Brooke Jordan’s Scholarship Banquet Speech

Brooke JordanHello, everyone. Thank you so much for having me today, it is an honor to be here. For the last 5 years, I have been lucky enough to sit where you are all sitting, to accept an award each year for the Louisa Sibley scholarship. Every year, this scholarship helped me to pay for my college education at SUNY Geneseo. Last year at this time, I graduated with a B.A. in English and Education with a minor in Environmental Studies. This past year, I also received a scholarship to help me achieve my Masters of Science in Education at Geneseo for my 5th year. It was always an honor to be here to accept the scholarship, but I also loved having the opportunity to gush about my favorite teachers and mentors. As someone who was pursuing the noble profession of teaching myself, I always hoped that someday my students would feel the same way about me, as I have about my teachers growing up. Now that I have finished my Masters, I am one step closer to that reality. Since the majority of you are about to take that leap into the college life, I want to tell you a little bit about what I learned during my time there between high school and now-adulthood.

When I was accepted to Geneseo, it was under the pretense that I would not go there until January 2012. At first, when I received this notice, I was extremely upset. I had applied early decision to Geneseo, and knew it was the only place I wanted to be. I had put together what I thought was a stellar application. I had an extensive community service resume, I was involved in or in charge of 8 clubs my senior year, I had won an ideal student award, I was a three sport athlete, I had been blessed with countless leadership opportunities, and I was in the top ten of my graduating class academically. I knew Geneseo was competitive, but I had submitted an application I thought would guarantee me a spot. My SAT score was subpar compared to Geneseo’s standards, but I thought that there was no way that could overshadow the rest of my application. I could not have been more wrong.

When I received the contingent acceptance, knowing that I was not waitlisted but I was not going to be joining the freshman class of 2015 during the Fall, I was upset, but I was also extremely grateful I got in at all. I was told that the 2011 seniors from that year had been one of the most competitive classes to ever get in to Geneseo. I swallowed my pride and took my Janurary acceptance immediately. I planned for a semester at JCC for the Fall, and I worked my hardest to prove that I was capable of attending my dream university. That was my first lesson I learned going into college: No matter what you do in life, there will always be someone better at it than you. Coming from such a small school, it was tough to understand just how big and competitive the outside world really was and is. I’m sure most of you understand where I am coming from. Allegany County does not have many large school districts. The kids you knew in elementary school are the ones that will walk across the stage with you at graduation. Everyone knows how great each and every one of you is, but the pool is about to get a lot bigger. My advice is to try your best anyway. You have no idea the opportunities that will come from putting your best effort forward, despite the odds or the competition that lies ahead of you.

Just don’t be too hard on yourself when you get your first B or C in a college class. My first semester of college, I spent hours each week on my statistics class –as well as a few tears. I put my absolute best effort forward, but without the personalized attention and sincere effort on the part of our professor that I was used to from my awesome math teacher in high school, I came home with my first C. At first, I was devastated. I feared how this grade would look on my transcripts that would follow me around for the rest of my life. They say that C’s get degrees but everyone knows that the job market is competitive after college, and I didn’t want anyone looking at that glaring C. However, as time went on, I recognized this was not the case. I recognized how arbitrary my grade was, and how there was no point in losing a day of happiness over one silly grade. This was a very different attitude than the one I had in high school. Anything below an A had always been unacceptable. I will tell you now that sometimes, your best effort will not always get you an A anymore. Perhaps you are staring Calc 4, Physics 2, Organic Chem, Literature 500, or advanced foreign language classes in the face as you enter your college career. Sometimes, these classes can bring down the best and the brightest at any college, and might make you work harder for a B+ than any of you have had in your entire life. The point is, do not be afraid of it. I found that various types of failures are so important to experience during college to help you become a more successful person.

When I got to Geneseo, I found my group of lifelong best friends within the first 3 days, during the transfer student orientation. All of us came together, expressing the same grievances about being forced into the transfer program and not being accepted first string. The closer we became, the more thankful we were that the Geneseo transfer program had brought us together. We had no idea how blessed, vibrant, and beautiful the rest of our 4 years together would be. Because we were miffed about the transfer program, we decided to prove to Geneseo, that more than anyone else, we deserved to be there too. We wanted to prove that an SAT score does not define the value a student can bring to a college community. We took what we perceived to be failures, and crafted them into part of our greatest success story.

Between the 6 of us, our group of friends were motivated to accomplish great things in our years together. We started 3 new organizations: I started a new acapella group with one friend and we were the president and vice president of that organization for 2 years. 2 of our friends started FORCEs- an environmental organization that worked with Letchworth State Park. And the other 2 started a counseling club to provide additional help and support outside of our schools health center. We all became members of our resident hall council. Many of us worked campus food service jobs. We joined research groups, played sports, played music, performed, were inducted into various honors societies, joined dance teams, and more- proving to ourselves and our school that we deserved to be there as much as anyone else. We all graduated with honors and cum laude or above. Some of us went into masters programs, some of us went off to be doctors, and others received jobs right out of undergrad. Those B’s and C’s make no difference to us now, and if it hadn’t been for the transfer program, I never would have made my amazing group of friends, or accomplished the goals we set without the motivation of prior failures.

College is full of them- failures. For example, your computer might crash when you are working on three research papers at 2 am. You might get chicken pox during finals week or the flu the day of your final concert. You might not get into the dancing or singing group you wanted to. You might spill coffee all over an irreplaceable project. You also might get a B in a class you worked twice as hard at as your classmate who received an A, even though he never showed up to class. But, you will find success anyway. Our motto always was, “Thank God for all I missed- because it led me here to this.” Every closed door is an opportunity to open a new one. Each perceived failure is just a stepping stone in the right direction towards the life you were meant to have. If any of you here tonight didn’t get into your dream school, or you haven’t decided what you want to do forever just yet, thank your lucky stars. You’ll be motivated to be the best possible version of yourself, and you’ll end up in the right place at the right time.

Don’t let any perceived failure discourage you from putting your best foot forward, just try harder. You will be amazed at the places it will take you. Tonight, you sit here, surrounded by teachers, family, and friends that have supported you all along the way. They will always be there for you when you need it. Though you will be leaving them in the place of comfort and stability you call home here in Allegany County, you are about to embark on one of the greatest adventures ever-college. You will learn more in the short amount of time at school than you ever imagined. When things get tough, remember that these years fly by with ease. Five years ago, I never would have believed myself as I stood up here saying these words to you. Both my undergraduate and Master’s graduation ceremonies took my breath away. I couldn’t believe that my time at Geneseo was over so soon. Remember that every penny you pay is worth the education and the memories you make at college. We will all pay off those pesky student loans eventually. Now, as I stare my student loans in the face for the first time, I recognize just how valuable every cent of my education was, and how grateful I am to the people who helped lighten that load. Always be thankful to those who help to lessen that financial burden for you along the way. Thank you to family of Louisa Sibley and to the Allegany County foundation who helped to fund 5 of the best years worth of experiences I’ll have in my life. Thank you to all of the sponsors, teachers, and family members who have made all of this possible and worthwhile. It is something that can only be repaid as we become adults who do the same for the next up and coming generation of students.

Brooke Jordan, Cuba-Rushford Class of 2011