Prepared remarks of Morgan Duffy, Class of 2013, at Opening Convocation Ceremony on Sept. 18, 2012
I don't just get off of planes. I sit and wait. Someone brings a special wheelchair, lifts me and brings me out. And though my long flights are prolonged, I love to fly.
As a sophomore, I received a research grant from Undergraduate Advising and Research to leave the United States for the first time and travel to a small city in central Indonesia. It took a year of planning with advisors, professors and local workers. I was to study children with disabilities, to understand how wheelchairs help or hinder social development.
You may nod and think, that makes sense. However, my journey to Indonesia was not predictable.
I grew up between two places: the countertop of my grandfather's pizza shop and the emergency room that my mom managed in Scranton, Pa. My family, although extremely supportive, never really expected me to be sitting before you today. They wanted me to have the most normal life a child could have, so they brought me to play adaptive sports, drove me to summer camp with kids like myself and helped me find happiness. Coming from a small city in Pennsylvania, it wasn't normal for me to move across the country to go to one of the best universities in the world. But it was the perfect decision for me.
So I got on a plane to Silicon Valley. It did not take long to realize that normalcy was not an attribute I needed to strive for at Stanford. I could dress in bright neon clothes, enjoy conversations with people from every corner of the world and participate in courses titled not Intro to Biology but Biotechnology in Everyday Life, taught by professors devoted both to academics and social change.
Although I could talk for hours about my Stanford experiences, I will choose just one: my two-year project in Indonesia. In 2011, I was a passive researcher, absorbing the culture that surrounds health, disability and development. This summer, I returned to co-author a project to begin support groups for parents of kids with disabilities. I came away with a sincere appreciation for the thing that I sit on and the power of community. The project that defined my Stanford experience was made possible by mentorships, a fellowship and mostly encouragement.
First there was encouragement. Here – in this world of innovation – you are not the future generation but the now, the thinkers who can influence one another, your professors and your communities back home. When I think back to my freshman dorm, I see my best friends, sitting in a hallway, books and MacBook Pros spread about. There is a nerdy guy who will run the next Google; a determined girl from the desert who will find solutions for people who are desperately sick; a third-generation Stanford student creating her own path to help others; and two varsity athletes who rejected expectations to be their true selves. We all brought a unique experience and story. Our idiosyncrasies brought us together. When I was designing my project, they gave me a helping hand – one friend reading every word of my proposals. When I got my first grant, they jumped onto my wheelchair in excitement. And when I hit roadbumps, they encouraged me to keep going. I could not have done it without them.
No matter what your idea or project, there is inspiration everywhere you look. The gasp that you had when you first walked into this quad, it never goes away. The conversations you will have with world-class thinkers only end so another can begin. Moments when you want to give up will be met with fun and determination. It will be hard, but it will be rewarding.
My best friend drove me to the airport last summer. He kissed me on the forehead, said good luck and was off. When I was waiting for security, my phone vibrated. His text said, "You're going to be great."
Members of the Class of 2016 and transfer students – welcome to Stanford. You're going to be great.