Forever Emma

That's So 2020 -- So Now What?!

Megan Toohey Scremin '00
Good Morning, Afternoon or Evening to everyone listening from around the world!
My name is Megan Toohey Scremin, Please know how very honored I am to sit before you today.
While I wish I could be together on campus, the bright side for me is that not being able to see you in person can only leave me to assume that you are listening intently and laughing at all of my jokes. 

So from my home in Colorado to yours around the world - hello and congratulations!
Whether you are a member of the Class of 2020 who has worked so hard to make it to this day.
Or classmates, ring sisters, teammates, or friends who have been there through thick and thin.

If you are a member of the faculty who have guided and mentored these students for the past four years. And over the past few months have stepped up in every way possible, all while keeping a smile on your face and positive attitude, even when life is stressful for you.

Or a family member or especially a parent who has been there since day one. Serving in so many roles over the years including cheerleader and up-lifter, playmate and disciplinarian, coach and wellness advisor, chief inspiration officer, and teacher - a job that has taken on more meaning in recent months than you may have previously thought.

Today is a big day and a one that is deserving of celebration!
To share a bit about me, I am mom to Grayson age 4 and Maddie almost 2, wife, daughter, sister, travel and adventure seeker, President & CEO at Special Olympics Colorado, Emma Willard trustee and proud member of the Class of 2000, which means that our classes will always get to reunion together.
While I have not had the opportunity to get to know each of you personally, I have had a chance to get to know and admire you from afar, in that cyberstalking way that only COVID-19 will allow.
I have been uplifted tuning into your virtual morning (or evening) reports. There is no better way to start a week than by watching the faculty attempt to dance from their seats or listening to the Full House Theme song.

The Wellies have motivated me with their sound advice and great perspective. I have been blown away by Lane’s musical knowledge and moved to tears as I watched Catherine and Zoe masterfully play Mozart during the Honors Convocation
I have relished every opportunity to learn more about the 87 students who make up your amazing class, which is filled with national merit scholars, athletes, artists, scientists, advocates, photographers, and everything in between. And all that “in-between” is what makes your class so uniquely wonderful.
So now that we have gotten to know each other so well through the power of technology,
one thing I can safely assume is that this is NOT the way you thought you would be spending this day.

So, I invite everyone to stand (or sit), take a deep breath in, and exhale with a collective THIS stinks! I am not an expert of any kind but I CAN tell when something stinks! So give yourself the space and permission to revel (pun intended) in the bummer that this situation is.
But now that we have that out of our systems we must ask ourselves, so now what? You may have seen that the title of my speech today is "That’s So 2020."

Because when you do anything these days, it seems like you are surrounded by bad news, uncertainty, anxiety, and face masks (and not the hydrating kind of face masks).
You could look around and only see global pandemics, political unrest, racial inequities, and injustice, which to be clear is abhorrent and not to be ignored.

And one could only associate 2020 with drive-by birthday parties, constantly having to tell someone you’re on mute, canceled graduations and reunions in my case.  And of course, the "murder hornets."

What more can 2020 pile on us?

Yes, there is so much uncertainty in the world right now, but one thing I know for certain is that we all have choices when it comes to how we react to all that is put in front of us.

Don’t get me wrong...I have more than my fair share of pity parties and down in the dumps moments. Some days I can be fine one second and having a meltdown the next...kind of like my toddlers.

However, I am doing my best to choose to see the glass half full and focus on all that is good. And, I must say, when I see you, the class of 2020, seeing all that is good is so very easy.

Thanks to you - I see a 2020 that is filled with inspiration and a future that is so bright not just for you, but for all of us!

So let's take a minute to really talk about what IS so 2020.

Innovation - whether it be finding new ways to connect with your friends, classmates, and teachers during unusual circumstances. Outside of the box thinking or finding solutions when it seems as though there are none to be had. That’s so 2020.

Uniqueness - Whether it be the wonderfully unique individuals that make up your class, each adding so much value, or the uniqueness of these times we’re living in - 2020 will always be a year to remember. And you will forever be the one and only quarantine Class.
Grit - Working through things that are difficult. Having the courage to say everything is not ok. I am not ok today. but then having the resolve to pick yourself up and keep ongoing.
Compassion - Checking in on friends whether planned or when you just know that they are having one of those “I am not ok” moments.

Random acts of kindness, simple gestures, and people lifting each other up in so many ways.

Patience is so 2020 - giving others the space to adapt and learn and equally as important - giving yourself that same patience and grace that is so desperately needed right now.

Connectivity and Community - We may be physically distanced, I truly believe we are more connected than ever.
Resilience is something I have heard a lot about over the past few months. I would have added it to the list, but out of curiosity I looked up the definition and it is; the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties.
Having the ability to recover quickly doesn't make you tough nor should it even be an expectation.

Being sad about things that you have lost like in-person graduations, upset by all that is happening in the world today, or being nervous about what today and tomorrow will bring, let alone what the future will bring - that makes you human.

And it is that humanity - the very best of it - that is so prescriptive of 2020. 
The ability to experience love and loss, anxiety and courage, compassion, and empathy. People at their best, doing the best they can.
Lastly, I would like to speak about something that is important to me both personally and professionally through my work at Special Olympics.

