Ellis Alumna Delivers Wesleyan Commencement Address

Ellis alumna Elizabeth “Lizzie” SHACKNEY ’13 delivered the student commencement speech at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut on Sunday, May 28. Shackney graduated with a B.S. in Government, was Chair of the Wesleyan Student Life Committee, the 2017 Wesleyan Student Assembly Class Representative, and a member of Phi Beta Kappa.
During her four years at Wesleyan, Shackney was committed to student and community interests in environmental sustainability, physical and mental wellbeing, and campus social life. As Chair of the Wesleyan Student Life Committee, she led and managed the project planning team and sat on thirteen administrative committees. She also co-chaired the Undergraduate Residential Life Committee and the Student Affairs Advisory Committee.

Ellis caught up with Lizzie to discuss her speech, her future plans, and see what she has to say to the Ellis Class of 2017.

How were you selected as the student commencement speaker?
Wesleyan put out an open call for short essays for the student address so I sent one in. I ended up hearing I was selected three days before my thesis was due. I finished that first and then really worked on expanding my speech. I delivered the address to the entire graduating class of 762 people.

Why did you want to deliver the student address?
The time I spent at Wesleyan and the great relationships I made while there are really important to me. I cared a lot about the community and my classmates. Delivering the student commencement address seemed like a really fitting way to say goodbye and thank you. It also gave me the platform to be honest about my experience.

How did you feel when you were selected?
I was really excited! At Ellis, I was class president in eighth grade and delivered the student address at closing. And then my senior year, I was student council president and had the chance to speak at commencement. So being able to do it again for a third time was a really special experience. Giving the speech offered me a sense of closure and gave me the opportunity to express myself and my experiences in front of my classmates. I really couldn’t believe I had the chance to do it for the third time!

If you were speaking to the Ellis Class of 2017: is there any wisdom you’d want to pass on to them? What would you want them to know?
It’s important to be kind. It’s always important to be warm and enthusiastic, and do what you believe in. Express yourself even if it doesn’t seem like the cool thing to do. Even when people are being detached, remember that it’s cool to be warm. Also, believe that you can. There is no prescription for your life. You are capable of doing whatever it is that you want to do. Try everything—see how it feels and then adjust. Maybe go where no one else is going. Take the risk if it feels right.

What does your future hold?
I’m moving to Alabama for an AmeriCorps program. I’ll be working in Birmingham doing things like preschool vision trainings, tax preparation trainings for low-income families, running a Middle School debate league, and teaching AP course prep to high school students. After that, I want to be involved in the nonprofit world. I’m interested in anti-poverty in communities and outreach work.

To watch Lizzie’s speech and read the full text, click here.