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In Due Time

December 7, 2011

Renee Neely, who left Brown as a junior in 1975, returned this past weekend to speak at the mid-year completion ceremony. Her graduation, after thirty-six years away from school, was a “loud and proud” occasion, long steeped in anticipation. Her speech follows.


Good Afternoon:

Eleanor Roosevelt once said: 


We gain strength, and courage, and confidence

by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face… 

we must do that which we think we cannot. 


Courage, fear and possibility …

How do they affect my reflection on our time at Brown?  All significantly.  I hope that sharing my experiences will help you reflect on your own. 

  I am a survivor – no longer a victim – of domestic violence.    

Four years ago I stood in Stamford Connecticut Superior Court obtaining a Restraining Order against the person I’d lived with for 30 years.  All of my adult life.  I am a survivor I say this without arrogance.  Because it would be arrogant to say to you that I know exactly how I changed my life.  I don’t.

  Years of fear, homelessness, physical and emotional abuse took an unbelievable toll.   My feelings of having absolutely no future – living just to survive from day to day were stifling and sad.   In all of that time two people sincerely asked me “what was wrong?”  I’m glad they did !!!  I was  lucky. 

It was that simple interest and my faith in God that initiated my path to reclaiming myself.   

My immediate goal was to complete my undergraduate work here at Brown.  When I left in 1975 as a junior, I only needed 7 credits to graduate.  OR SO I THOUGHT !!  Apparently the curriculum was evolving too !!  It turned out to be 9 credits total !  Not very much !

   But then there was a greater fear. 

Coming back to Brown after 30 years was frightening ! 

Technology had changed.  The campus had changed.  I had changed !!

Would I fit in

   All of this was on my mind when I was re-admitted last year – all of this seemed really hard !

I want to say to you today


 Everyone has faced obstacles of every kind to be here today.  I don’t imagine that mine are unique. 

Each of us will continue to have hurdles to overcome.  Graduate school, employment – and definitely student loans !!!  

But I propose on this day – we stop and say (loud and proud)  “I did it !!!”   BECAUSE WE DID !!!  How incredibly sweet !!!  

  And with that confidence we will continue on to our next challenge.

Students and teachers have asked me what Brown was like “back then.”  You know – the 70s ! 

   Well, there was no internet, we typed papers on something called a “Selectric” typewriter,  managed without “Google Scholar”,  stood in line to register for classes,  and yes  –  the “Blue Room” was really blue and kind of creepy !

The campus has changed physically,  but not too much.  Technology has changed quite a lot.  But what has not changed at all  is the spirit of possibility,

the freedom of thought;the amazing energy in all spheres of academic life here. 

This is a special place.

 We have received the most liberal of educations, boundless opportunities for creativity and the expectation of beauty – all on a platform of infinite possibility.  With all of this comes responsibility.  How do we define what that will be?  That is our individual task. 

I am trying to figure that out even as we speak !

I gladly accept the ever evolving challenges in my life.  I may not like all of them, and some days I just want to stay in bed or play with my cats Ping and Calloway !  (I had to mention them !!! )  But even they recognize we must eventually go to Shop and Shop for food !!

I am happy to have come back to Brown and re-charged my spirit.

I am happier to share my experiences with all of you.

 As long as I have breath  –  I plan to send that energy back into the universe !


 I’d like to share with you (Psalms 90:17):


 “And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us;

 and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea,

the work of our hands establish thou it…” 




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