Commencement Speaker at Gervais High School; Change is an option.

Karie Hoffman, talked me into giving a commencement speech. And yes.. I’m wearing my running shoes. They were part of the speech AND they were the Gervais High School COLORS!

Gervais high School, Oregon.  June 6, 2015.

Did you know that there is a traditional and accepted form for a memorable commencement speech?


I Googled it.

Here’s the formula that they said would work…

‘Someone older than you, who, over the course of their life, has made a series of funny, memorable and perhaps even dreadful mistakes {that would be me}, gives heartfelt advice to a group of shining, energetic young people, with their best years of their life stretched out in front of them {that would be each of you}. ‘

I mean it has to be true and good advice – right??; it was on the internet.

I’m going to stick to the formula that Google says should work.

Plus I know full well that I am the ONLY thing standing between you, your diplomas, posting on Snapchat and Instagram. And your parents and loved ones are itching to post all of your baby pictures next to pics of you in your cap and gown all over FaceBook.

OH! ONE MORE THING! The ONLY other job I have, according to Google, is critically important and it is… to keep this sucker short.

In fact, the shorter the better.

So here is my short and heartfelt advice for each of you…

Change is ALWAYS an option.

No matter how old, young, worn out, successful or stuck you may feel in your life…

Change is ALWAYS an option.

You will walk out of here today thinking you know where your life will take you. I can tell you, as many here could surely do the same, that it may or may not go as you have planned.

Changes are part of life. And they can happen TO you. Disasters, circumstances, events – those can all force us to HAVE to accept changes in our lives.

But that’s NOT the change I want to talk about today.

I want to talk about the change YOU enact, YOU embrace.

The change YOU make happen.

There are the all kinds of stories of famous people who started off in one field or endeavor and then JUST CHANGED. They woke up one day, decided they would straight-up chase their dreams down and change their lives.

Walt Disney was an editor at a newspaper. He left to start and build the empire we now know as Disney.

Ellen Degeneres was an oyster shucker and paralegal. She changed directions and hit it big as a comedian and is now a top-rated and beloved entertainer.

And then there are much, much more humble stories of life change.

Like mine.

{You know the older person who is supposed to have done something funny, memorable or made a dreadful mistake in their life… }

I weighed well over 200 pounds when I was in high school.

I graduated as the heavy girl. I have ALWAYS been the heavy girl. I had some solid, good friends, enjoyed high school.  I will be honest and say that I was bullied and made fun of a bit for being the big girl.

I went on to college. I was the heavy girl in college as well. I loved College, got decent enough grades and had a great circle of friends who loved to eat and drink.

I started my professional career as – you guessed it – the heavy girl. Although, truth be told, by my late 20’s and early 30’s using the word ‘heavy’ was just being kind. I was fat. Medically speaking I was obese, morbidly obese.

By my mid 30’s I was close to 400 pounds. I was taking 3 shots a day for type 2 diabetes, I was insulin dependent and taking a ton of prescription medicines.


Some of you sitting here today really want to ask me why ANY of these already mentioned sets of circumstances was not the tipping point for me making some serious life changes…

{PAUSE…  Breath…}


Has anyone ever told you how to boil a frog?

Let me tell you…

(Please don’t try this at home…)

If you were to take a frog and try to dump him into a pot of boiling water he would jump right back out to freedom. Lightening quick. No hesitation. He would know he was in deadly danger and he would do whatever he had to to escape with his life.

Now take that same frog and put him in a pot of cold water. Set it on the stove and turn up the heat… The frog will stay in the water even to the point that it starts to boil… He gets used to the hot water over time, he adjusts to it – he acclimates to it. He doesn’t understand that his situation is killing him.

THAT is how you boil a frog.

{PAUSE…  Breath…}

I was the frog.

I spent my entire life fat. I was totally used to being fat. I didn’t gain the weight overnight. I had slowly and methodically put weight on over decades. And while I was slowly, but very surely dying, I was simply used to life as a fat woman.

This was my life.

I was the frog.

While I was happy and professionally successful, I was Type 2 diabetic who broke into a sweat walking into the grocery store. I could not tie the laces on my shoes because I couldn’t reach my feet. I had adapted, entirely, to life as a morbidly obese woman.

I had also convinced myself and (I thought I had convinced everyone else around me) of two important things.

