From One Rose to Another

At Wily’s 2023 graduation ceremony, Asjah Monroe (she/her), Founder of Small House, Inc. spoke to the graduating class. Below are her remarks. 

Hello all. It probably goes without saying that I’m truly happy to be here with you tonight to help congratulate all the Wily graduates. I’ve only been able to live vicariously through Judi these last few years, who always has wonderful things to say. Actually, it was over a shared love for the work that she and I first connected.

Though we’ve just met, you and I are alike in a very fundamental way. And I’ll share what that is in a moment. But first, let me tell you a little bit about my beginnings.

On my high school graduation day, just before my 18th birthday, I was making plans to attend college as a first generation college student. Only I couldn’t have known that in just a few short months, right in the beginning of my freshman year of college, I would be forced by circumstance to leave my home and look for somewhere else to live.

If we were sitting down to coffee and I had an endless amount of time with you, I’d probably share with you all about how there was a family history of substance abuse and dysfunction that precipitated this event. I’d likely go into great detail about being born to a young mother who had no real prospects at the time. As it turns out, I had all the statistical indicators of someone who would supposedly have bad outcomes. According to the CDC children of teenage mothers are more likely to have lower school achievement and to drop out of high school, have more health problems, be incarcerated at some time during adolescence, give birth as a teenager, and face unemployment as a young adult.¹

And yet here I am. As many would say, ‘thriving’. None of those things happened for me.

I would go on to do some really wonderful things, including earning an advanced degree, traveling internationally to teach, and now founding an organization.

But what I really want to highlight is the fact that it took me a lot of time to discover, through the years, how coming from context really shaped me as a person in a variety of ways. This was a whole other ‘course of study’. That was a degree that I earned from the school of life.

I would say that perhaps even though my story may include hard times, loss, difficult things, that those things really only amount to a footnote. No, I would say mine is ultimately a story about resilience. And this is precisely what I believe you and I have in common. Resilience.

Here’s what the therapist and healer Resmaa Menakem has to say about it:

“Resilience is built into the cells of our bodies. Like trauma, resilience can ripple outward, changing the lives of people, families, neighborhoods, and communities in positive ways [and] can be passed down from generation to generation.² 

You and I, we’re all like roses that were able to grow out of concrete. How exactly does a rose grow out of concrete you might be wondering? 

Let me share a few words with you that some of you may already be familiar with that were penned by the late, great Tupac: A Rose Growing Out of Concrete. He says this:

“You try to plant something in the concrete and If it grows, and the rose petal has all kinds of scratches and marks, you not gon’ say, ‘Damn, look at all the scratches and marks on the rose that grew from concrete!’ You see, you wouldn’t ask the rose that grew from concrete why it had damaged petals. On the contrary we would all admire its tenacity. We would love its will to reach the sun. Well, we are the roses and our circumstances are the concrete. Don’t ask me why. Ask me how.”³

And so from one rose to another, I’d love to share a few words of encouragement and some things I’ve discovered along the way. 

Everyone has the unique opportunity to create a legacy and to break a cycle–to create a sense of continuity where there wasn’t one before. Whether or not they choose to is a different story but everyone does have it. And this is hard work. But I believe you’ve already started this work, as evidenced by the fact that we’re all here in this room gathered together to celebrate you as you prepare to walk across the stage. Keep going. Keep walking. 

And on this journey, I want to tell you that things will get hard sometimes. Because life has a way of being hard in ways that you couldn’t have anticipated. Keep going. Because it also surprises you with beauty that you couldn’t have anticipated. 

The road to wisdom is known to be painful sometimes. Keep going. And the reason you should keep going is this: because we need you. The world needs you as your highest and best self and if you weren’t here, there would be something tremendous missing because we only have one of you. 

Please be gentle with yourself. Continue to invest in yourself, continue to take care of yourselves. Things take time. Give yourself time and space to learn and discover.

Interestingly, the world’s most expensive rose variety (the Juliet rose) took 15 years to breed and cost $5 million to breed. Ultimately it sold for $15.8 million in 2006.⁴ Which by most standards is impressive. But a rose that grows from concrete? That’s priceless. 

So I have these roses, one for each of you to signify this journey of yours. It’s an object lesson in how where you’ve come from in life has forged you in the fires of life. And when you look at it, I want you to always remember the rare beauty of a rose that grows from concrete. 

¹ About Teen Pregnancy | CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Preventionhttps://www.cdc.gov/teenpregnancy/about/index.htm. Accessed 10 April 2023.

² Manakem, Resmaa. Resmaa Menakem | Embodied Anti-Racist Education, https://www.resmaa.com/. Accessed 10 April 2023.

³ Ojetunde, Femi. “2Pac (Ft. Nikki Giovanni) – The Rose That Grew From Concrete.” Genius, https://genius.com/2pac-the-rose-that-grew-from-concrete-lyrics. Accessed 11 April 2023.

Harmeyer, Claire. “6 Fascinating Facts About Roses That You Probably Didn’t Know.” Better Homes & Gardens, 29 June 2022, https://www.bhg.com/gardening/flowers/roses/rose-facts/. Accessed 10 April 2023.

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