COLUMBUS, Miss. --
Col. Samantha Weeks, 14th Flying Training Wing commander, spoke to graduates May 11 at the Mississippi University for Women’s 134th commencement ceremony in the Rent Auditorium.
Often referred to as graduation, the commencement ceremony is an end-of-spring semester celebration for students projected to successfully complete all of their graduation requirements by the end of the spring or summer semester of the year.
Over 530 students applied for the May graduation. The conferring of degrees for participants of the College of Nursing and Health Sciences was at 10 a.m. while the conferring of degrees for students of the College of Arts, Sciences and Education and the College of Business and Professional Studies was at 2 p.m.
Maddy Norgard, MUW 2018-2019 Student Government Association president, welcomed everyone to the ceremony, taking a moment to speak to the graduates on their recent accomplishments.
“Graduates, today is a culmination of your academic learning throughout the ‘W,’ but your learning doesn’t stop here,” Norgard said. “Today is just the beginning of a transitional period in your lives which will bring just as much learning and growing as your time here has. Before you leave this place, I hope you can take a moment today to reflect on everything the W represents.”
Afterward, Nora Miller, MUW president, introduced Weeks as the ceremony’s speaker. Miller gave the audience background on Weeks’ career and a description of her job as the 14th FTW commander.
Weeks congratulated the graduates for their hard work and dedication throughout their time in school. She emphasized walking across the stage is an incredible accomplishment and is a culmination of their effort, their emotional and academic investment and many long years of dedication. She noted the years of hard work, sweat and probably a few tears were worth it to bring them to this pivotal moment.
“I can tell you, each one of you have inspired me, your university and our amazing community of Columbus, Mississippi,” Weeks said. “Today you represent the best and brightest, joining a long line of college women and men dating back to the humble origins of this institution in 1884, but none of you made it here by yourself. You all most certainly got to this point with the support and encouragement from family, friends, mentors, professors or staff.”
Weeks continued to tell her of story, noting it may sound like many of the graduates. She shared of being a first-generation college student and having the dream of becoming a woman fighter pilot. At the time in 1981, women could not be fighter pilots; however Weeks was determined to be bold, have a dream and work hard to make her dream a reality, not letting anyone get in her way.
“For me, hard work, determination and dedication were the keys to achieving my dream, but it also took a little help and Congress,” Weeks said. “In 1993, they changed the law, allowing women to fly fighter aircraft in the United States military. So luck and timing aren’t a bad thing to have on your side either.”
Weeks went on to speak about going off to the U.S. Air Force Academy, not knowing if she’d be able to achieve her dream of becoming a fighter pilot. Even upon graduating from the Academy, there was still flight training she had to go through. She had to perform the best she could to successfully continue chasing her dream.
“That little 6-year-old girl who set her sights on the impossible, she stayed true to herself, to her dream,” Weeks said. “She never quit and she never stopped trying. Her boldness, my boldness, kept me driving on even during the tough times.”
Weeks connected her story with the graduates, saying most of them have experienced tough times in life though there will be more in the future, don’t let those hurdles stop them. Be bold.
“You will fail, you will face obstacles, walls or ceilings and these things may seem final, impenetrable or impossible,” Weeks said. “You’re likely to doubt yourself at certain points, your abilities and you may even think about giving up, but don’t. Be bold.
“Pick yourself up, go around, through, over or under those obstacles,” she continued. “Destroy whatever is getting in your way. Sometimes you’ll get in your own way and instead of seeing life is a ladder with rungs you have to climb, see it as a jungle gym, where there are multiple paths and multiple ways to success.”
Weeks added the graduates’ willingness to accept the challenge, push beyond their perceived limits, morally, mentally and physically has perfectly positioned them to be bold going forward in life.
“Today you join a group of noteworthy alumni,” Weeks said. “People who have used their experience at the ‘W’ to sharpen their grit, to empower them to make bold decisions and make calculated risks. Alumni like the honorable Lenore Prather, class of 1953, who was the first woman to serve as a Supreme Court justice in Mississippi; or Dr. Elizabeth Lee Hazen, class of 1910, who was the co-discoverer of the world’s leading anti-fungal medication.”
During a time where odds and doubts could have prevailed, these MUW graduates chose to be bold.
“Your alumni paved the way, excelled, lead in business, medicine, science, the military and our communities,” Weeks said. “You joined an alumni that has proven anything is possible, especially when you take a bold chance, bet on yourself and rely on the foundation you have built here.”
Weeks added she hopes graduates will walk away with a desire to continue to grow, to find a purpose and define their why.
“It’s taken me about a decade to understand my why, but every day I continue to serve the Air Force is another day to knock a brick out of the wall that tried to hold me back so those who come behind me walk easier, get farther, are uplifted and surpass anything that I’ve done to get to greater heights, achieve more and better our Air Force and our nation,” Weeks said.
Weeks then challenged the graduates to continue to grow. She noted the graduates’ generation has the unique ability to process information, communicate and dare to think boldly.
“I see it every single day as we teach our young officers to fly planes and lead across our Air Force,” Weeks said. “You are a uniquely talented generation motivated to change the world for the better, which is critical because you are entering a uniquely challenging and dynamic world. You will need to be adaptable, professional and compelling.”
Weeks also challenged graduates to not only continue to grow themselves, but to also join the long blue line and grow others around them.
“You are the types of graduates our businesses, communities and government need,” Weeks said. “My challenge here is for you to be willing and excited, to be bold, inspired and comforted by the grit and growth you’ve experienced here at the W. Give back to the Mississippi community who supported you, find your purpose in uplifting others so we can aspire to new heights together.”