Michael D. Smith, the eighth CEO of AmeriCorps, gave remarks at American International College’s commencement in Springfield, Mass. Smith is a Springfield native.

Good morning, Yellow Jackets!

Interim President Cestero Vice Chair Saremi, esteemed members of the AIC Board of Trustees and President’s Cabinet, faculty, families, friends, and most importantly, the graduating Class of 2024: It is an honor and a privilege to join you today!

I am filled with gratitude and deeply humbled that you would choose to bestow upon me this honor and allow me to share in such a momentous occasion with you and your families.

From its origin as a college for immigrants 139 years ago, to becoming the first coeducational college in the region in 1892, to the bold priorities laid out in your AIC Reimagined plan, AIC has always been about creating opportunities for learners of all backgrounds.

Let me congratulate all the members of the class of 2024! You made it!

You started out freshman year during the height of the pandemic – beginning this important new chapter in a way no generation had ever before thought possible.

You pressed on and pushed And now you are here celebrating this unforgettable day.

No one, though, makes it to graduation alone.

Parents – You can exhale. Your job is done. Well, almost done. Except for the student loan part.

To the village that helped raise your children—grandparents, siblings, professors, counselors, coaches, and mentors—this is your day, as well.

So, Class of 2024, let's show some love for those helped you on this Yell their names loud and proud and give them a massive round of applause.

(Graduates, between us) Your families are relieved and extremely proud of This might be the perfect time to ask for money.

In a few minutes, you will be receiving your hard-earned diplomas.

But first, you will politely endure your commencement speaker – because you were raised right. You may choose to applaud politely at various points. Or not. A few amens would be I grew up in a Pentecostal church … if there's no talking back, I get nervous. (Can I get an Amen?).

Years from now most of you will remember absolutely nothing of what I say.

We share that in common, and a lot more.

I grew up in the McKnight neighborhood just a few minutes from here.

I spent every hour that I wasn’t in school or church at the Family Center Boys & Girls Club – literally across the street from AIC’s track.

Before Eastfield and Holyoke Malls, we shopped at Bay State West and Bradlees (that’s for your parents).

We ate at Friendly’s, Antonio’s and Hukelau.

And we played until we were exhausted at Interskate, Forest Park, the Big E, and Riverside (You call it 6 Flags).

I am I was shaped by this beautiful city, and it is good to be home.

President Cestero said a lot of nice things about me in the introduction but at my core I am a little Black boy from Springfield whose parents were both just 16 years old when I was born.

My family didn’t have a lot of money, but we had love in excess.

Like many of you, society would say I shouldn’t be here today.

My nana moved here from a tiny town in North Carolina at 15 years old to escape the Jim Crow South.

My mom loves to tell me how she took six PVTA busses a day to get me to daycare and herself to school and back again.

My dad didn’t have a crib at my grandparent’s house, so he’d fill a dresser drawer with blankets, so I had place to sleep.

I watched too many of my friends and family members become victims to the school to prison pipeline or the heartbreaking scourge of gun violence.

In my faith tradition, we often talk about the idea that God doesn’t call the qualified, he qualifies the called.

Y’all are looking good in your caps and gowns But my story may be yours too. People see you but they don’t see your struggles:

High school dropouts, learning disabilities, single parents, recovering addicts, refugees, hungry and even homeless.

But AIC wanted Because they knew what some saw as hurdles, you would use as springboards.

The reason I was taught that God qualifies the called and calls on those who have been broken is because he asks them to lead—not in spite of their weaknesses or struggles—but because of the experience, empathy, and character that grows from them.

Every one of your experiences has shaped you, molded you, refined you, and made you into a unique, beautiful creation brimming with possibility.

When I reflect on how it’s possible that a kid like me goes from a family that qualified for WIC and welfare to working at the White House, it’s first due to a big, beautiful family that always had my back. It’s due to faith, people praying for me when I didn’t know it and a whole lot of unmerited grace from an awesome God. But it’s also because I grew up in a community that believed in the power of service.

I first learned about service at my Boys and Girls My mom tells me she sent me there because she needed cheap day care. She got a whole lot more.

Volunteers and staff taught us about Black pride and social justice, and gave us the opportunity to serve and care for our community when we were still little kids.

We cleaned up run down lots, served at the homeless shelter, woke up on Saturday mornings to pass out food to seniors.

At the time I just knew it was something to do. But when I look back, I didn’t know through service they were teaching me that I had something to give, that no matter how little I had there’s was always something I could do to help others.

I didn’t know through service I was gaining confidence and leadership skills, developing a sense of empathy, and learning how to solve problems.