There has never been more urgency surrounding the need for inclusion. This much has been true for a long time, but has truly been brought to light in recent days. Yet there has also never been a more unified generation than yours.
Each and every one of you know the type of world you want to live in. A world where your background, abilities or disabilities, gender identity, race, religion doesn’t matter but how you act and treat others does.
A world where ALL people are respected, welcomed, and valued.
Just listening to you talk about the latest editorial in The Clock, describing the need to give people the space to share their thoughts and perspectives and in response, be an active and open listener.

You nailed it! I cannot tell you how encouraging and refreshing that is to hear.

So you know this world you want to live in - and you are creating it through your words, your work, and your actions.  And better yet, you are inviting the rest of the world to see things as you do!
That being said, as it was so aptly pointed out during that Clock editorial and is still very apparent, as a society we still have work to do.

It’s said that inclusion is a skill.

Including those that are different from you is something that can be taught and learned. But it also takes practice. 

And so the world looks to you, the Class of 2020 to lead the way. And personally, I don’t think we could be in better hands. 

So thank you, Class of 2020 for reminding me of all that is good and right in the world.

Yet once again, we must ask “So now what?”

As Emma Graduates, we are all so incredibly lucky. Whether I realized it at the time or not (more likely the latter), I know what a great fortune I have been handed.

I am also so fortunate to have the opportunity to work alongside the athletes of Special Olympics, individuals with intellectual disabilities, or rather different abilities.

Talk about a group of people that have been knocked down, stereotyped, left out, and told what they could or could not do for so long, by so many.

Yet how do they respond time and time again? With joy, kindness, and love.

I often think of my friend and Special Olympics athlete Erin. When she was in high school she was put in a group home, given up on by her teachers and bullied by her classmates.  She grew her hair long enough to cover her eyes and walked the halls of school with her head facing the floor hoping that no one would notice her.
Contrast that with our experience at Emma. Surrounded by supportive teachers and students who lift each other up, encouraged to let our voices be heard.

Now someone like Erin could be filled with so much anger and resentment, yet she is far from it. Today Erin has a job, lives independently on a farm that she owns, and is happy, compassionate, and strong.
She may have different abilities, but boy does she have a lot to teach us all.

And what I love about life is that there are lessons of perseverance and wisdom that surround us always. We just have to be ready for them.
Emma has given you the tools you need and now it is up to you to pick your path.

And the beauty of it is, YOU get to pick your path, no one else. A path that may take you in many different directions and change over time. Which is great.

It took me a bit to find mine - and I still question myself all the time. I was never the best student at Emma.
In fact, I often felt intimidated by my classmates and all of their intellect, passion, wit and seeming knowledge of the clear direction their lives would take.

Ultimately, I found my passion and direction through an unusual platform.
But what I love is that something like sport can actually be quite complex, giving people the chance to engage all of their emotions. Sport teaches teamwork, accountability, and leadership.
But ultimately sports are rooted in play, and as you so beautifully pointed out through your Gargoyle theme of board games, play is crucial.

Play allows people to have fun, cross barriers, and overcome differences.

Before I close I feel like any decent commencement speaker is supposed to leave you with at least a few life lessons - so here are mine.

  1. Life is good - appreciate it.

  2. Work hard - I have always said what I have lacked in experience (which, to be honest - is a whole lot), I make-up for in hard-work.

  3. Kindness matters - so please be kind.

  4. You are enough. Period. It's easy to say, easy to hear, but not easy to believe. But trust me, you are enough just as you are.
  1. And life is a rollercoaster filled with ups and downs. To be quite honest, it can be really tough. But during those tough times, you must remember that you are tougher 
Life will hand you a lot of challenges, and this quarantine is certainly one of them. But, I can tell you that when I think back on my time at Emma, the memories and traditions of the last few months are not what I carry with me. Far from it.

I couldn't tell you who won an award during honors convocation. 
But thanks to the supportive environment at Emma, I know that we rise by lifting others up. Yes, Emma students are driven, but never at another person's expense.
Do I still remember how to change a tire like I was taught during senior retreat - not a chance.
But I still have a love of learning, an inquisitive spirit and a desire to question the status quo - all of which I acquired during my years at Emma.
Do I remember the last time I walked on the senior triangle, nope! But I do walk with a sense of purpose, pride, and with my head held high, thanks to the confidence I gained at Emma.

I couldn’t tell you the words that were spoken at our class tea with the faculty - but I sure have benefited from the relationships I built with them over the years - many of whom are still at Emma. Because my teachers always held me to a much higher standard than I set for myself and ultimately helped me realize the potential they saw in me.
I don't remember who was on the May court.  But I do vividly remember the hours on end spent with my court of friends - hanging out in the student lounge, laughing, crying, gossiping and talking about anything and everything - those same friends who I still cry, talk and laugh with for hours on end.
And I don't remember much about my graduation (other than the unflattering white dress I was wearing) or who my graduation speaker was, and I am sure you won't either. But I do remember the countless times I walked with my friends, arms linked together, a sign of solitude and constant reminder of how we will be forever and inextricably linked because of our time at Emma.

So with that, I welcome you to our tribe of Emma alumna. It's an amazing group of passionate, wonderful people who invite you to link on and join our group - well, at a safe distance of at least six feet away that is. Kidding.
Congratulations and thank you for painting a most beautiful picture of all that makes 2020 so special and our future so very bright.
    • Megan Toohey Scremin' Delivering Commencement Address

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