{1} I was perfectly OK with my life as it was.

{2} I couldn’t change; the project was TOO big. Lose 220 pounds? Reverse type 2 diabetes. Those things just aren’t done…  And I had tried and failed at every possible diet on the planet…

July 2011 rolled around and there were a bunch of things that happened. My mom, and best friend, had died the year before. My diabetes was getting out of control – even with increased medicine. I had tripped, fallen and hurt my back.

I woke up and realized I really was fat and miserable.

July 2nd 2011 I decided that I was going to change.

I KNEW, knew I could have a totally different life than the one I had been leading…

KNEW it at my very core.

And I was willing to do the work to make it happen. 

The option to change was totally and entirely in my hands.


{READ fast…}

Did I have an exact plan?
Did I know what I was doing?
Did I know what to eat, how to start exercising, how to get off of insulin?


Was I scared? Did I make mistakes? Did I think about quitting – like – oh 1,000,000 times?



But I started anyway.

Blindly and wildly.

Because CHANGE was an option.

I started eating less and moving more.

And I kept at it.

Eating less and better quality foods. Like… A salad FULL of veggies instead of a large bag of doritios and a coke. THAT kind of eating better.

And moving more…. Like parking father out at the grocery store, or taking a flight of stairs. Things that actually made me work up a bit of a sweat.

And then things began to slowly change…

I had to learn new skills and I made plenty of sacrifices.

I found some new friends who ate healthy foods and liked to walk and hike and bike and run.

I had to start weaning myself off of insulin and other medicines.

The numbers on the scale started to drop.

The distances I walked started getting longer and longer.

And the exciting part?  

My story of change is STILL happening.

As I stand here today – one month short of 4 years on this crazy, wild adventure — I am NO LONGER type 2 diabetic. No longer taking any kind of medicine. I weigh about 165 pounds. I eat a healthy and balanced diet that is almost entirely plant based.

And – my favorite part of this whole story!!?! I am a runner.

The former fat girl from high school who would proudly and defensively tell people ‘I only run when chased’?  She now runs. 

I just ran two 50K’s in May. A 50K is a 32 mile trail events.

And I LOVE it.

In fact, this summer I plan to run a 50 mile race.

YES… – just for fun.  And NO… Not because anyone is chasing me.

In fact, I am wearing my trail running shoes today because they are your school colors.

(SHOW FOOT! And remember you are in a DRESS, on a STAGE…  Be a lady….)

I have worked hard to make lasting, life-long changes that would take me in a totally different direction.

I LOVE my healthy, non-diabetic, running life!

{PAUSE… Breath…}

Change is ALWAYS an option.

You may not need to hear or may not even understand this message right now when your young and exciting lives are unfolding in front of you with unlimited possibilities and new beginnings.

But some day, some day… You may be tired of editing a newspaper, or shucking oysters or being unhealthy…

And I am hoping that you will tuck this idea into the back of your brain. Know that at some point when your life hits a crossroads, or you wake up one day and simply and purely decide you want something different…

I hope you will remember that CHANGE IS possible and CHANGE IS AN OPTION.

One of my favorite quotes is by Rachel Wolchin…

{PAUSE.  Breath.}

If we were meant to stay in one place, we’d have roots instead of feet.” 

We have feet.

We are not stuck.

We CAN change.

Change is an option.

Tomorrow can always be an entirely different story than today.

Thank you for allowing me to join your celebration today!

Congratulations to the 2015 Graduating class of Gervais High School!

{Curtsey, wave and run off the stage.}

11 thoughts on “Commencement Speaker at Gervais High School; Change is an option.

  1. So proud to call you my friend, Betsy! Fantastic commencement address and one I’m sure will impact someone’s life (or lives!).


    1. A little over a year. That’s all we’ve known each other. 🙂 BUT meeting someone who was on the SAME journey I was — was truly remarkable. And thank you for the kind words… I love the quote about ‘if you can’t be a shining example then be a horrible warning.’ 🙂 I am OK with being the horrible warning in this case.


  2. As I read through your address, I could not help but think there was at least one person and probably more in that group of students that this truly impacted. They may not have been “heavy”, but you know deep down that someone has been picked on, ridiculed or bullied and your comments just changed their life for the better.


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