Carla Harris: 2021 Laetare Address

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God is good, all of the time and all of the time, God is good! Good morning, President Jenkins, Provost Miranda, Mr. James Dunne, Dr. Tom Burish, John and Cathy Brennan, esteemed professors, faculty, administrators, parents and friends, but most of all good morning to the class of 2021!

I am so honored to stand here before you to receive the Laetere Medal and I dedicate it to my parents, my mother, Billie Joyce Williams Harris, who insisted that I was baptized Catholic and dedicated me to the Blessed Mother when I was 3 months old and to my father Captain John Harris, who was a captain of a commercial fishing vessel for most of my growing up life, who became a Catholic late in his life and for whom I had the privilege of standing beside as his sponsor.  I am a proud product of Catholic schools, where I attended from kindergarten to 12th grade and where I learned along with the values and principles taught in my home, to treat others the way that I wanted to be treated, to be of service to others, and frankly to help anyone, anyway, and any how you can, simply because you can.

When I received the notice that I would be this year’s Medal recipient, I was humbled and honored. As I reflected on the fact that Laetere means “rejoice,” I thought, how fitting for I am indeed rejoicing, as I think about the last 14 months of personal protocols, sheltering in place, and social distancing. You see, I am rejoicing, that notwithstanding the deaths, the illnesses, the struggles that have emanated from the Covid-19 crisis, the pandemic of social unrest resulting from long-term racial injustices and the overall strife that has filled this land, I am rejoicing that He has brought many, many, good things, epiphanies during these months. I rejoice, because we have all learned how precious time is and that it is the most important asset that you have. While we can all get more money, houses, cars and things, we can never get more time. We should therefore, be extremely intentional with our time and spend it in a way that we get the largest return on our time, and that is a good thing. I rejoice, that we have all found a new common ground, for we have all truly had a shared experience around the globe, as we faced a virus that was no respecter of persons, that did not discriminate by gender, race, sexual orientation, or economic status, and while it did ravage some communities more than others, none of us were spared the experience of being a witness to it. It touched us all, in a way that amplified our humanity, and that is a good thing. I rejoice, because we found new definitions of who and what was essential, and surely that is a good thing. Graduates I tell you that as you move forward from this day, I believe that your ability to manifest your destiny, to find and fulfill your purpose, lies in your ability adjust your focus, to sharpen your vision on the good and great things that are right in front of you and that are in store for you. View every setback and disappointment as a lesson, a lesson that may be one of the most important things that you learn for that season in your life. Pay attention to things as they happen to you, for when life comes to teach you a lesson, you will repeat the class if you don’t pass the test.

Graduates, I could not be more excited for you. It is not lost on me that we stand together on Pentecost Sunday, celebrating the power of the Holy Spirit. You have power, each and everyone of you. Power to reshape your individual world and the world around you, power to maximize your success in your career endeavors, power to create, power to define, power to drive agendas, create strategies, and teach and most importantly empower other people. After three decades on Wall Street, I have learned that the way to grow your power is to give it away.

As I close, I want to leave you with a few of Carla’s Pearls, as I like to call them, my hard-earned and hard-learned pearls after being a woman of color on Wall Street for 34 years.

The three “pearls” that I want to leave you with today:

  1. It is what you do for others that count, as it is told to us in Phillipians 2:3. The way to amplify your life is to use who you are, what you know and who you know to help others for that will take your life from success to significance;
  2. Fear has no place in your success equation. As it is told to us in 2 Timothy 1:7, God did not give us the spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind. Any time you approach anything in your life from a position of fear, you will always under penetrate that opportunity. And when it creeps up the back of your neck, remind yourself as I do, that fear is just “False Evidence of Things Appearing Real.” It’s really not there. Because what’s the worst that can happen if you take a risk and it doesn’t work out, so you fail. But know this, failure always brings you a gift and that gift is called experience. Now you know how to do it better, know you know how to do it differently, now you know how to do it successfully. Don’t be deterred by anyone or anything.
  3. There is only one you, your authenticity is your distinct competitive advantage. Your power lies not in who you are, but in whose you are! Trust the power in you. Don’t be distracted or deterred from any imposter syndrome. In any moment where you find yourself, trust that power within you, it has delivered you in perfect timing to that very moment.

As I close, let me also encourage you, to exercise and strengthen your muscle of asking God for His counsel, before you make any decision. Seek ye first the kingdom of God it says in Matthew 6:33, and I believe that this verse means to call upon His wisdom. Graduates, the more that you ask for His help, the more you will come to know His voice and your power of discernment will get stronger. It is a skill and a power that you will need as you go off to your various careers. The more that you learn to seek God and to trust Him in the little and everyday things of life, the more that You will learn to trust Him in the big things that you will come to ask for in your tomorrows. Trust and faith are inextricably tied and the more that you activate your faith, the stronger it will become and the more that you will trust in the outcome and His impeccable timing.

I am so very honored to receive the Laetere Medal and to be a part of this important day in your life. It is only because of His grace that I stand before you under the witness of all of you and of my incredible husband, Victor Franklin and my amazing sister, Vietta Johnson. Yes, graduates of 2021, it’s all about his His grace - His Amazing Grace. Amen, amen, amen!

Thank you!