Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Grand Finale

Well, folks, she did it. Our gal graduated from USC this weekend, with high honors, Summa Cum Laude and Thank You Lordy!! Hard to believe it's been four years, buckets of tears, lots of laughter and joy since I dragged her down here crying all the way from Virginia to South Carolina. Even harder to believe that she left campus yesterday crying just as hard as when she first arrived, finally admitting that she had been "Carolina-lized" and didn't want to leave her beloved school and friends. We have completed our journey, made it to the grand finale-- GRADUATION DAY-- and to top it all off, I had the honor and privilege of ending my tenure as a tag-a-long college Mom by donning a cap and gown along with my daughter, proudly marching in together to "Pomp and Circumstance" and delivering the following commencement speech:

When the school first asked me to be the commencement speaker,

my initial reaction was “You’ve got to be kidding!?” I have no celebrity status; in fact, my only claims to fame are

1.   a degree in Pipe Organ, probably the most impractical degree you could earn;

2.   a brown belt in Karate, the most practical thing I have learned,

3.   and I can wiggle my ears, which is

totally useless but highly entertaining!

     If you combined those three talents, I might qualify for a circus job as an


·       kung-fu fighting

·       contortionist,

 but certainly not as the commencement speaker.  

But then, I realized, it doesn’t matter who stands on this stage,

because it’s not about any of us up here….

Today, it’s about you,

a class that is near and dear to my heart, and a class I have gotten to know very well over the past four years…

Beginning in freshman year, when you stumbled into University 101 at eight o’clock in the morning, many of you still wearing your pajamas to class,

trying to figure out the answers to import questions like “Do I really have to pay $200 for a textbook” and

“Can that professor see me texting beneath the desk?”

·       Through The years,  as you learned enough French and Spanish to pass those dreaded exit exams,

·       And managed to get through speech class without fainting (well, most of you)…

·       but most importantly,

·       had learned NOT to sign up for 8 a.m. classes!

·       Now finally, senior year, the Capstone papers finished, exams finalized, caps and gowns donned, And here you are….the graduates of 2013. 

·       You’ve come a long way in four years, and I must say, I like this look much better than the pajamas!



Four years ago, my daughter, Mary Lapsley, and I arrived on this campus after a very long drive down from our hometown of Richmond Va.

 She was eager to attend the very first freshman orientation, because, as most of her professors will attest,

Mary Lapsley likes to get things done early,

 real early…

in fact, she arrived on this planet three months before her due date, and complications from that premature birth led to Cerebral Palsy, a condition which affected her physical mobility and fine motor skills, but not her dreams and aspirations.



She had chosen this campus because of the very dedicated Disabilities Services Coordinator, Tracey Craig, who had assured her that USC-L would not only offer the services and accommodations she needed,

 but would welcome and embrace a very non-traditional student.

 Mary Lapsley was a nervous freshman, and I was an anxious mom who had signed on to be her scribe and aide for the next four years.

We were a bit apprehensive as we entered the unfamiliar campus, realizing from the beginning that we made an unusual twosome,

A college student with her mother tagging along.

Sitting quietly on the back row of this auditorium, trying so hard not to be noticed, we were approached by a strange gentleman, wearing blue jeans, a USC-L shirt and some funky black sneakers, He asked Is Something the matter? Why aren’t you down there with the rest of your class?”

 to which my daughter replied, “Well, I have Cerebral Palsy and can’t get down the steps with my walker.”

So he sat down, started chatting with my daughter, found out why we were here, and told her how to get familiar with the campus. 

He also told us there was an elevator right around the corner, the first useful thing we learned in college!

 Little did I know at the time that the strange gentleman was none other than Dean Catalano, but from that day forward, from that friendly reception, this campus began to feel like home.

    Mary Lapsley was actually very used to people asking her if something was the matter, especially when she was in unfamiliar territory or meeting new people…that’s just life with a disability.

In high school, she volunteered at a homeless feeding shelter in the inner city of Richmond.  Her duty was to man the coffee table, where she was executive-in-charge of filling the cream and sugar bowls.

With cerebral palsy, the harder she worked to fill the cups,

the more her hands trembled, causing some spillage and making a bit of a mess, but she was getting the job done.

One of the homeless men marched up to grab his free cup of joe and noticed her hands trembling as she filled his cup.  With an insolent snarl, he asked,

“What’s the matter with you? You scared or something?”

“No sir,  she answered, “”I’m not scared.”

“Well, why are you shaking? You got a NERVE problem?”

“No sir,” she replied. “I don’t have a nerve problem.”

“Well, he shouted, as he grabbed his coffee,  you got Something,”

She laughed as she retold the story that afternoon, and said, ‘Mom, he was just so right,                             

 I got something!”

The truth of the story is, “We’ve all got SOMETHING.”

There’s not a person in this room who has not had to struggle with something,

·       A difficult home life, a disappointing job,

·       An unexpected illness, a disabled child

That’s just life. We’ve all got our “somethings” to deal with.

