During the 103rd Convocation ceremony at the University of Windsor this past June, I was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree and was asked by President Wildeman to address the graduates with my “words of wisdom.”
The entire experience was absolutely thrilling, and the memory will be filed in my mind and heart, as one of the best days of my life. Following the ceremony, a special luncheon was held which included the attendance of University dignitaries along with seventeen of my most beloved friends.
But, is an honorary Doctorate Degree authentic and what does it actually represent? At the University of Windsor and within its community, I will officially be recognized as Dr. McCormick. However the designation of “Doctor” is not acknowledged on any other university campus or to the general public. It is considered an award rather than an earned privilege. Regardless, I am proud.
During the brilliant introduction given by Dr. Carol Davison, I became overwhelmed with emotion and completely forgot my practiced speech. As I approached the podium to share my message with the graduates, I realized that I would have to wing it. It was such a surreal experience that I needed to see the video in order to remember what I actually said.
I present the original speech which was written in advance and submitted to the University before the graduation:
Mr. Chancellor, Mr. President, Faculty, Graduates, Ladies and Gentleman:
Today we celebrate and recognize the achievements, not only of the students who are graduating today, but for the faculty members who made it their mission to produce Windsor scholars and to the family members that have helped move another generation toward excellence.
It is truly an honour to receive an Honorary Degree from the University of Windsor and I will proudly display it as a reminder that no matter how tough things seem or how far you have fallen, failure is not an option. I recall during an interview for the video to be shown at the Business Excellence Awards the year I became the recipient of the Athena Leadership Award, I shared how, after 20 years of owning a lucrative retail business, I was forced to close my doors due to the economic downturn following 9/11. The interviewer asked me, “didn’t you feel like a failure?” I hesitated for a few seconds and answered, “failure is not a word that’s part of my vocabulary.” Obviously, he was not aware of my background; the fact that he was talking to the victim of the worst and most highly publicized case of sexual assault in Detroit history.
As a young 19 year old woman stranded on a Detroit freeway with a flat tire, I was robbed at gunpoint by a gang of men, kidnapped, gang raped, beaten and shot at twice during twelve terror filled hours, and I actually lived to talk about it.
Because of the shame and self inflicted guilt I felt about what happened, my only goal was to be normal; to live a normal life. As a result of all the work accomplished over the years, the self education, the soul searching and the therapy, I am not normal; I am extraordinary.
One of the most difficult challenges that I faced after what happened to me was trying to understand the meaning behind the suffering; why would God allow something so horrible to happen to someone so innocent?
Everything has brought me to this particular moment; not angry or resentful but with the positive realization that with every experience, a door is opened to a life of possibilities; ready for the next adventure.
I wrote my first book called “The Queen’s Daughter” in order to inspire victims of sexual assault and to make them understand that they are not alone. Since the book launch in 2004, it has become a Canadian best seller, the award winning short film called “Determined” based on my book was produced, there is a feature film in the works and my story will be featured on the one hour, true crime drama “Surviving Evil” to be aired this fall. Last year the sequel to “The Queen’s Daughter” called “Thick Skin” which focuses on the aftermath of trauma was published, all with the purpose of helping victims move forward with their lives. These are all doors that have opened creating so many opportunities.
I live a life of true happiness and success and I would like to share with you on this special day, eight of the lessons I have learned thus far:
There is so much beauty in this world, but most of us don’t even see it. We are too wrapped up in our everyday problems to notice the simple things that bring the most joy in life. If you are feeling overwhelmed or frustrated, the answer is to step back and simplify. Get back to the basics and find the time to contemplate the miracles as they present themselves.
Success is never achieved overnight. Slow down. Anything attained quickly and with little effort can be lost just as easily. Slow and steady is the goal allowing for mistakes to me made and corrected. Every obstacle is a vehicle for learning and every failure is one step closer to success.
Acceptance is the key to moving forward. Accept that the past cannot be changed and accept that you cannot control circumstances or the actions of others.
Your formal education may be complete but self education is a lifelong venture. Continue to learn through experience, listening to others, reading and meditating. Knowledge is power and the more you learn, the better you will feel about yourself.
There is power in not caring about what others think of you. If you know yourself and have a solid value system, nobody can hurt you. Develop a thick skin and criticism will roll off your back. The solution to any problem is “work on yourself”. It is not about them; it is about you.
Don’t forget to dream and dream big! The universe is vast and it is infinite. There is no limit to the possibilities that exist and whatever you can imagine; is doable.
Everyone has the same purpose; to know that when they die, they would have left the world a better place than before they were born. We all want to know that we matter, and that we make a difference. I truly believe that the secret to happiness is selflessness. Whoever coined the phrase “He who dies with the most toys: wins” is a fool. Materialism is a false sense of security. If you can find a way to serve humanity, be passionate about your work and give generously to the less fortunate, all of your goals and dreams will come true.
Dig deep and search for the true meaning of success. I am a winner because I am alive and I get up every morning and work at making the world a better place. My favourite quote found in the preface of my book “The Queen’s Daughter” is: “I deserve the respect I earned, fighting for my life.”
And finally a quote from the famous Chuck Norris: “You become a winner by playing with honest effort, by putting into the contest everything you have. If you don’t get into the game, you can neither play nor win.”
Don’t ever give up! Don’t give up on yourself, don’t give up on others and don’t you dare give up on your dreams.