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Drew Alum to Class of 2018: Learn Through Experiences

Rodin sleuth Mallory Mortillaro C’13 G’15 delivers a message of empowerment.

May 2018 – Mallory Mortillaro, the Drew University alumna who discovered a Rodin sculpture inside Madison Borough Hall, gave the alum achievement address at Commencement 2018, marking the end of Drew’s year-long sesquicentennial celebration.

Mortillaro C’13 G’15 delivered a message of empowerment, encouraging graduates to rise above self-doubt, learn through experiences and discover what sets them apart from others. Here’s her full speech.

Good morning. Thank you, Dr. Baenninger, for such a wonderful introduction. I am so incredibly honored to be here as Drew’s sesquicentennial speaker. Congratulations, Class of 2018. Enjoy this moment, enjoy this day. Think about how lucky you are to have your loved ones here to support you and to celebrate you.

Today, at Drew’s 150th commencement ceremony, I am thrilled to honor the graduating class, as well as the century and a half of remarkable alumni.

Class of 2018: You may believe that you are going to wake up tomorrow and feel different because you have graduated college. I am here to tell you that tomorrow you will be the same.

I’m not saying this to belittle you, rumple your dreams or make you feel as if the last few years haven’t mattered greatly. I am telling you this because it’s true. Tomorrow, you will be the same. Today marks an incredible accomplishment: years of study and hard work. However, as I’ve grown up, I’ve realized that there are less before and after moments in life than one would believe. As a kid, I always thought that there must be some point you get to when everything just clicks—some magical point when you know what to say in all situations, you’re not afraid of anything and when you can always make your hair look just right. But that’s not how it is; that’s not true. Such a moment never comes.

Finding this out shouldn’t make you feel disheartened; it should make you feel empowered. You realize that you are never going to have it all together, but that’s okay because you don’t need that to be great. Inside of you, right now, you have everything that you need to be everything that you want to be. The people who you look at and believe that they have it all together—they’re no different than you. So, why can’t that be you?

When I was hired by the Hartley Dodge Foundation at 22 years old and faced with the challenge of researching and authenticating a lost work of art by Auguste Rodin, I did not know where to begin. There is no how-to book for navigating such a situation. As it turns out, there is no how-to book for handling most of life’s hardest situations. However, as I fumbled through the process, I gained experience and confidence, not only in the art world, but in the world. If I had sat back and waited for the moment I felt ready enough or qualified enough to handle such a situation, there would still be a large unidentified marble bust sitting in Madison’s town hall and nobody would have invited me to speak here today. You will probably never feel entirely ready. It is likely you will never feel completely grown up. But you can’t underestimate yourself—you can’t wait, you just have to go.

Learning through experiences is one of the most important, meaningful and effective ways to grow as an individual. Even though today’s ceremony may signify the end—for some—of your formal schooling, I truly hope that Drew has taught you that you still have much more to gain from the experiences awaiting you in the world. Today you join the immensely talented, successful and important group of Drew alumni: people who are continuing to better themselves and the world around them.

Drew is a community that fosters inquiry and a thirst for knowledge. Having spent such formative years in this sort of environment, all Drew alumni are bestowed with this gift and you will take it with you wherever you go. Keep asking questions, keep learning through experiences, keep doing great things. I am incredibly proud of the work I have done with the Hartley Dodge Foundation and what I have given to the art world. However, an accomplishment does not have to get you written about in The New York Times to be worthwhile. Some of my work which has been the most rewarding—and the most influenced by Drew—has been in my own classroom.

As a teacher, I feel that I can share, and give back, so much of what I learned at Drew. I don’t just mean what I learned in English seminars as an undergrad or how to be a teacher through the MAT program. I’m talking about something else. Drew pushes everyone to work harder, think deeper, be kinder and to take an active role in making our world the type of world you want to live in. Every day in my classroom I work to instill these beliefs in my students, hoping that these ideas will reverberate into the rest of the world and into the future. As a student in the MAT program, I was constantly reminded that as educators we are responsible for teaching the “whole child,” and I can truly say that Drew University practices what they preach.

Five years ago, I was sitting where you are, graduating from the College of Liberal Arts, frankly, rather unsure exactly what I was going to do. I didn’t decide to pursue teaching until shortly after completing my undergrad and when I graduated from the MAT program at Caspersen, I never thought I’d be invited back here three years later to address the graduating class. If someone could time travel back to the 2013 Mallory and tell her she’d be up here as a commencement speaker today, she probably would have said, why me? Some of you today may also be questioning what is special about you, what it is that sets you apart, what about you is worth broadcasting to the world. Whatever it is, it’s already in you. You just have to chase it and find it and catch it and cultivate it. It is you.

Be humble and work hard. Don’t think you’re too good for anything. For anyone who thinks that my road has been all glamorous, you should also know that during my time at Drew, besides working for the Hartley Dodge Foundation, I also worked as a babysitter, personal assistant, home improvement blog manager and I even played Cinderella for children’s birthday parties. Believe it or not, each of these unique experiences taught me something and helped shape me into the person I am today.

I hope that each and every one of you finds your own lost Rodin. I hope it consumes you and motivates you, frustrates you and tests you. I hope it inspires you, changes you and most importantly, lets the greatness inside of you shine—the greatness that has always been there.

To the Class of 2018—go do something amazing.