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Shamar S. White '95, Distinguished Alumni Speech

Graduation Tuesday, 07 Jun 2022

Transcript of a speech originally given at Graduation by the 2021 Distinguished Alumni, Shamar S. White '95.

I want to start by saying it’s good to be home.

I call this place home because as mentioned, and like three of our Seniors this year, I was a “Lifer”. I grew up here at Roycemore. My teachers and friends were my family, figuratively and actually – because my dad was a teacher, bus driver, coach, and ran many summer camps. He would be so proud that I am standing here today as the Distinguished Alumna.

Life can take you in so many different directions, that you’d be surprised, like I am today, where you find yourself standing.

So I’d like to go back to a time when life took me in a direction that nobody expected and share how things finally started to come into focus for me.

Keep your Eyes on the Horizon.

JUMP! (Airborne School)

It was 2002, I was standing in the doorway of a C-130 – Hercules Airplane —wondering how did I get here? Here being Fort Benning, GA — Airborne School.

For those of you who don’t know. A C-130 Airplane is a plane that they were using to pull troops and civilians out of Afghanistan – yes, that giant aircraft – I was about to jump out of.

You see, not only was this my first jump, but I was also the first jumper. This means out of 100 plus Soldiers, I had to be the first one to go out that door. I had to stand in the open doorway, at twelve hundred and fifty feet waiting for the red light to turn green and the Jumpmaster to yell GO!

My heart pounded, my stomach turned, and my hands shook. I started to wonder again, why am I doing this? Why am I about to jump out of a perfectly good airplane?

As I stood there contemplating, having second thoughts, and trying to figure a way out of this situation, I remembered my dad. Yes, he also jumped out of airplanes –as a civilian. It dawned on me. He was the reason I was standing there literally shaking in my boots. Thanks, Dad. But the truth is, I wanted to be just like him. My dad was cool, funny, and fearless.

But his experience jumping was quite different than mine. When he jumped, he had a professional attached to him the whole time, who handled the parachute, the landing, everything. All my dad had to do was float in the sky and just enjoy the view.

While for me it was a little more complicated. I was by myself up there. On my own. Responsible for my own equipment. Responsible for me. Nobody to push me out that door, nobody to land for me. I didn’t know if I was ready for that. I wasn’t sure if I could face my fear of falling, crashing, and failing.

There’s a saying in Airborne School “Keep Your Eyes on the Horizon.” It basically means stay focused, don’t look down, and don’t get distracted by fear. But it’s hard to do that when there are so many things that could go wrong. Right?

I’m sure all of you have had that fear before – maybe not from the doorway of an airplane, but maybe it was the fear of not passing a class, of not getting into that school, and now, it’s the fear of the unknown when you exit the doors of Roycemore for the first time as an Alumni. When you think about it – graduating from high school is a pretty big jump.

Roycemore (1st Jump)

When I look back on my days at Roycemore, I wasn’t so sure I was going to make it out of this place. I mean, I was here all the time. Not just M-F, but weekends too, depending on what practice, game, or show I had. And I was even here when I wasn’t supposed to be – Seniors I’ll tell you about that offline.

While I excelled at athletics, basketball, volleyball, and tumbling, I was even the first girl on the boys’ soccer team. I struggled academically – trying to overcome learning disabilities. I can’t tell which ones, but I think I had them all. But Roycemore never gave up on me — Roycemore pushed me —held my hand when I needed it and ultimately Roycemore prepared me for that next step across this stage to receive my diploma. I had survived.

Lincoln College (2nd Jump)

After Roycemore, I jumped to Lincoln College, a Private two-year school where I got to continue playing Basketball on a Scholarship and could focus on improving my academics. Okay so maybe it wasn’t a big jump, it was a little one. I was too scared to go to a big University afraid it would swallow me up. I still needed that small learning environment and I knew Lincoln was the place for me. Two years later when I graduated from Lincoln, I was ready to face my fear and jump to Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville.

SIUE (3rd Jump)

Attending a big University wasn’t daunting anymore because I knew I would have friends there who transferred with me from Lincoln. I knew basketball was out of my system, and most importantly, I knew I didn’t have to take any more General Education classes! Deuces math! Adios, English! Peace out History! No offense to all of you amazing Math, English and history teachers – But at SIUE, I got to take classes I was excited about like Dance, Film Studies, African-American Studies, Jazz, and of course Tai Chi, etc. “Now this is what college is about!” I thought.

