Jay Alford

Dear Spring class of 2020,

I am sure this semester has taken an absolute turn from what any of us has expected. I am sure that many of us had plans to come back after spring break, ace our finals, say our goodbyes to friends and colleagues, receive recommendation letters from professors, secure that post grad job position, walk across that stage and celebrate one of the largest accomplishments of our lives, however, the coronavirus pandemic had other plans for us. After the Covid-19 hit, life as we knew it was placed on standby and just like that, our worlds have been turned upside down.

When it comes to adversity, I know that all too well. Since enrolling in college in 2014, my collegiate journey has been nothing short of rough. Attending an HBCU had always been my dream, and Lincoln University was the closest one to home. I had no plans of transferring to any other university, but as life would have it, transferring to Missouri Western in 2015 was inevitable.

Financial aid issues, getting used to a difference in workload and connecting with students at my new university were all the things I struggled with during my first year at Western but after joining the Mystics Dance Team and getting better acquainted with other students, life at MoWest got easier. Though life at school was finally going in the right direction, it wasn’t long before things started to get rough again.

When Colin Kaepernick chose to kneel during the national anthem I also felt compelled to follow in his footsteps and bring awareness to police brutality. After choosing to kneel at a home football game during the national anthem, things would become harder for me on campus.

College campuses are usually liberal in the sense that protesting is respected, in this case things were harder due to people not understanding or agreeing with the nature of the protest. Though I was the captain and choreographer of the Mystics Dance Team at the time I was sat down and not allowed to perform at that home game. The aftermath of the protest lingered into the rest of the season with bystanders yelling and cursing at me to stand up; spitting and threatening me for  disrespecting the flag and our nation's troops.

With my coach at the time leaving along with half of the team — who did not agree with my choices — choosing to leave as well, it caused me to question my beliefs. After being reassured by the president of the university at the time that the views of the university were not aligned with the coach nor the bystanders who disrespected me, it made me feel secure in my beliefs and I chose to leave the team and start my own organization. 

I developed the Missouri Western Dance Company at a time where I felt that our school needed to see unity in diversity the most and with my organization thriving to have over 50 members on the team in under three years it has truly shown me how perseverance can truly change people’s lives for the better. Had I chosen to give up when times were tough, each dancer who I had come into contact with would not have had a chance to experience a love for not only dance but a love for your neighbor that really needs to be shared in our world’s current climate. 

From running an organization, changing my major over six times, failed classes, missed assignments, financial aid issues, having a parent with mental health challenges, break ups, losses of loved ones, not knowing where my next meal will come from, not knowing where I will lay my head at night, to questioning my own beliefs, morals and values, my college journey has truly been one wild ride; but with the help of God, family, friends, professors, faculty and staff, I made it! We made it! I know each graduate has a story and has faced some sort of challenge to make it to where they are today and though we may not be graduating the traditional way, for many of us this has not been a traditional journey. 

In such a divisive time in our world, it’s imperative that we lean on each other and we owe it to the next generation to unify and conquer whatever may come our way. So to each and every graduate who was supposed to walk across that stage on May 2, 2020, despite all odds you made it and you deserve to be celebrated! Though this time has become extremely uncertain, one thing I am absolutely sure about is that our class is tenacious, resilient and enterprising and our will to adapt and face adversity head on is what helped us through this journey, and it’s what will help us prevail in the new world. So in the sincerest way, keep calm and go Griffs, because together, we succeed. 

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