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Abiola Keller, Director of Clinical ResearchGood evening. On behalf of the entire faculty and staff I am delighted to welcome you to Marquette University. Before I begin my remarks I would like to thank President Lovell, Provost Myers, and the members of the convocation planning committee for the privilege of being the keynote speaker for tonight’s convocation.

Although the focus of this evening is on the journey that lies ahead, it is important to acknowledge and celebrate the fact that you are here and are a member of the Marquette University Class of 2019. In recognition of all that you have accomplished that has lead you to this moment I say congratulations on a job well done.

While preparing for this evening I have had the opportunity to reflect on my days on this campus as an undergraduate student. From the day I received my acceptance letter and the phone call telling me I had been selected as a Burke Scholar all I dreamed of was the day I would arrive on campus as a freshman to begin my college journey. When that day finally arrived, I was full of excitement upon arriving at McCormick Hall and while the excitement remained, my anxiety level rose with each trip up the stairs to the 12th floor. As my parents’ minivan became more and more empty and that tiny pie-shaped room became more and more full, I found myself asking “Am I really ready for this?” I wasn’t able to give that question a lot of thought that afternoon because it was unlikely that my dad and brother were going to move all the things I just had to have in my dorm room back into the minivan. But that question resurfaced many times in those early days because you see I had been so focused on getting into Marquette that I hadn’t given a lot of thought to the skills it would take to survive in my new environment. Looking back, the key to not just surviving but thriving during those four years was being open. Being open to others and their needs, being open to the possibility of failure, and being open to new paths.

As a student volunteer with the Midnight Run meal program I would often talk with our guests while serving soup and sandwiches. I spent many afternoons serving meals in that parking lot, but the one experience that I often think about was the afternoon I engaged in conversation with a gentleman and truly listened to his story. He shared how his poor health had caused him to lose his job and home and he spoke about the obstacles he faced when trying to get health care. Up until that point the relationship between health and prosperity was not something that I had really thought about but that conversation stuck with me throughout my undergraduate and graduate training. Ultimately my desire to better understand that relationship and to be a part of the solutions that eased that guest’s burden, led me to answer the call to be a health disparities and equity researcher. I encourage each of you to view your time at Marquette as an opportunity to learn about other people and their needs and I challenge you to not just accept how things are but rather work towards how things should be.

In the days and years to come, there likely will be moments when you have to choose between certain success and probable failure. When those moments arise, I encourage you to be open to the possibility of failure. In the fall of my senior year I had to choose between taking the traditional biochemistry class for my major or the graduate level class. I was fairly confident in my ability to be successful in the traditional class and while there was a lot of uncertainty about the graduate level class, I decided to embrace the challenge. Everything was going great in the class and I was glad to be there until the first exam. After the exam scores were posted I had to check mine several times because I had never seen a score that low next to my student ID number in my entire academic career. My initial reaction was shock and denial and then I was just angry at myself for not taking the other, easier class. After a few days, though, the anger began to fade and I was able to reflect on the experience and begin to seek out solutions. I met with the professor to discuss my performance and approach to the course materials and I spoke to students who had done well on the exam to identify ways to modify how I prepared for future exams. Ultimately, I had to accept that failing one test did not define me. It didn’t even mean that I was a bad student. I had to learn that sometimes in order to be successful you have to try a different course of action. While the experience of failing is uncomfortable, it is often inevitable. If you are constantly putting yourself in positions where you are challenged and pushing the boundaries of your comfort zone, it is only a matter of time before you stumble. However, do not let the fear of failing keep you from pushing forward and trying new things. Even if you stumble, know with absolute certainty that the entire Marquette community and all of its resources are here to catch you.

Like many students I came to Marquette with a plan for the classes I was going to take and the activities I was going to participate in. While having that plan was helpful, I found that my most meaningful and memorable experiences came from the instances when I allowed myself to be open to new paths. Whether it was changing my major or doing something I never expected like joining a social sorority or road tripping for 7 hours over spring break to go help build a house when I had never swung a hammer before, saying yes to the unexpected helped me to find my purpose and passion and opened doors to numerous leadership opportunities and lifelong friendships. So if you are sitting out there without a plan that’s okay, it was bound to change anyway. If you do have a plan, hold on to it but not too tightly. Be open to new experiences as they will enrich the education you receive in and out of the classroom. Where ever your path may take you, invest in the relationships and friendships you encounter along the way. These will be the people who are there to celebrate your successes and pick you up when you are down. They will stand with you at graduation and on your wedding day. They will be the godparents to your children and the people you call when it matters. Most importantly, as you follow your path, strive to be present in every moment because you only get to live these years once.

In closing I would like to leave you with these words from Maya Angelou. She once said “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style”. I challenge each of you to make this your mission for your time here at Marquette.

Again, welcome to Marquette.