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The Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University

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May 21, 2017

MBA Commencement Speaker: Steven Siegel, MPP/MBA’17

Steven Siegel, MPP/MBA’17, MBA commencement speaker

Yesterday, I celebrated three years clean and sober. I also started at Heller three years ago. I moved to Waltham with 87 days sober. I still remember. I had to learn everything. I had to change my life. I was a blank slate learning how to interact with the world outside. I say this not to pat myself on the back, but to remind myself of the kind of person I was. I was a bad person. I was an abuser, a liar, and a cheat. I burned every bridge, and hurt those closest to me. My life was spiraling downward fast, and I wasn’t suicidal, but I wanted to die. And 87 days after I realized I needed to make a change, I arrived at Heller.

I learned how to be a person at Heller. And I learned how from the people here. I learned values. I learned how to take action. I learned that words are not enough. That if you truly want a socially just society, you will fight like hell to have it. And I carried these messages in my recovery. I learned that if I truly wanted recovery, I’d have to fight like hell to have it.

And today I am god damn fighting. I am fighting for my recovery, and I am fighting for a socially just society. And you know what keeps me fighting? What keeps me going to trainings, and actions, and meetings, and events? It’s y’all not taking any of my crap. It’s seeing you all put in the work. Going out of state to a protest and seeing one of my classmates leading the action keeps me going. Seeing fellow white classmates consistently putting in the extra effort going to trainings on how to be good accomplices keeps me going. Reading Facebook posts of alums who successfully fought to keep their neighbors from getting evicted in a rapidly gentrified area keeps me going. I need to keep up with you all, I don’t have time for relapse. You all keep me going. You keep me strong. You all put in the work and I do not want to be the one not picking up my own slack. You all taught me morals, you all taught me hustle.

I always had a vision of the person I wanted to be. And I couldn’t reach it. But after getting sober, I’ve become that person. You all made me that person. Today, I run a small nonprofit broadening cultural horizons with video games. I’m getting paid to do it! Today, I am achieving exactly what I said I wanted to in my application essay. It’s true; you can read it. Today, I am a much better person because of all of you. You put in the work, and you show me how I should be. You show me how to be a good accomplice. How to disrupt a system. How to perform a sit-in in an administrative building. How to bring about real change, both in myself and in my community.

I’d like to end with an explanation of my conception of a higher power. As an agnostic, I couldn’t look to God, and I was told I needed to trust a higher power to stay sober, so I came up with my own conception. It has changed through the years, but today, it’s strings. They only appear when I close my eyes. But it’s strings. A string of energy to each person who supports me in this world. Before, I was a sick person who surrounded myself with sick people so I wouldn’t feel so sick. And when I ghosted all of them, not a single one reached out. They didn’t care about me. Today, I have people who truly care about me. Today, when I close my eyes and see those strings of energy, I know they stretch to each one of you and all across the world. I know it stretches to Buffalo, N.Y., to Washington, D.C., to Seattle, Wash., to Atlanta, Ga., to El Salvador, to Alexandria, Egypt, to Son Doong, the world’s largest cave, located in Vietnam…to all over and right back here to Boston. Because even though we are leaving this place, we still have the caring, the friendship, the energy, and the love of each other connecting us all across the world.

I would like us all to take one moment. Just one moment to close our eyes in silence and picture that string coming out of our own chest and spreading outward to all those who care for us both here and outside the room.

Whenever you close your eyes, those strings and those people will be there to support you. No matter where you are. The caring and love of the people in this room will be there for you. Thank you all for your support in my life. Thank you for giving me a life worth living. Thank you for listening. I love you all.

Knowledge Advancing Social Justice

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