·       Many of you have had to overcome great barriers to obtain this college education. I have been tremendously inspired, over the past four years, as I have gotten to know you and have listened to your stories.

·       Some of you are first generation college students, some of you are parents, even grandparents, attending college for the first time, alongside your children and grandchildren.

o  Some of you have returned to college after many years

o  to finally finish that degree,

·       Some have returned after being pushed out of the workforce,

o  or  returning from the military as wounded veterans

·       Many of you have worked one or even two jobs while maintaining a full load of classes. It hasn’t been easy.

·       But what mattered was you had the willpower to endure and the determination to succeed.

·       You have also been supported and encouraged by incredibly dedicated and talented professors…

·       Tracey Craig was absolutely right when she assured us that USC-L would do everything possible to help a non-traditional student succeed.

·       This faculty has gone way beyond the call of duty to make this journey possible,

not only for my daughter, but for many of you as well. They have

·       encouraged and inspired

·       and

·       believed in your potential

·       even when you doubted yourselves.

·       You wouldn’t be here today without their help

·       So before you leave this campus today, please… go and thank a professor! They deserve it!


  That same willpower that enabled you to succeed in college will serve you well as you begin your careers, because

No matter which field of study you have chosen,

there is a common trait that all future employers will be looking for once you enter the job market.  Richard M. DeVos, co-founder of Amway, stated,

     “If I had to select one quality, one personal characteristic, that I regard as being most highly correlated with success, whatever the field, I would pick the trait of persistence. Determination. The will to endure to the end, to get knocked down seventy times and get up off the floor saying, ''Here comes number seventy-one!''

Now that’s Something!

Many successful people have triumphed not because of their ability, but because of their attitude.

They stuck it out through difficult times,

 they kept a positive attitude,

and even when failure seemed imminent,they kept on trying.

- Winston Churchill certainly knew the value of that kind of persistence

It took him three years to make it through the eighth grade because he had a major speech impediment.

In fact, He and I had the same disability, a lisp so severe that it took us years of practice and hard work to overcome.

Churchill never quit trying, and in spite of his speech impediment, he became a world renowned public spokesman,

telling students in his famous 1941 commencement speech to follow his example and  “Never give in. Never, never, never, give in.


Like Churchill, I had to spend hours in speech therapy standing  before a mirror

 saying “Thally thells theashells by the theashore,”

determined to make it sound more like

 Sally Sells Seashells by the Seashore.

Refusing to give in, so that I didn’t end up as an

·       organ-grinding, kung-fu fighting, LISPING contortionist!

Believe me, public speaking is never easy for someone with a lisp….ESPECIALLY when they have to begin a speech greeting a dignitary named President Pastides!!

But I have continued working my entire life to manage my disability,

·        so that I am not defined by what I can’t do,

·        but by what I choose to do.

The choice is yours to make….

  You can certainly choose to give in to your challenges,

Claiming, Poor Me,  Life is not Fair,

and you would be right.

Life is not fair, and sometimes, there’s nothing you can do about it.

·       But everyone faces difficulties, some more than others.

We don’t get to choose our circumstances in life.

but we can ALWAYS choose how we respond to them.


As British Novelist Phyllis Bottome noted,

 “There are two ways of meeting difficulties. You alter the difficulties, or you alter yourself to meet them.”

        For the last 23 years, I have watched my daughter face a world full of challenges and struggles.  

·       She did not choose to be born with Cerebral Palsy,

·       or spend a lifetime watching others do things her body would never be able to do.

What she did choose, however, was to alter her attitude

and adopt a “can-do”,  persistent and determined belief that,

·       no matter many times she got knocked down,

·       no matter how many times she failed

·       she was going to get back up

·       and keep on trying….

·       Only 25% percent of South Carolinians have earned a college degree, and

Today, she will join all of you on this stage

as you become members of  

that prestigious group

And claim a diploma that proves

·       no matter how difficult life can be,

·       no matter how many times you fail,

·       no matter how many times the world says “You can’t do that”,   

·       Oh Yes, you can!


So now, No matter what road you choose,

Whether it is to

·       continue with your education

·       Enlist in the military

·       Enter into the job market or

·       Become a wandering nomad…

·       You can do anything you want,

·       You can become ANYONE you want to be,

·        if you have a Determined attitude,

·       a POSITIVE SPIRIT and

·       you NEVER GIVE IN.

I guarantee you, if you adopt that approach, when someone looks at you and says,

 “What’s the matter with you? You got something?”

·       You will stand up tall,

·       look them straight in the eye,

·       hold up your Carolina diploma, and proudly say,

·       “You see this degree?…You better believe it!

·       I’ve GOT Something....
And there's no stopping me now!!!

Congratulations, Carolina graduates CLASS OF 2013!!!!  

                                                                     The End!!











  1. Mrs. Daly, this speech is beautiful and inspiring! I'm sure you made all the USC graduates proud on Saturday!! :)

  2. Wow! Saw this linked on FB...what a story and an inspiration you and your daughter are! Keep up the great work.