David Baxter

Class of 2023, it is an honor and privilege to share in this special moment with all of you. But I must say, my journey to this moment was no picnic or fairytale. My story is one of pain, trauma, and hardship, yet it’s also one of love, redemption and second chances.

I grew up in circumstances many of you in your young ages may relate to. I came of age in crack-era New York, where, by the age of 17, I lost a lot of childhood friends to violence. I’ve unfortunately been to way more funerals than graduations. I’ve suffered the shackles of mental ignorance, as well as prison life. I’ve felt lost and oftentimes alone more times throughout my life than I care to count. Almost gave up even more times, but in these darkest moments, when all seemed hopeless, that’s when my higher power always showed up. So in spite of all that, here I am with you today, sharing in this momentous moment!

On this day, we celebrate four years of schooling completed. A HUGE accomplishment. But let us also celebrate the memories you will take with you and the relationships formed by student to student, but also student to faculty. Let us also celebrate the families here today who stood by and supported you throughout this journey and will continue to do so. There is plenty more to do, but for now, let’s enjoy the moment and take it in.

As beautiful as the world is, sometimes it can be very harsh and unfair. Many of us come from circumstances and a world where we may have been told we’re not good enough, smart enough or how average we are. Some of you have told me you’ve been told you wouldn’t make it! But I want to be very clear about something: today is a powerful testament, undeniable proof of how well above average and great you really are.

These past 4 years were not for the “faint of heart.” It took grit and perseverance by each one of you to be here today. Because despite a worldwide invisible killer known as COVID-19 that traumatized all of us and sent the educational system into chaos, you’re still here. Despite the unfortunate killing of George Floyd that brought forth century-old feelings and trauma, and caused our nation to rise up in protest against injustice, because racism is the true pandemic, you’re still here today. Despite all that, along with the toils of inner city life, you’re still here. There four years have been nothing less than trying, yet all of you still sit here today, look at you now! This is what I call defying the odds, and silencing the naysayers.

This is where I am supposed to follow the cliche model of commencement speeches where I tell you to fail with pride and fail big, and failure is some huge accomplishment you must have to succeed…NO! That’s exactly what I’m not going to tell you. Because when you have a deeper understanding that everything you’ve been through was designed to prepare you and walk you into your purpose, it cannot be defined as failure. So I tell people I have no failures.

What many call failures, I call teaching moments, molding moments. They were preparation for me to step into my purpose moments, greatness in the making moments. It was and is part of the journey. So how could it be failure? Had I not went through these things, I would not have been ready to take each step needed to reach my highest self. So it wasn’t failure, it was God’s hand in his plan for me! Mistakes, letdowns, hardships, are not failure, they are part of life and your humanness and your life’s plan.

My point is life is about perspective, your perspective has the ability to limit you or free you. How you see each moment in your life will define who you are, and who you will become. If I fill a glass halfway with water, you have the option to see the glass half full or half empty. Same goes for anything life throws at you, how you choose to see it will define how you react and how you rise or fall to the occasion.

As you enter the next chapter of your life, and you come up against the mistakes, the not so good decisions, the denials, the setbacks, and the hardships that will surely come throughout your life, you have the option and power to see these as failures or as something much bigger at play, your preparation for greatness and your purpose. PERSPECTIVE! I hope you choose the latter. It will serve you well.

You will not be able to always understand or see that plan, or the future being prepared for you. Keep the faith, but remember…faith makes things possible, not easy. There was a time I couldn’t see it!

If anyone would’ve told me, given my circumstances, from being born into poverty, surrounded by violence, an under-funded school system to being kicked out of high school to sitting in a cold prison cell, at times isolated and spiritually broken.

If someone would’ve told me during these times that I’d stand here today a college graduate from Emerson Colleges EPI program right here in Boston, that I’d Co-found political and community organizations, that I’d be a CEO of my own company, that I’d be a published essayist, that I’d speak on the stages of top universities and companies and speak around the nation, that I’d work every day with a wonderful organization to change the lives of young men and women just like you and be the face of change, I would’ve look at them like they’re crazy!

I’m telling you this to help you understand that no matter your current or past circumstances, it doesn’t have to define you or your future. There are future lawyers, doctors, community and political leaders, business owners, carpenters, mothers and fathers in this room today. There are great ideas in this space tonight that will change the world. Even if you can’t see it today as I couldn’t see it at one time. So I challenge you to stay the course, trust the process. Lean on each other and family in times of need and in times of celebration, continue to strengthen the bonds created over these past four years.

Have a vision and dream, and I’m not foolish enough to stand up here and tell you at your age you’re suppose to have it all figured out, that’s unrealistic! But I will say this: you’re coming into a season of your life where it’s important you start to envision what your dream and vision for life looks like!

Our world needs you to find your passion and purpose. You are the architects and engineers of tomorrow. Therefore, you have the power to change the world and shape the future. We are descendants of builders, so go into the world and create, build, and bring your ideas, visions and dreams to fruition.

This is your invitation to realize that yesterdays best is just a starting point for today. There’s more to take on, more risk , and more to earn. Just remind yourself it’s easier to keep going it you never stop. This is your invitation to value your self against one set of standards..,your own! It’s up to you to create expectations, then shatter them over and over again. Because greatness is not a record of your past, it’s the pillar of your future. 

I’ll leave you with these parting words, words that have served me well and I hope will do the same for you:

Think when others are daydreaming, work when others are sleeping, be yourself when others are pretending. Do this, and you will live a more fulfilling, more peaceful, more intentional, but above all, a more truthful life, and in that truth, you will find your meaning, passion and ultimately your purpose.


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