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Yesterday morning, I was an undergrad; today I am an alumnus of Northern Arizona University. The word itself — alumnus — comes from Latin, and respectable sources inform me that it derives from the verb alere, which literally means “to nourish.” I have been nourished, fed, and not just in my classes. I have been nourished my entire life.

Among my friends, I have a reputation for confidence that some say borders on arrogance. Sure, I’m proud of my accomplishments, but I’m under no illusions about how I got here. I have been fed intellectually, emotionally and spiritually by many people: Professors, friends and family all got me here.

No one is a one-man or one-woman show. We all require nourishment from others to succeed. From the moment we leave the womb, we’re dependent and though we learn to do many things on our own (I make a mean guacamole, for instance), we never grow out of our need for companionship and support.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that so many university commencements fall on the same weekend as Mother’s Day. I wouldn’t be alive without my mother’s generous donation of genes, food and love — let alone graduating from college. In fact, it occurs to me that I’m indebted to all the generations of my family who came before me — to the humble printers who founded a newspaper in a small town at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers in western Pennsylvania around the time of the Civil War and to the peasant farmers who braved the passage from Europe to build a better life for their children in a strange new land around the turn of the century. I would not exist without their sacrifices (and I wouldn’t be so dashingly handsome without their good looks).

I am the product of centuries of hardship and perseverance. I am the result of generations of fateful decisions and fantastically good luck. I am the sum of my genes and I owe my ancestors a debt of gratitude. I’ve been nourished by all of them. Before I try to take credit for all of my success, I think it’s important to acknowledge that.

— 30 —

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there, congrats to the grads and if you’re so inclined, I’d love to hear from you in the comments or on Twitter, where I go by the pseudo pseudonym @jonnyeberle.

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