Service and those who were called to serve had an immense impact on me from a young They helped shape who I am today, and made me want to both follow in their footsteps and build a career dedicated to supporting individuals like them and communities like mine.

I think about Mama Morgan, who was the cook at the Boys and Girls She made homemade meals everyday for our daycare program and cooked for hundreds of families at our city-wide Thanksgiving dinners.

In between baking cookies and washing dishes together, she would tell stories about her childhood, the obstacles she overcame.

She gave me hugs and words of encouragement. And then she would yell at me for getting dough all over the cabinets and eating too many cookies and tell me to get out of her kitchen – until she welcomed me back the next day.

Momma Morgan devoted her life to service and just celebrated her 93rd birthday, and she’s here with us today.

These changemakers at the Family Center weren’t looking to get rich, to get famous or even to get They woke up every day, with a deep belief, like the AIC community, that our neighbors’ children are all of our children.

And with a hope that kids like us…would realize dreams bigger than they could ever imagine.

And, let’s be clear these volunteers not only made a difference for me but through their service they were served.

There is a little secret that every volunteer By helping others, you help yourself. And we have the data to prove it.

The surgeon general says volunteering is the prescription for the loneliness epidemic.

Volunteers have higher odds of finding a job.

They live longer and healthier lives and have lower rates of depression.

And if all of that doesn’t convince you, would it help to know it could improve your love life?

A recent survey found that more than 80 percent of those who have volunteered in the past year would be more willing to date a person they met volunteering than through an online dating site.

So, serve to make your community better, to increase your chances to find a good job, or at least to increase your chances to find a hot date.

Because I spend so much time with AmeriCorps members who happen to be about your age, people always ask me what I think about the rising generation.

They’re worried about your mental health, whether you know how to communicate with one another without snapchat or They’re worried that you might be apathetic or narcissistic. They’re worried about whether you’ll step up to serve or just serve yourselves.

But when I look around that’s not what I see.

When COVID-19 was ravaging our communities—both exposing and exacerbating long existing inequities—I saw a generation that created mutual aid networks, set up learning pods for the children of front-line workers and took care of elderly neighbors who couldn’t make it on their own.

After George Floyd was killed, I saw young people take to the streets to ignite a worldwide racial reckoning and demand that governments and corporations dismantle inequitable systems and enact policies that create equity where it was never intended.

I see a generation that was saddled with the effects of hundreds of years of neglect of our climate–but instead of ignoring it you’re tackling it head on through the climate justice and sustainable strategies.

History has shown us time and time again that it is the curious, undaunted, and undefeated who lead the charge for change.

In every decade, through our greatest challenges and triumphs, young people have led the way.

From Martin Luther King to Malala, they started the movements that lead to monumental shifts in civil rights, women's rights, environmental preservation, and economic justice.

Each of these movements have demonstrated the indomitable spirit of the young and the young at heart – the belief that we can change things, make them better, if we work together.

And your generation isn’t slacking. You’re showing us how it’s You’re not interested in performative acts of charity. You want transformative acts of equity. You don’t want to rebuild systems you want to reimagine them.

So, don’t let the critics come for you because you have more hair and fewer years than my friends and me. You’ve faced trial and challenge head on, and you not only survived, you thrived.

This city, our country is better because of all of you sitting in this And what’s so exciting is you’re just getting started.

Comedian Art Buchwald once gave this warning at a college “We’re leaving you a perfect world. Don’t screw it up.”

Now it’s just the “We’re leaving you a screwed-up world. Go fix it!”

You are graduating at a time unlike any other. The world you're stepping into is fraught with challenges, but it is also ripe with opportunities to leverage the rapid pace of change for the greater good.

As you take your next step, remember this: change is not just something that happens to you; it's something that happens because of you.

The resilience, adaptability, and passion you've shown in full force are proof that you are not merely inheritors of the future; you are its architects.

So, I urge you to embrace the responsibility that comes with your unique position in history.

Challenge the status Stand up for what you believe in. Get involved. Because democracy is not a spectator sport, and because too much is on the line.

The world has seen what you are capable of in moments of This is your world now. Step up and make it what you want it to be.

As you start your new chapter, I want to close by sharing wise words that I live by.

Jesus reminded us that “it is more blessed to give than receive,” centering the faith of millions in the sacredness of service.

A more modern disciple, RuPaul Charles, tells us, "You better work," a reminder that success comes from putting in the effort.

And her majesty, Queen B—Beyoncé inspires with, "I came to slay," urging us to approach our goals with confidence and fierceness.

So, class of 2024, remember: work, slay, and serve in all that you do.

Because we need you—all off you—your talents, your struggles, your passion and perseverance.

The world is waiting for you!

Thank you.