1780 – The Official Blog of Transylvania University

1780 | The Official Blog of Transylvania University

Transylvania student speaker challenges 2023 class to say “yes”

Student commencement speaker Caroline Shutt

The student speaker at this year’s ceremony was senior Caroline Shutt, a William T. Young scholar from Owensboro. The writing, rhetoric and communication major and economics minor aspires to work in child advocacy law and education policy and will attend Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law.

During her time at Transy, she has served as an admissions ambassador, Writing Center staffer and First Engagements scholar, while also being the president of Phi Mu Fraternity and a member of the Student Activities Board.

Her remarks, as prepared, are below:

Thank you, Dean Thomas. On behalf of the Class of 2023, I would like to say thank you to all the family and friends who are here today to celebrate us. 

Last fall, I had the opportunity to visit with alumni from the Barr Society when they came to campus for their reunion. I expected the usual get-to-know-you questions from the group I was sitting with: what year are you, where are you from, what’s your major… But, as all conversations with good Transylvanians do, the questions soon took a turn towards introspection. I was floored by one question among the flurry: “What’s the best thing Transy has taught you?”

The rest of my answers had been practically rehearsed (as there are few questions that tour guides haven’t been asked). I realized, brain short-circuiting, that I didn’t have an answer. Up until that moment, I hadn’t reckoned with the fact that the end was near. It’d been easy to forget that my time at Transy would come to a close. Eventually, we’d shift into a new relationship with our university; but what did I have to show for it? Aside from the diplomas we’re about to receive, what was the most important thing that Transy was sending with me after graduation?

I’m embarrassed to admit that I can’t remember what my answer was. It was probably a synthesis of answers others had given me when I’d asked similar questions: lifelong intellectual curiosity, a desire to serve others, and practical problem-solving skills. All excellent answers, but not the one that I felt was the right one. As someone who sits and thinks about the right thing that could’ve been said only weeks after the fact, and in this case months, I’ve finally found my answer. The best thing Transy has taught me is that you can’t be the first person to tell yourself no. 

Saying yes to yourself is difficult; you are your greatest obstacle. It’s not born of blind arrogance in thinking that everything you do is the correct choice. Rather, choosing yes is choosing to believe that what you have to say, your goals, and your talents are worth sharing. It’s not ignorance, but hope. 

“Yes” doesn’t speak to instant success. There will be people who follow that will inevitably tell you no. But without that initial whisper of belief, you cancel out the possibility of anything that could follow, good or bad. None of the benefits of trying come to those who fail to see that they are worthy of what they’re searching for. Let someone else be the first to tell you no. 

If we hadn’t said yes, where would we have ended up? 

  • No would have prevented us from crossing the threshold of a faculty’s office, closing the door to so many pieces of needed advice and stories. 
  • No would have kept us from a national championship, history-making advocacy work, or community organizing, let alone all the artistic and academic success stories that we’ve written together. 
  • No wouldn’t have led us to these same steps four years ago, sweating for our class photo, making friendships that would be soon forged in the August sun. 
  • No would have kept me from you. 

“Yes” welcomes new experiences, joy, and relationships. But it doesn’t absolve us of negative impacts. We can choose to believe, give it our all, and still be met with loss and failure. Our university has shown that we need to believe in our potential, but also that falling short of our lofty goals doesn’t speak of defeat. Losing doesn’t mean you’ve lost, or are lost beyond finding. Failure doesn’t imply you’ve gone too far beyond repair. Repeatedly saying yes in the face of such shortcomings speaks power to the belief that you matter not only to yourself but to those around you. Regardless of what you achieve, knowing that you are still worthy of trying again is a fundamental component of being human. Of being a Transylvanian. 

But such optimism tends to be forgotten. It’s easy to say no, especially when it seems that the road ahead is flooded with roadblocks and potholes. But the solution to moments like these is already found within us all. When your brain and mouth forget how to form confirmation, I ask you to turn, left and right and behind. The best thing Transylvania has taught us, other than yes, is that there are people who believed in us before we knew how. They will continue to support us, and continue to light the road ahead as we move further into our next stages of life.

What a blessing it is, to have said yes. To have been taught over and over again here that there is celebration in climbing difficult mountains even when we first struggled to see the immediate path. And what a challenge it will be to continue to choose to get back up. But it is worth it. We know it is; it’s what we deserve, what our communities deserve, and what our futures deserve. The Class of 2023 understands what it means to tackle each thrilling uncertainty to come because we know it all begins with a single yes.