Finding, Losing and Rediscovering our Voice

young woman grad at podium
Olivia Roberts ('19), Student Speaker

May 13, 2019
Olivia Roberts, Student Speaker, 2019 Undergraduate Commencement


Class of 2019: Congratulations! Although we have many reasons to be proud today, perhaps there is none greater than knowing that we were students here when the world learned that Gonzaga University actually does exist.  

My first pair of glasses were shattered to pieces in a game of tetherball. On the playground there are winners and there are losers. And let me tell you, my 6-year-old self refused to be the latter; if sacrificing my face would secure my victory, you bet I’d take the hit. And I did – right between my eyes. The whole world went blurry for a second. This is my earliest memory of experiencing the absence of any sort of clarity or balance. It’s the first time I remember feeling as though I had lost my bearings; like my perception of the world had turned hazy. And it definitely was not the last.

There are many times in our lives when we feel this sort of uncomfortable disorientation. You probably felt it as a freshman, leaving the comfort of home and entering a completely foreign world. And I’m sure a lot of us are feeling it now, except this time, that foreign world has now become the place you’ve known as home for the past four years. A place filled with familiar faces and formative memories. A place where you’ve conquered fears, taken risks, accomplished goals and sometimes, failed miserably. ‘

A place where you have found your voice.

Maybe you found it while walking backwards down Bulldog Alley, giving campus tours to prospective students. Maybe it was while teaching English at an Elementary School in Florence. Or a performance on the Magnuson stage. And some of you may have found your voice by simply listening — listening to your peers speak their truth or your professors bring life to the mission of this university.

Sometimes, like during Zombie Nation in The Kennel, you’ve even lost your voice.

Watching you find your voice has helped me find mine as a storyteller. I’ve learned that to tell a story is to honor an individual who may never have been heard at all. It’s a gift I truly feel only Gonzaga could have given me. Last year, I stopped by my professor and mentor, Dan Garrity’s office to ask for his thoughts on a project I was working on. As I was leaving his office, Professor Dan told me something that I will hold true throughout my entire life. He said, “How lucky are we to be able to share our gifts with others.” I think I sometimes take this for granted. We all do. The gifts I have been given and the opportunities I have devoted myself to are meant to impact the lives of those who need them most. I am confident now that my gifts were given to me so that I could give them right back.

This is the power of a Gonzaga Voice. It’s a profound voice, strong enough to move mountains, compassionate enough to calm a storm. It’s a voice that knows when to speak up, and a voice that knows when to be silent. How lucky are we to be able to share the gift of the Gonzaga Voice with those that need it most?

So the next time a tetherball smacks us straight in the face – leaving us without breath, vision, or balance – let’s embrace the discomfort. We’ll pick up our shattered glasses and remind ourselves of the gift of this education, this place we call home, the friends we know as family, and the memories that have shaped us throughout these four years.

Trust that the voices we’ve found at Gonzaga, or the voices we’re continuing to discover, are more powerful than the mountains they’ll move.

And together, we’ll use our voices to serve, to empower, to lead, and to inspire. These voices which have been so carefully constructed these four years have transformed us into forces equipped to change the world.


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