On August 5, 2019, which seems like forever ago at this point in time, (given the turbulence 2020 brought us already before this very moment), the literary world and the world at large, lost an icon: Beloved author, Toni Morrison. Toni Morrison earned her B.A. at Howard University and her M.A. at Cornell University. She taught at multiple universities before finally retiring from Princeton. Just like any other author, she was full of quotes. One quote that I found while perusing the internet, struck a chord of truth within me: “I tell my students, ‘When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.’”
I began to reflect on this quote and my experience at RWU, which all of you might be doing right this very second — on the day of our graduation. The thing about English Literature, that I have come to know when fulfilling my requirements for my Creative Writing degree, is that all characters struggle with an internal and/or external conflict. Most of the time, we focus on the external conflict surrounding the character, but no one pays attention to how and what the character is feeling – what is going on in their heads. That is, until we analyze or “pick apart,” as some of us said in Dr. Scheinberg’s “The Other Victorians” class. Why do authors even write these stories? The simple answer that I can give you, is to not only educate, but to inspire, or in Toni Morrison’s words, empower. As I listened to a Katy Bellotte podcast, I remembered that I randomly brought up my blog to a friend of mine in my art history class. One thing she asked me is if I ever get “Imposter Syndrome,” to which I said, “yes and no,” and went on to say that I used to want to be an influencer and promote all of these brands that I knew would never give me the time of day. But really, in a world where the universe relies on technology and overly edited photographs, I realized I want to influence people to be the best version of themselves. I want to be real, and not only say, “my name is April Federico, and I am a writer.”
I’m convinced that we all knew what we wanted to be when we grew up when we were at least eight years old, if not infants. For me, this was shown in a photograph of myself as a baby “reading” a plush book about farm animals, which I proudly showed to Mrs. Green’s Kindergarten class in a “Me Magazine” that we all got to fill out and show our peers when we were each the “special person” of the week. Let’s just say the “Me Magazine” is how I began to love the art of producing magazines. When I was finally able to actually read, I picked up a copy of J-14 magazine. That copy of J-14 turned into a heaping pile sitting on a bookshelf in my room, comprised of M, Popstar!, Tiger Beat, and BOP. I would only go grocery shopping with my mom simply to pick up a magazine. And on the topic of being “real,” my mom (whom most of you may know as adjunct professor Melissa Macaulay Federico of marketing) called me out one time for reading the embarrassing stories sections. As much as I loved learning facts about the Sprouse twins, Jesse McCartney, Hilary Duff, Avril Lavigne, amongst so many others, it was the humiliating, yet raw and earthly stories from people. Why do you think that we love to read the captions of Humans of New York? Put simply, they’re real. And because I loved to read, not just magazines I promise, I learned that I loved to write my own stories, which prompted my second-grade teacher to say when giving an example of a spelling word, “April loves to write.” It did take some trial and error in my college career to figure that out for myself, but it’s been true all along.
The funny thing about all that is that some of us, if not all of us, may have been struggling, too – to find ourselves and our true life’s purposes. On this day, when we glance down at our degrees (who knows if we’re doing that or not, today), no matter if it’s a BS, BA, or BFA, remember not so much about the numerous cups of Caramel Macchiatos, Nitro Cold Brews, or Venti Iced White Mocha Lattes purchased at Starbucks, or the tears, sweat, (and hopefully not blood) that have been shed trying to complete an essay or project, but realize that you did, in fact, find your purpose at RWU. For some of you, it may have been to give your power to those who may feel powerless or estranged from society, thus you took a trip with Habitat for Humanity, joined the Women’s Collective, or even took an international trip with FIMRC. For some of you, it may have been the urging need for something to be done for the student body, thus you joined Student Senate or Inter-Class Council. For some of you, it may have been to share your extensive knowledge of math, science, foreign languages, and/or the art of writing with students needing that extra reassurance in the tutoring center. For some of you, it may have been the ability to carry your athletic team across that finish line or shoot that winning shot in basketball. No matter where you take your “superpowers,” I encourage you to keep Toni Morrison’s words not only in your minds but also in your hearts. Also, no matter where you go, just do the right thing.
Thank you, Roger Williams University, for creating a nest that we, hawks, will all miss dearly. And thank you for everything. Congratulations and good luck to the Roger Williams University and University College Class of 2020. I’ll see you all a year from now in 2021 when we WILL have our chance to walk across the stage.