Clare-Kearney Gives Commencement Address

by Jake Terry (@LSUjake)
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Clare-Kearney Gives Commencement Address

BATON ROUGE – LSU gymnastics volunteer assistant coach and two-time national champion gymnast Ashleigh Clare-Kearney gave the commencement speech for the college of Education graduation ceremony in the Carl Maddox Field House Friday.

Clare-Kearney earned her bachelor’s degree in English in the fall of 2008, and she received her master’s degree at LSU in Kinesiology in spring 2010. She is currently in her first year in law school.

Below is the full speech Clare-Kearney delivered at the ceremony:

“Thank you, Dr. Exner, for your kind introduction. Dean Lindsay, distinguished guests, graduates, families, and friends of LSU, I am honored to be here this morning.  Before I begin, out of respect for the reason why I was privileged enough to be given an education at LSU, I have to recognize the girls who have become a part of my life. So I give special congratulations to my LSU Gymnastics teammates, one of which who is here this morning, Susan Jackson.

“It’s pretty contemporary that the College of Education asked me, a recent graduate myself, to speak at this auspicious occasion.   I am not your traditional speaker with a lot of initials at the end of my name, nor am I professionally accomplished at this point in my life.  In fact, I’m still in law school, with two more years to go, but I can tell you that I love LSU because I have learned a lot at LSU, and so I have genuine respect for my Alma Mater.  This moment confirms that it’s all about the students. It feels like there’s a commitment to make sure that what LSU does is on behalf of students and relatable to the student population. 

“And because you and I are pretty much the same age, I have three messages to you.  First, when you plan your life, make room for things that are not in your plans because sometimes the unexpected brings the greatest opportunities.

“Attending LSU was the furthest thing from my mind.  My family and I came to Louisiana 7 years ago to attend my younger sister’s AAU basketball tournament. This tournament happened to fall during the same time I was deciding on which college I would attend.  I sent 25 recruiting videos to colleges across the country, but LSU was not one of them.

“Instead of going to the aquarium with the basketball team one afternoon while in Kenner, Louisiana, my mother suggested that we take a trip to LSU to visit the campus, since it was only an hour away. When we arrived here on campus, we found Head Gymnastics Coach D-D Breaux and Assistant Coach, Philip Ogletree. They both dropped what they were doing, gave us a tour and a little over a year later, I signed a letter of intent to attend this amazing institution. 

“I realize that fate, and nothing else, is what brought me here.  Attending any school in Louisiana was never in my plans, and even so, I never would have guessed that it would become one of the best experiences of my life.  My message:  Make room for things that may not be in your initial plans.  You never know what opportunities lay ahead.

“The College of Education is full of planners – those who will prepare lesson plans, business plans, and even master plans. Some of your greatest opportunities are not a result of what’s written on paper – but rather a spontaneous result of where preparation meets expectations. These are the opportunities you should cherish most – for they may lead to your most fulfilling career, your next great adventure or the love of your life.

“My second thought is that it is important that you always make a difference in the lives of others.  In other words, give back. 

“Anyone who lived through Hurricane Katrina learned that we have a moral obligation to volunteer and be thankful for what we have, and anyone who lived or is from Louisiana learned the value of life.  Katrina changed my life.  My family wanted nothing more than for me to come home to Connecticut.  I wanted to go home, but the LSU gymnastics coaches said that we would be offering our assistance, here in the Field House, to those transported from hospitals and nursing homes in the New Orleans area.  We provided comic relief to some, a shoulder to cry on to others and engaged in even the most heartbreaking acts without hesitation, just because we were blessed with the ability to do so. This became one of the most humbling and meaningful experiences I have ever encountered. Seeing the pain in the eyes of the victims and hearing the heartbreak in their voices turn to tears of joy and sounds of laughter conveyed a message to me; when you are provided with a chance to make a difference, capitalize, even if at first glance you cannot appreciate its value, because your words and even your presence may touch the life of someone else in ways unimaginable.

“The same lesson of giving carries over to your profession. You must allow every child, athlete, student, or client an opportunity for development, and it is your responsibility to provide them with the necessary tools to evolve. Be responsible and hold yourself accountable for empowering those individuals whom you serve as an advisor. Failing to empower any person relying on your knowledge and wisdom would surely be doing them a disservice.

“Elementary educators, how are you going to teach your students about the importance of giving, Special educators, how are you going to empower the most fragile students to believe in themselves and give back at the same time?  Gifted and talented teachers, are you going to infuse service learning in their authentic academic experiences?   Scholars in higher education, what message will you send to your students to ensure that they pay it forward? Fitness and athletic trainers, how will you train your athletes to become more than an athlete?  Sport management and administration, will you create programs that engage the community to participate in volunteerism? You are service providers and behaviorists.  You touch every type of person. Look at who we are and now we ask, what will we do to make a difference?

“Finally, believe in yourself, believe in what you have been taught and internalize the experiences you have encountered.

“Despite the support I had from my family and the belief the LSU family had in me, I failed to believe in myself because I internalized and lived the negative aspects of my person that were expressed to me regularly. With that, I developed several superstitions hoping the mystic gods could do something for me that I did not think I could do for myself.

“I created rituals and superstitions. I had to the wear the same pajamas on Wednesday and Thursday night before each gymnastics meet. I had to wear the same socks the day of the meets. I had to take a 30 minute nap and wake up 15 minutes before the time of departure. When the team met in the lobby, I then had to buy a sprite from the lobby and take 5 sips, each sip representing the four events I competed on and one for the all around. When we got on the bus, I had to sit in the last seat and listen to the music on my ipod in the same order. And, this may come as a surprise but the list I just shared with you was only about half of what I had to do to ensure that I did well at a meet.

“In my mind, these superstitions created a perfect outcome for me because I did not believe that I could be successful at a gymnastics meet by myself.  I never depended on my talent, hard work, or motivation. I believed that it was a ritual that helped me win 114 individual gymnastics titles and 2 national championships here at LSU, and that’s not an intentional brag about my accomplishments.  It’s an example of a sad reality of the doubt that I had in myself as a gymnast.

“I continue to struggle today because I can’t put my purse on the ground at anytime.  If I see a black cat crossing the street, I turn around and find an alternate route, and when I board an airplane, I have to touch the outside of the plane prior to boarding, again, this is just to name a few. Learning to believe in yourself may sound easy to accomplish but is actually a challenge to achieve.

“I’d like to think I’ve grown a little since the time I sat where you are. I didn’t have to drink a sprite before I came up here nor did I perform any of my other anomalous rituals.

“I was coached by one of the Nation’s most successful and flamboyant coaches – D-D Breaux. Through her, I learned that we will be faced with adversities in life, its inevitable; Or, simply put, Water’s wet; rocks are hard. She taught us that life will throw you curve balls but you don’t have a choice to make the best of it; or when life hands you lemons….make lemonade. And finally, it was brought to our attention, that when something might not be working in your favor and you feel like you are giving it all you can express to her “I’m trying though D-D”, her response would be, “well if you’re trying your failing.” While we all laughed about hearing those “D-Disms” in our sleep, they really do convey time-tested lessons. Those three lessons reflect upon the messages I express to you today in hopes that you will make room for and embrace the unexpected, understand the value and importance of making a difference in the lives of others, and believe in yourself and what you have been taught. Perhaps the greatest hope we could have as teachers, coaches and educators is that our students, athletes and mentees will be repeating the lessons we instilled in them after they leave us.

“I hope you have at least taken one thing away from the stories and experiences I have had that have taught and developed me into the person standing before you today. I wish you nothing but the best as you embark on your own personal road of success.  Thank you.”