D in Religion, but through hard work I ended up getting the award for Most Improved Freshman in Religion. Then through the grace of God and providence, I went on to win a Saint Bee one day in Fr. Lopez's class!
There are a lot of people who would be amazed that I am where I am today because of what I was like when I was younger. At 11 years of age, I was formally diagnosed with Dyslexia and Attention Deficit Disorder. I've been on Ritalin ever since and its one of the things that has changed my life. Later, Georgia Tech provided me extra time on tests, making it possible to demonstrate what I really knew.
We each have our personal crosses to bear in life. But, I'm convinced that the crosses we bear are the greatest gifts we receive from God because they make us stronger and help us to never take anything for granted and to savor every moment of every day. I suspect I've worked much harder than many of those around me to overcome my challenges, but I have no regrets. Trust me when I say that the more you put into something, whether it be your Church, your family, your friends, your education, or your job, the more you, and those around you, will get out of it.
It's unfortunate how those to whom things come easy are sometimes satisfied with just getting by and taking the easiest path. In contrast, there are those who struggle mightily to overcome obstacles and they persevere until they succeed. Just think about the many inspiring Olympic athletes who overcome debilitating injuries and then win the gold medal! You should never be satisfied with just getting by. Never settle for the easy path.
I struggled and I worked hard, but in my senior year I was elected a class officer and was awarded the Carter L. Stout Service award. So, I improved and, much to my parents' joy, left St. Pius on a high note.
I share these anecdotes with you to stress that our past doesn't completely determine our future potential or performance. There's hope for all of God's children - including the ones whose parents were told their child would never go to college, or whose conduct always needed improvement. I'm living proof of this!
As David mentioned, I am a first generation American. My parents started their lives anew in this country in 1961 and didn't know how to speak English when they arrived. They struggled during the early years -- as so many immigrants have in this great Nation of ours. I know that the sacrifices they made were always so that my brother and I could have a better life -- just as your parents made sacrifices to send you to school at St. Pius.
When I was in high school, I asked my Mother when she was happiest in her life (not including the day she got married or when she gave birth to her children). She said it was when she and my Father were on welfare in Miami. Can you imagine? Eating what little food you had out of pie tins, suffering from vitamin deficiency, struggling to feed your baby, and yet that being the happiest time of your life? Mom explained that even though they were poor and unsure what the future held in store for them, they had their faith, they knew they were safe and that they were finally free from the oppressive regime that has had a hold of Cuba for over 45 years now. They had freedom of religion, of speech and many other freedoms we take for granted.
Tangible things can vanish in a heartbeat. But your values -- that which is in your heart and mind is yours forever. Today, you have your faith in God and your high school education. My wish for each of you as you leave the hallowed halls of St. Pius today is two fold:
First, as a Roman Catholic, I pray that you will remain strong in your faith and that you live each day for the greater glory of God. Be accepting of God's will, but recognize that the good Lord above has a sneaky habit of testing us when we least expect it and it's at precisely those times when we need to persevere, stay true to our faith, and trust in Him. As St. Augustine said: "O rich man, have you everything and you have not God, you have nothing. O poor man, have you nothing but you have God, you have everything."
My second wish for you today is as an educator. I urge you to embrace learning and never stop seeking to better yourself. Find something that truly inspires you and study it to become an expert. And, if it interests you enough to get an advanced degree, all the better!
As an engineering professor, I can tell you that our Nation is facing a critical shortage of native engineers and computer scientists. Engineers work in areas of broad societal impact and strive to improve the quality of life for those around us. It is a very rewarding career! It's also very exciting. For example, I just got back from giving a talk in Prague and over the last few years I've spoken in Australia, Hungary, Sweden, England, Ireland, France, Japan, Spain, and Belize. And, I've also had the opportunity to refuel F-14 fighter jets in mid-air over the N.C. outer banks, become an honorary paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne, I've had a VIP tour with an Admiral of a nuclear attack submarine, and I advise the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.
Not bad for someone who got three work details in one class period!
I should note that there are many paths to rewarding lives. Not everybody has to be a scientist. The most important thing is to always be the very best you possibly can and take pride and have faith in who you are.
Before I finish, I'd like to acknowledge four special people whose continuing faith in me have helped me become the person I am today. Msgr. Don Kiernan, my first boss, is present here today as he was at my graduation in 1984. Msgr. Kiernan encouraged me to transfer to Georgia Tech and to stay in school for my Masters and Doctoral degrees. He rightly believes that all of us, especially women, need to be as prepared as possible to support our families and ourselves. Msgr. Lopez has been my spiritual director and, throughout my life I've always been inspired by his insatiable desire to learn. He's always reading new books and sharing what he's learned with those around him -- he is truly committed to lifelong learning! And, of course, my Mother and Father whose sacrifices, example and faith have taught me more than I can put into words.
In closing, let me tell you the things that I've found to be important in living a good life.
First, give back to St. Pius in some way each year at least with prayer and, when you can, with a donation to help the students who follow after you.
Second, never believe anyone who says you can't accomplish something meaningful because if you're willing to work hard enough, you will!
Pray the Memorare before making any important or difficult decision.
Always stay true to your faith and values.
Strive to make a positive difference in everything you do.
And, finally, do what you can to help those in need.
As for Senator Dole's three rules: I've tried to be brief. I've definitely been sincere. And, now it's time for me to be seated.
Thank you and Domini Summus!
Annie I. Antón
19 May 2007