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Class of 2021

Zacharias Clay II

Zacharias Clay II

Student Speaker
NVU Online

To say it was a tough and long road to get here is an understatement. We all have had struggles to overcome, some more than others. The important thing to remember is that all of you, and myself, Northern Vermont University Class of 2021, we made it. We are here now, and we should all be proud of ourselves. However, even though our graduation is what we should think about when we look back on our educational journey, we should not forget what it took to get us here. Here is my story which brought me to this special day.

To be honest, as I was growing up, I never thought I would have lived this long let alone graduate college. My father, who I wish could be here to see this, passed away when I was 4 and a half years old. When I was 9, I lost my best friend to violence. After my father passed away, I grew up in house of violence, poverty, different kinds of abuse, and severe neglect at times. When I was 15, my best friend at the time, his parents took me in because I needed a place to stay. We lost both parents to domestic violence. I spent parts of my teenage years in facilities due to depression issues. When I was a freshman in high school, I was expelled from school and was forced to go to an alternative school for other expelled students. The first week I was at that school, something happen that I will never forget. Field trips are supposed to be fun and educational for students. Well, not this one. The school took us on a field trip to the county prison. They told us that “most of us will end up here and that is why we are going”. I will never forget that! I lost a close friend in 2009. We had a fallen out for a few years and then I got the call he had passed away. In 2019, I lost my big brother to a drug overdose. We also had a fallen out for a long time. He reached out over the years to squash our beef, but I was too stubborn to look past it. I miss and love you, Michael Clay. If you have a disagreement with someone you love and have not spoken to them in a long time, just forget about the issue and reach out…I wish I did…and now I will never see them again. I wish they were here to enjoy this special occasion with me.

I met my future wife when I was 17. I was living on and off the streets when I met her. We had a child at a young age. Meeting her changed my life. Twenty-three years later, we have a beautiful home, we have 5 children, been married for 15 years, and life could never be better. My wife is such a beautiful, loving, caring, and such a strong woman. She helped me get to this point. I would like to take a second to thank her. Thank you Bj for being by my side. I love you!

You might be sitting there thinking to yourself…why is this guy telling us all of this. Well, there is a simple response to that question. When I was given the honor of speaking here today, I asked “what should I talk about?” I was told my journey that brought me to this point. So, I felt it was necessary to mention about my upbringing because in a sense, it was part of the road that brought me to this point.

My first taste of college was at CCV in Bennington. I graduated with honors in 2018. In my two years there, I had such a wonderful experience. My academic advisor was Jeannie Jenkins. She has since retired but she was such a wonderful help with my transition into higher learning. I came to her so much in the beginning because I was so nervous about being in college. She always had an open door and always willing to listen. Thank you, Ms. Jenkins. One of my professors, a Ms. Donna Baker, who I believed has also since retired, was my favorite professor by far. She was my public speaking professor. The first day of her class I walked in and seen the expression she had on her face. I thought to myself “boy this is going to be a long semester.” By the end of the semester, she has been my favorite teacher I have ever had in my life. Thank you for being the educator that you are Ms. Baker. CCV Bennington campus will not be the same without these two wonderful ladies…enjoy retirement! During my time here at NVU, the professor that made the biggest impact on me was a Ms. Theresa Young. She was my professor for Financial and Managerial Accounting. She was always willing to listen and help in anyway to try and understand the material, which at times was like another language. Thank you, Ms. Strong, for making accounting understandable and enjoyable…if that is possible.

In closing, I would like to say I love you dad and I hope you see this accomplishment. I told all of you this, my journey to this day, my fellow classmates of Northern Vermont University Class of 2021, in hopes that if any of you had tremendous struggles and at times felt like quitting our giving up on life…well you are not alone. You just need to keep your head up, take the punches as they come, and persevere. I made it through a violent childhood, I made it through violent teenage years, and expelled from school and somehow kept my head up. I met the woman of my dreams and have a beautiful family. I graduated from CCV with honors in 2018. 2019, I was inducted into the National Society of Leadership and Success. Today, I graduate from NVU with honors and have the honor of speaking to the Class of 2021. In January of this year, I started working on my MBA at the University of Maine. No matter what your journey was to get here…we are here and still standing! Let us see what the rest of life brings us! Congratulations to the Northern Vermont University Class of 2021!

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