Graduation 2020 Speaker Speech
By Mrs. Jess Dillon Bieligk, Class of 2000
Hello everyone! First of all, I’m so happy to be IN PERSON with other humans who aren’t related to me.
Dr. Gomez, thank you for inviting me and big thanks to Julie, Caitlin and the Holy Child faculty for helping me dig in and learn more about these incredible young women on the field today.
Congratulations to the parents and loved ones out there. You’ve certainly played a big role in giving these young women all you have to date, most especially making it possible for them to have the foundation of a Holy Child experience. On behalf of your daughters, thank you!
Class of 2020 - in attempt to get to know you a little better, I surveyed your teachers and loved some of the words they used to describe this class - words like strong, kind, empathetic, undeterred, spirited and bold. While I’m sure it’s disappointing that some of them can’t be here, please know their thoughts and input have been woven into my remarks.
With that in mind, it’s truly an honor to be here and especially meaningful for me this year, given it’s the 20th anniversary of my own graduation from this most special place.
I’ve loved this opportunity to re-engage with Holy Child and reflect on and really appreciate how my own experience here shaped so much of who I have become today.
Even at the surface level, one Holy Child friend introduced me to the founder of the company I’m now helping to build. Another Holy Child friend introduced me to my husband. Needless to say, the Holy Child spirit and community has been a critical input to where I am today.
I’m so grateful to have had the chance to learn about and engage with all of you - the class of 2020. That has been the best gift of all, especially during these most trying times in our country and world.Thank you for your passion, your resilience, your tenacity and your optimism. It’s given me great hope of how your generation, but especially each of you, will impact our world in the most positive, and necessary, way.
To prepare for this speech, I obviously googled “Best commencement speeches.” And the first article that came up was from business week and said - I quote: “Most commencement speeches are forgettable, filled with the same cliched advice.” Burn. And that’s obviously not acceptable so I’ve set out to do things a little differently and hopefully share some thoughts in a way that will be easy to remember.
So, in the spirit of our alliteratively named founder, Cornelia Connelly, I’m going to share three C-words that I think best embody the Holy Child experience. Celebrate, Curiosity and Courage. Hopefully you can channel these words and the meanings behind them forward as you embark on this next step of your journey, keeping these elements of Holy Child always with you. With that in mind...
This word certainly defines a big part of what I remember of my Holy Child experience and, based on some videos I’ve seen of this class, that has been consistent for you. By celebrate, I certainly mean the rituals of ring ceremonies, spirit week and Holly Ball that yield smiles and memories. More importantly, I think about celebrate in terms of how Holy Child celebrates every girl who chooses to spend her high school experience here. Holy Child celebrates who you are as an individual, does not expect - in fact, actively fights against - you conforming to any particular mold. In living up to the words of Cornelia Connelly: “Be yourself and make that self all that God wants it to be” - Holy Child celebrates you and helps you become the best version of yourself.
The Holy Child experience I remember was one that, through that celebration of me, helped me discover depths of my potential and interests that I would have never previously imagined. For me, that meant being able to be an academic, an athlete and an actress but also discovering - and being okay with the fact - that I wasn’t that into art and, as fascinating as the realities of chemistry were, sitting in a lab wasn’t my thing.
In this class, I’ve heard stories of your academic and athletic feats, your scientific research, your global travel for service and your spirited embrace of both authorized Holy Child traditions like spirit week but also the unauthorized traditions of a messy and maybe smelly senior lounge and maybe some questionable driving skills. These stories, and hearing of the laughter, joy and apparently epic hugs you each brought to school every day have me convinced that you too have been pushed to great potential and felt celebrated along the way.
One of your classmates shared with me about how every single person in your class has a role, that everyone mattered to make your class what it is. I challenge you to channel this sentiment forward into your life ahead - see and be the best version of yourself and celebrate and elevate others to reach their own potential and acknowledge the important role every human plays in making our big world so great.
Okay, so word one - CELEBRATE
I watched a video of your yearbook editors describe the theme of the book - Reading Between the Lines - and was struck at how profound that was and how perfect it is for the time we’re living in. Reading between the lines inherently lends to engaging your curiosity. I loved this call to action to be curious, to not take information or people at surface value - dig deeper, get to know others beyond their exterior and think critically about what you see in a headline or read in a book.
I loved how Holy Child encouraged curiosity for my classmates and me while we were here - we were challenged to embrace wonder, to think critically about what we were learning and to develop our own perspectives and ideas.
As you move to this next phase of your life, embrace your curiosity to push conventional thinking but to also indulge yourself. Steve Jobs always talked about how if you find something you love, it will never feel like work. I like to think that if you love being curious and love learning new things, any new challenge you take on can become something you love.
Okay, so Celebrate, Curiosity
While you’re set up with the right foundation, that doesn’t mean it will be easy. Sometimes, it will be really, really hard. You are all smart, super talented young women and, as a result, will have the great problem of being presented with lots of different opportunities and experiences and sometimes you’ll need to make trade-offs.
A year ago, I left a very safe career at an established company because I wanted take on something more entrepreneurial while having more flexibility to be with my children and to engage in my community. Flash forward a year and I’m now helping to build a company with a mission I believe in, while also wanting to be the best mom, wife, daughter and friend.
It’s fun and it’s 100% more aligned to what I had decided I wanted but it’s also scary, really exhausting and hard because there are days when I feel like I’m crushing my job but failing as a parent and friend and days when the inverse is true.
That said, my ability to draw back to the courage I gained at Holy Child - the reminder that I can do hard things, that hard times will pass, that I will make mistakes but can bounce back - always bring me back to the belief I have in myself that powers me through whatever obstacles present.
I’ve heard you all sometimes give the administration a hard time about the Believe slogan. That is no joke - Holy Child believes in you and in your time here, whether you realize it or not, has helped you learn to deeply believe in yourself so that you’ll have the courage to take a risk, to try new things, to make mistakes, to adapt and to chart your own course for a fulfilling life ahead.
Okay, so we covered the C’s - Celebrate, Curiosity and Courage. Those are all incredible capabilities that will serve you well in your life ahead. Now, one for extra credit...a D-word...DO.
Our girl Cornelia said it best - actions not words. If you all can channel this into your life, you will always differentiate. I remember this being drilled in almost every aspect of my Holy Child experience - certainly through acts of service but even in academic subjects like writing. In fact, I have a vivid memory of being in the Writing Center working on how I needed to “show, not tell” in my writing.
You will encounter lots of people who will tell you how important they are or talk about all the things they’re going to do. That’s great but always remember to channel what you’ve learned at Holy Child and be a woman of action.
Walk the walk and show the world what you’re capable of. Don’t sit on the sidelines, get in the game, create the game, change the game.
You have the tools to do it so put them to good use. And, remember, you have a community of people behind you, celebrating you and cheering you on. Most especially me!
Congratulations class of 2020! Thank you for having me!