As an elementary school student, Angela L. Walker Franklin attended summer band camps held on the campus of Furman University. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology, magna cum laude, at Furman and, as a graduate, served on its governing board. She returned to her undergraduate alma mater on May 8 to give a keynote address at its commencement ceremony.
“What an honor to be with you as I reflect on that little nine-year-old girl running through the Furman dorms, to a doubtful yet enlightened college undergraduate here, then later a proud member of the distinguished Board of Trustees, to be standing before you today,” she told the hundreds of graduates and guests attending the ceremony in person or watching an online livestream. “My Furman roots run deep, and I bleed purple!”
President Franklin, Ph.D., who received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree during the ceremony, reflected on the hardships of the past year and a half due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She praised the graduates’ “dedication and resiliency in adapting to our ‘new normal’” and described 2021 and beyond as a “real opportunity” to define the future.
“Today, I want us to lift our heads with pride and celebrate what we expect from all of you: a promising and accomplished future,” she said.
She encouraged graduates to “understand the power of the golden rule,” to seek opportunities and challenges, and to “cherish dignity, respect and humility” while also having difficult conversations and finding common ground with others.
“Sitting on the sidelines and being quiet is no longer good enough. Use your voice and your position for positive engagement and change,” she said.
She shared business analyst-author Jim Collins’ belief that strong leaders possess a combination of “extreme personal humility” and “intense professional will.” She also encouraged graduates to “embrace and follow your passions.”
“Holding your passions close will help you weather the spectrum of the exuberant highs to the darkest lows,” she said. “In the end, it will be your passion to help others regardless of background or orientation that will carry you through.”
President Franklin said the world needs the graduates’ energy, insights, creativity and “passion for living lives of great meaning” given major problems in society, from divisiveness, threats of terrorism and hunger and homelessness to climate change and the likelihood of future pandemics and other public health risks.
“You will be the agents of consequential action and positive change. You will be the thinkers, writers, scholars, artists, designers, scientists and more who will secure the health and well-being of future generations,” she said. “Pursuing your ambitions, your dreams, while at the same time living model lives built on sound ethical foundations, will be our salvation.
“I encourage you to pursue your dreams. Do not compromise,” she concluded. “Lead bold and thrilling lives to the fullest.”
President Franklin received a standing ovation from the graduates and guests in the audience. You can read her keynote address in its entirety here.