Yes, I was finding my stride. So much so I walked on to the Women’s Division 2 Soccer team and said I want to play. As I said, basketball was out of my system but soccer wasn’t. I wanted to play at a high level. Something I didn’t get to do at Lincoln because they didn’t have a team. So this was my chance!

But when I walked onto that field, I was the only black person for miles it seemed. I didn’t know these girls and unfortunately, they didn’t seem to want to know me either. It wasn’t Roycemore, it wasn’t Evanston, it was like playing in a foreign country.

I started to dread going to practice. I had no chemistry with these players— not to mention they were good! I marveled at the way some of them played. I was definitely suffering from imposter syndrome. This was basically tryouts and after a couple of weeks, I was sure I wouldn’t make the team. But, I didn’t want to give up. So I worked my butt off to prove that I belonged.

One day the coach called me in the office. I guess he didn’t think I belonged either. But instead of cutting me, he offered me a thousand-dollar scholarship to officially play for the team. I couldn’t believe it, my hard work and torture literally paid off! I was an SIUE Cougar!

However, the next season, I couldn’t bring myself to walk back on that field again. I was unhappy on that team. My classes that I loved were getting more and more time-consuming and collegiate soccer just didn’t fit me anymore. It was the first thing I ever quit in my life. I struggled with that decision, fearing what other people would think. Am I a failure? Am I letting everyone down? And then I realized, it didn’t matter. I did it for me. I mean I wasn’t even supposed to be on that team. I was becoming something else, not just an athlete.

Sometimes fear can be stepping out of the old you and into the new you. And who was I becoming? A Theater Major!

Of course, I started as a Theater Minor and Mass Communications Major with a focus on Journalism, then I switched that around because I loved the theater! The sense of community, the way I was able to explore my creative side in ways I never imagined. And I was voted to be the Secretary of the Student Theater Organization — so yeah, I was in deep.

But, that happens. You’ll go one direction and get pulled in a totally different. You’ll switch, swap, flip, flop classes, advisors, majors – countries! And that’s okay. College, traveling, working, and life after high school is the time to explore.

While I loved the theater, I knew I wasn’t an actress. I hated standing on stage belting out lines — it’s not like this stage, this stage is so warm and fuzzy. The more plays I read, the more I wanted to be a Playwright – a focus they didn’t have. It wasn’t even a class that they had. So, I was a Theater Performance Major. Acting might not have been my true calling, but understanding character would prove to be a huge benefit in my writing. After graduating, I knew that I was on the verge of figuring it all out.

Post 9/11 Army Journey

Now, I know what you’re all wondering – how does a Theater Major end up in the Army? Well, that’s for a whole other speech and my time is almost up here. But the short answer is 9/11. Before my dad was a teacher, he was in the Army. So I had a natural curiosity about it. It was always in me to serve my country and when 9/11 happened – that’s exactly what I did.

And that brings us back to the beginning of our story.

Me standing in the doorway of a C-130 Aircraft about to jump. I thought about that phrase “Keep Your Eyes on the Horizon.” It calmed me, focused me, and when that red light turned green and the Jumpmaster yelled GO— I JUMPED! It was exhilarating, terrifying and peaceful all in one. The best part, I was able to walk off the drop zone— not once, but fourteen more times.

I say all this because, in life, you’re going to have jumps, big ones, little ones – not just the physical, but emotional, and mental. Don’t be afraid of it, because if I could survive life after High School, so can you.

Eventually, I got out of the Army to finally pursue my true passion – writing. I applied to graduate schools and got into my absolute dream school New York University/Tisch School of the Arts – the Dramatic Writing Program. I graduated top of my class, received an award for outstanding writing and a year later was a staff writer on a network TV series. Me, the kid who struggled academically, and didn’t think she had much of a future was living her dream as a writer.

But that’s me, that’s my story — the real question is who are you…class of twenty-twenty two? What’s your story? Don’t worry, you don’t have to answer that right now because you are about to find out.

Taking this jump from High School to adulthood is not an easy one. It will come with challenges, but this is the time to face those fears and go for it! Sign up for that class that scares you, talk to that person on campus you’ve been crushing on for months, join that team that never saw you coming, go to the party, be on a committee, but most importantly, know that you are not alone.

Stay connected to your old classmates and teachers. Roycemore will be there for you for a lifetime as it has been for me. If you’re failing a class, going through a bad breakup, want to quit, feeling disconnected, reach out to someone, reach out to your Roycemore community, reach out to me. This may be your journey but you are not on it alone.

All you have to do is stand in that doorway, “Keep Your Eyes on the Horizon” and then…JUMP!!!

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