‘We Share the Common Thread of Growth and Scholarship’
Julia LeFrancois ’23 M.A., who recently accepted her master’s degree in community psychology, encourages her fellow graduates to reflect, connect with others, and share their stories.
May 17, 2023
By Julia LeFrancois ’23 M.A.
I talk a lot about using one’s voice, and this may be the first time I’ve gotten to use my own voice in this way. It feels like a big deal. It feels important, and I’m thankful. I know YOU’VE all been waiting for this day. And by waiting, I mean stressing about deadlines, needing naps, and maybe crying a little? I promise this won’t be stressful or nap inducing. No promises on the tears, though It’s graduation...a lot emotions...if you need to cry...go on with your bad self.
I’d like to start out by honoring the unceded lands of indigenous and first nations on which we are celebrating. I am a Latina with Native-American ancestry, and this is something that speaks to who I am. I appreciate that we, as a community, have started acknowledging this in our celebrations. You might have heard a land acknowledgement or two, and I want to point out that while it’s a step forward in collective healing, it really only becomes meaningful if we do the work that it’s asking. Me standing up here and honoring Pequonnock, Paugusset, and Schaghticoke lands is only genuine if I ask you all to do some work. Let this acknowledgement be meaningful to you.
As a call to action, I ask each of you to do a little reading later today. Just one more homework assignment. One more! After you’ve hugged loved ones and taken some beautiful photos and celebrated a little bit, take a few minutes to read the history of the rightful caretakers of this land.
My name is Julia. I’m a storyteller. For those who know me, you know it’s one of the first pieces of my identity that I disclose when connecting with folks. That and probably something synonymous with smashing the patriarchy. I am many other things. I am disabled. I am a woman. I am a scholar and a change-maker. I am a friend and a survivor. I’m a cozy-gamer and a lover of a good cup of tea. In fact, I’ve probably forced you to sit through whole presentations of my Sims 4 builds at one time or another in the last two years, and for that I say...you’re welcome.
But today, I’d like to be a storyteller, and share a story with which I think you can all connect. It’s about a child who grew into an adult many times over throughout their life. They experienced joy and trauma. They made mistakes and incredible decisions that led to success. They questioned themselves – often – and wondered what their life would look like in the future. Would they become a makeup artist for the stars? Would they show up for that Clipper Girls audition they got senior year? Would they write the next epic romance novel from their English cottage nestled away in the countryside? Would they walk away from a decade-long career and go back to school in their thirties?
They were good at some things and bad at others, and they knew the feeling of loss more than they wished they had. Loss of loved ones. Loss of direction. Loss of self. They found themselves at, although very cliché, and also very real and human, a crossroads. You know the one. The one where you can go right or left. Take the blue pill or red pill? You get it.
‘Remember this feeling’
One way brought them to a decent place. Full of familiar choices and options. It wasn’t horrible or amazing. It was nice. Safe. Easy to walk straight on through. It was a place that said, ‘welcome,’ and though a few corners looked a little sketchy, it wasn’t anything they couldn’t handle. The other way was way more of a mystery. For some reason, the path was difficult to see ahead. It could have been blocks in the road or some other navigational error. But for whatever reason, the assurance and safety, like on the right, was lacking. What they could see were glimpses of signs. One said, “Enter here: but only if you’re brave.” Another said, “Don’t go in. Too many unknowns.”
At one point, they thought they saw a sign that said, “Come on in! The water’s fine! Sometimes.” A few signs, small and a little hidden beneath others, said words such as, “change,” “discovery,” “magic,” and “truth” with fine print that warned the traveler of fear, hardship, and work. A lot of work. There were lot of signs, but not a lot of windows to see what it all looked like.
At this point in the story, you could totally go right. A lot of people go right. It’s absolutely okay, valid, and celebrated to go right. But this is my story, and I think you know which way we’re gonna go. So...the nondescript traveler hesitantly goes left. It’s just as intimidating and exhausting as they imagined. They even turned around a few times to try to go back the way they came. But it was too late. Their path was theirs and even if where they ended up looked exactly like that initial road on the right, or if it became something spectacular and unexpected, they still went left. They did that. Spoiler alert: we did that. We did the scary thing. We’re still doing the scary thing.
This university has uniquely affected each graduate in a way that is personal to each of us, but we share the common thread of growth and scholarship. For me, this thread was bright and colorful. It connected me to others and grounded me in strength when life got hard. When life threw illness or depression, the University was there. It was there offering reprieve through events and celebrations. It was there in emails or remembrance from Dean Rowe-Allen and other campus leaders, honoring diverse holidays or the many tragedies that struck our campus and, collectively, our hearts. It was there every time I reached out to professors and received all the support I needed – and then some.
We all have that next chapter of our story in a draft somewhere, waiting to be told...waiting to be written...waiting to be revised, edited, and written again. But I can tell by all of your faces that you’ll probably go left a few more times. Remember this feeling.
‘You’ve got people’
In my story, the traveler was a five-foot tall millennial with bright red hair who lives for rocking all the institutionally oppressed boats and, basically, just shaking things up. Who was your traveler? What did they look like? How did they feel? What was their experience in their bodies and minds? What are their dreams and fears? And what do they live for? Whoever they were today (because we are nothing if not fluid and ever-changing), I’d like to give them a few more spoilers. A few cheats – if you will – for getting through the next chapters of their story.
Find your communities. Find them, trust them, and share the main-character moments equally. Rest. Because, in the words of Tricia Hersey, “rest is resistance.” Set boundaries, and practice asking for help. Say ‘No!’ You can do it, I promise. Say ‘yes’ OR ‘no,’ and then change your mind. Listen when it is your time to listen, amplify voices who deserve amplification, take accountability for your mistakes, and say you’re sorry. Have compassion for yourself and others when things don’t go as planned.
Share your stories, because they are worthy of being told. And take whatever road you want. Right, left, up, down. Or some other direction that we haven’t discovered yet. Take it. You’ve got this. There will always be more roads—or doors, or windows, or whatever analogy feels good. And guess what? You have your communities. You have this community.
From here on out, we are all Chargers for life. So, when that navigational decision gets hard – because it will – when life takes more than you’ve given, or when you start to believe that voice that says you can’t do it or that you’re not enough, remember that you have an entire community of mentors and scholars who know that you can and who you are. They know what it’s like, and they will inevitably be proud of you. Reach out to them. Connect with them. Like one of their posts on whatever social media takes over TikTok whenever it gets banned.
The point is...you’ve got people. And when you’ve got a story to tell...look me up. Because I’d love to hear it. Truly...Congratulations, everyone!
Julia LeFrancois ’23 M.A., a new graduate of the University’s graduate program in community psychology, was a finalist to serve as a student speaker at Commencement. The content above is based on the speech she delivered as part of the competitive process to select the student Commencement speakers.