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Advice to Graduates: Try New Things to Enhance Your Overall Well-being

Bri'ajah'nae Hymes of Rochester, New York was the student speaker for the December Commencement exercises. Hymes majored in Environmental Biology. She is an incoming Doctor of Physical Therapy student at SUNY Upstate Medical University.

Following are the remarks from commencement.

"Good Afternoon everyone and thank you, President Mahoney. My name is Bri'ajah'nae Nas'sir Hymes and I have the great honor of being the commencement speaker today for the December class of 2021.

If you asked me three years ago who I was as a person, I couldn't give you a straight answer. I probably would have looked into your eyes with a subtle look of confusion, because I didn't know how to properly express myself and showcase my identity. Thankfully, my three and a half years on Forestry Drive have helped me develop my personality, find my strengths, work on my weaknesses, and most importantly, realize my passion.

Being in the college environment, I also learned that who you are can make people uncomfortable. There will always be someone who does not like the oddball, but many people within the ESF community taught me to celebrate what makes me different and wear my uniqueness like a badge of honor. ESF encouraged me to take advantage of every opportunity that is given to me. Because of me taking risks and embracing this unique badge of honor that I hold, I stand in front of you today as a mentor, a scientist, and a mental health advocate.

Life B.C. or "Before COVID," was unbelievably different. We smiled more, stressed less, and didn't have to worry about angry eyes beaming at you for sneezing in public. I'm sure we all remember what we did while in quarantine. You might have picked up an art, maybe painting or drawing. Or maybe discovered you have a knack for baking.

Some of you may have watched your fair share of shows on Netflix to pass the time, that reminds me, I still haven't watched "Tiger King." For me, this abundance of alone time opened a metaphorical door for me to do a lot of introspection. I focused on self-improvement and realized that I wanted to use my skills and knowledge to encourage others to find things they love in life in order to start loving themselves again. Many of my peers, some in this crowd, have heard of my podcast called "The SunnyDay." This was created at the peak of the pandemic, to motivate, inspire, and be a driving voice for people seeking some light to push them through dark and confusing times. The topics of discussion were generated from several experiences that I gathered during my time at ESF. For example, as an Education Opportunity Program Mentor, I learned that I walked a mile in similar shoes to my mentees. Not long ago, I was feeling self-doubt and uncertainty about succeeding and finishing college. I recorded an episode called "College Tips for Success" and received wonderful reactions from my mentees who found my notes relatable and helpful. Watching them excel was proof that I was doing the right thing.

Wherever I am, I always find ways to spread my knowledge and positivity to others. I encourage every single one of you graduates to be kind to one another and most importantly be kind to yourself.

Following the quote, "Old ways won't open new doors,'' by Michaella Shannon, fellow graduates I charge you to enter the world as global citizens, with an open mind and heart. Expand your horizons, try new things, and meet new people. There is always someone who knows something you don't, and there is always a person who can benefit from the knowledge that you have.

During our time in college, we may have lost ourselves in the piles of lab reports, midterms, social pressures, and other external factors. This might have distracted us from the small joys in life -- I know it did for me. So, I would like to remind you that you must take a moment to remember the good in life, whether that be a memory, a small win, spending time with loved ones, or even eating your four mozzarella sticks at Trailhead during college hour.

As Biologists, Engineers, Architects, Environmentalists, Chemists, and Educators; our brains are constantly thinking, solving problems, and figuring out ways to save the planet. We hold all living things with the same respect we would give a human. We speak to trees and study ways to protect biodiversity and all of earth's precious gifts to us. With this being said, I acknowledge that science isn't always beautiful. You will work in environments that test your patience, challenge your mental toughness, and sometimes the work will continue to pile on. But allow me to remind you of a lesson that ESF taught us: spending time in nature is linked to both, improvements to mood and mental health, and overall well-being. So, in these challenging situations, I ask that you step back, perhaps go outside, and remind yourself of all the things you went through to get to where you are. We've all pushed through all-nighters and even mastered Dr. McGee's and Dr. Fierke's biology course. Trust me, we can do anything!

I would like to conclude this speech by leaving you with a few tips as graduates moving into boundless new environments.

First, expand your comfort zone, mentally and physically. As a new graduate, it's time to stretch your views and perspectives of the world. I would like you all to try new things to enhance your overall well-being. We are constantly evolving and time is still moving, so never stop learning and listening.

Second, listening is a powerful tool. You never know how much you could learn about a person, place, or thing, by sitting down and listening to someone. Whether that be a family member, friend, colleague, or coworker. Take time to listen to those around, you may learn new things that will benefit your life.

Third, love yourself, in multiple ways. When I say this, I mean take your flaws and imperfections, accept them, and love them because you are you. Loving yourself, will build your confidence, and increase self-worth. As I always say, WORK IT.

Lastly, take care of your mental and physical health. I know this may seem like a chore, but there are always ways to fit in the small feelings of enjoyment. I challenge you all to never dwell on small matters and to remember that there is more to life than a bad incident. Look at every obstacle in the world as a lesson to learn and a problem to beat the next time it occurs. When you recognize a pattern and early signs of a mental slip, please do things that will help you seek betterment, whether that be by yourself or with the help of someone else. I encourage everyone in the crowd, families, friends, faculty, and staff, to lend a helping hand to others. Be kind to one another, and share ways to deal with stress and anxiety that you've once learned. Finally, be there to stop the tears coming down one's face, and lend a tissue and shoulder if it does.

I will end this legendary speech with my favorite quote by Emery Lord, "My dark days made me strong. Or maybe I was already strong, and they made me prove it". As we exit our families' homes and enter the real world as ESF alumni, and into a career in the fields we love, remember that you can't have a rainbow without a little rain. Those dark days will not last long, and remember that you can tackle any situation that comes your way because you have before. We are smart. We are strong. We matter. And, Class of 2021, I am so proud of you."