September 08, 2016

Student senate president challenges St. Kate's community to create ripples of change

Shannon McKeever's impassioned speech during Opening Celebration met with a standing ovation. Photo by Rebecca Zenefski '10 / By Rebecca Studios

The following speech was delivered by Student Senate President Shannon McKeever '17 during St. Catherine University's Opening Celebration on Wednesday, September 8. An international relations major, McKeever plans to work for two years post-graduation before attending law school. She aims to focus her career on advocating for human rights.

Welcome to the beginning of the 2016-2017 academic year at St. Catherine University! I am Shannon McKeever and I am the President of the Student Senate. I am so excited to see our community come together to celebrate what will be another great year. Just last night, we welcomed our newest students, our class of 2020. I have spent the last 3 days with them as an Orientation Leader and I have experienced their energy, passion, and commitment. I cannot wait to see what they will accomplish as Katies.

Now, what I would like to talk to you about today is a bit different than what Senate Presidents usually speak about. But, I feel that this is too important and too prevalent for me to not address.

From the global level to our local neighborhoods, we have experienced trauma, anger, and pain this summer, from Orlando, to Baghdad, Syria, Nice, Istanbul, Medina, Stanford, North Dakota, St. Paul, and many other places. We have all watched in horror as an attacker stole people’s lives in the same moment as stealing so many others’ sense of safety. And the even more horrifying part is that what I just described can apply to too many situations. Sometimes, it seems like the world has gone crazy, that what you see and hear can’t be real. Through our mourning and our grieving, it is easy to question ‘why do I even bother to try to make change? What can I do against all this?’ But we must remember, we have been brought together for a reason. We are at St. Kate’s for a reason. Individually, we might not believe we have a lot of power, but together we can do incredible things.

We make a point at St. Kate’s to have tough discussions starting in TRW about racism, white privilege, sexism, income inequality, immigration, the environment, disabilities, mental health, homophobia, transphobia and Islamophobia. But we need to make it an even bigger priority to go where it may not be the most comfortable but it is the most needed. We can and should talk about Philando Castile, Dylan Yang, the Orlando shootings at an LGBT nightclub on Latino night, the Stanford rape case, Syria, the US-Mexico border, the Dakota Access Pipeline, and ISIS and the price Muslims around the world are paying for a small group of extremists. And then we can and should work together to take an active role in righting those wrongs.

St. Kate’s is a place where the student body president can stand on this stage and say Black Lives Matter and openly recognize the privilege that I have because of my skin color and my position as President.

But we are not perfect. We do not know all the answers. We do not get everything right. There is always more to learn, more room to grow. But what we can do is come together and work our hardest to make St. Kate’s the best we can because we want to make a difference. St. Kate’s doesn’t teach us to sit quietly and keep our thoughts to ourselves. We are taught to lead and influence, we are taught to be strong advocates for ourselves and others. And if anyone ever questions where Katies get our fire from, just look to the Sisters of St. Joseph and their endless dedication to doing what is right.

Mother Teresa said “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”

We can challenge ourselves and others to work together to create and sustain a community at St. Kate’s that is supportive, just, inclusive, and strives for dignity for all. It starts in classrooms, in clubs, in the residence halls with conversations about what is right and it will spread across both campuses to every department and every office so that we hold our community to a higher standard. We can make this happen at St. Kate’s. We are 5,000 Katies strong. We can do this. And then our community can cast a stone across the waters of the world and create many ripples of change. Our reach of leadership and influence is limitless.
When I spoke to the class of 2020 at the Orientation Opening Ceremony on Sunday, I asked them to think about this question: who do you want to be when you graduate? Whether it’s 9 months or 4 years from now, you can achieve that dream.

Thank you, I wish you all the best of luck in this year and I look forward to seeing what we can accomplish together.