During Mental Health Awareness Month, Poet Alicia Cook delivered a powerful and timely commencement address at Georgian Court University in Lakewood, New Jersey.
Cook, a 2008 alumna of Georgian Court and the University’s 2020 Distinguished Alumna of the Year, spoke at the first of the four in-person, commencements the Institution held. Cook is best known for her bestselling book of poetry, Stuff I’ve Been Feeling Lately and her 2019 viral poem “Sorry I Haven’t Texted You Back (I’ve Been Anxious and Depressed).” She dedicates much of her life to shedding light on how drug addiction impacts the mental health of families. Her 2020 collection of poems, also titled Sorry I Haven’t Texted You Back, continues to garner praise for its honest and unflinching look at mental health awareness.
Cook used her 8 minutes up on stage not to speak about her own accomplishments, but to address the mental health issues many young adults are facing, after spending 14+ months living through a global pandemic. She encouraged graduates to keep going, even when they don’t think they can.
“You don’t have to be at your best to achieve greatness, but you do have to keep going. So even on days when I don’t want to get out of bed, on days I feel like there is no point, I still get out of that bed, I still do the pointless things…Because trying is progress,” Cook shared. “The great secret of continuing on even when you don’t want to, or don’t think you can, is that you’ll always be grateful that you never gave up on yourself. You’ll always be grateful that you kept going. You’ll never regret it.”
Graduates were seen on the live stream paying close attention to Cook as she spoke, with very few students looking down at their phones. Some were seen nodding along to her points. Cook acknowledged the harsh uniqueness of the graduates’ experiences and expressed condolences for all they had to forego.
Cook said, “Every single person here today is living a life they never saw coming and has had to make sacrifices and postpone things and has had to grieve something or someone over the last year. If we all tried to count how many versions of ourselves were sacrificed in exchange for the people we are today, we would quickly lose count. What matters, is your resiliency bubbled to the surface and you are here today, accomplishing this monumental achievement.”
She neared the end of her remarks with a call to action.
“You, class of 2021, are the architects for a better world. We need you. You very well might have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rebuild this planet, starting at the studs. I know you’ll make it a more compassionate, respectful, empathetic, just, and kind place to live. Go out and do good.”
Cook’s full commencement address was released by Georgian Court University.