Graduates have it really rough this year — the year the pandemic changed all our lives. Most schools across the U.S. (and even the world) canceled live in-person graduation ceremonies, which has led to some pretty creative alternatives!

A quick drive around Anytown USA and you’re likely to see graduate pictures and messages from family and friends on yard signs, digital billboards, and roadside banners. We’re also hearing about some conflicts between what graduates would like to happen, and what we need to all do to stay safe.

To help honor all Fragile X self-advocates and siblings who are being promoted/graduating in 2020, we held a virtual graduation ceremony. Parents were able to submit the names, photos, and relevant information for any child to be recognized, though the ceremony was for everyone. Gregg Harper, a Fragile X dad and former U.S. Representative for Mississippi’s 3rd congressional district (2009–2019), gave the commencement address.

Watch the whole ceremony below. It was shared on Facebook and YouTube at 2 PM ET on Saturday, June 6, 2020.

Congratulations everyone!

Transcript of Gregg Harper’s Commencement Address

Congratulations both to you, the graduates, and your parents. Can you believe that it’s finally over, and it’s time for you to take that next big step. And it is indeed such an honor for me to be here with you. Now, I don’t like to brag about my academic accomplishments. But I did graduate in the top 100% of my class.

Moms and dads, how proud you must be of your children. And just behind this delight is a whole lot of worry. I know you’re nervous about what comes next. I assure you that your children will always appreciate the sacrifices you have made for them, not just at this moment, but really for the rest of their lives.

To the graduates, let me say that there are several things that I hope you realize. First, how fortunate you are to have such a strong group of family and friends that support you and love you and how important it is to maintain those relationships and to make new friendships. So many things have changed since your parents graduated. Who would have ever envisioned self-driving cars being on the on the horizon?

And I want you to remember this, the joy is in the journey. Don’t say I’ll be happy when or if I have this or that. The apostle Paul said that I have learned the secret of being content, whatever the situation, whether in plenty or in want.

You know, my late father was a petroleum engineer. And from kindergarten to the 12th grade, I was in 10 different schools and lived in five different states. And, as many of you know, I’m the proud father of a child with special needs. My son Livingston has Fragile X syndrome. When we found out about Livingston’s condition when he was only a few years old, we knew we were facing a challenging storm. But I decided with the prayers and support of my wife, Sydney, to set roots. I planned it myself and took responsibility for the peace of the world I had been giving, which was simply to be the most loving and supportive father I could be for Livingston.

Livingston surprised us all. He wanted to go to college when he got out of high school and pursue some higher education opportunities. He went to a local community college, taking two courses a semester for a couple of years and then Mississippi State University opened up a program for those with intellectual disabilities, called the Access Program. And Livingston was one of the first two students to graduate from that. What an incredible opportunity that was for him.

You know, additionally, I launched an internship program for intellectually disabled students on Capitol Hill, a program that provides students with exciting educational and enrichment opportunities typically given to other congressional interns. I believe there must be programs like this for students to gain on-the-job experience. We kicked off this program in 2010. And it is now ongoing and more than 250 House and Senate offices have participated. And I wish you could witness the independence these students gain. They may be a little shy at first. But when they leave, they know their way around the Capitol and leave a legacy in the offices they help. You know, for many of you, if you’ve had your first job or you’re going to start a first job, it may not be very glamorous, you may have to work in a job that perhaps you feel doesn’t pay enough. But I encourage you to remember that all of that work is good. And I encourage you to be thankful for the ability to work, whatever and whenever that may be.

And we’re all so proud of you. Just remember this greatness does not just happen, even though you may face challenges and difficulties, don’t ever give up. You know, our Declaration of Independence says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” These are God-given rights and they promise opportunity. And with your opportunity comes responsibility. Don’t be afraid to take some risk and use the common sense that God has given you.

And you want America to be better than our country will be, just like you, as good as you want to be. You will play a part in what we all become. And remember to that many sacrifices were made in order for us to live the lives that we enjoy.

My wife Sidney and I were at the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach in Normandy on Memorial Day in 2018. And I had the privilege of placing a wreath on behalf of the United States House of Representatives. You know, buried there a 9,387 brave Americans killed on D-Day or during the operations that followed. 33 pairs of brothers are buried side-by-side. The Nilund brothers are buried there and are the ones that inspired the movie Saving Private Ryan. There’s one father and son. And then there are 307 graves that are unknown American soldiers and those markers simply say, Here rest, in Honored Glory, a comrade in arms, known but to God. The three Medal of Honor recipients including Teddy Roosevelt Jr, and his brother buried next to them. As Sydney and I stood there among those who had died to preserve our freedom, we were both overcome by their sadness sacrificed for all of us. And those are the sacrifices that have put us where we are today.

But as you reflect back on your time in school, and you have to ask, Where did the time go? And where do you go from here? Yogi Berra, the great New York Yankees catcher, great baseball player said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might wind up someplace else.” So it’s important to try to plan and remember to dream big. Don’t be afraid to try, never worry about what you cannot do, but rather focus on your gifts, your strengths that God has given you. Anybody can settle for mediocrity. That’s easy. You, however, are destined for greatness. Be strong and courageous. God has great things planned for you. Thank you. I just love looking at those pictures and seeing the excitement that each of you have. And this is such a great milestone that you’ve accomplished. So again, congratulations. And we can’t wait to see what the future holds for you.