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IUPUI commencement speaker Jori Mundy to theme address around life lessons

May 5, 2022
Jori Mundy
IUPUI alumna Jori Mundy will deliver the address for the undergraduate commencement ceremony May 14.Photo provided by Jori Mundy

Jori Mundy has a passion for helping people.

It was that passion and the encouragement from others that led her to pursue a master’s degree in public affairs from IUPUI in 2015. Recognizing one’s passion in life and using it to steer one’s path will be a theme in her speech at IUPUI’s undergraduate commencement ceremony at 4 p.m. May 14 in Carroll Stadium.

Mundy received her bachelor’s degree in African American and African Diaspora studies from IU Bloomington in 2008, and shortly thereafter, landed a government role delivering public assistance programs to Indiana residents. Mundy said she found great joy and pride in the work she did, but an 80-year-old client’s praise of Mundy’s talent for public service work secured her career path.

“She was just a sweet little lady who came, and I worked feverishly to secure her benefits only to realize that she wouldn’t be eligible,” Mundy said. “It was not the news I had hoped to deliver, but I still had to do the job, so I went to deliver the news.

“It was what she said to me that changed everything. She said, ‘It’s OK honey. I’m just thankful there are people like you that exist to be of service.’ I don’t know what other scenario would elicit knowing you were doing exactly what you were supposed to do at the moment, while also recognizing that there is more to do in order to serve. That interaction changed the trajectory of my whole experience and career where eventually I would land.”

That path led to IUPUI, where she concentrated on public administration and management. She continued working full time while pursuing her degree, using her academic experiences in real time in the workplace. Mundy credits adjunct instructor Roger Sell in the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs for helping her really grasp the business plans for government and nonprofit accounting and put those plans in place.

Mundy said another important takeaway from her experience at IUPUI was the holistic support she received from the faculty and staff.

“IUPUI conspired to make sure I was successful,” Mundy said.

In addition to a successful career in public service, Mundy also uses her life experiences to motivate others to take advantage of their own experiences to purposefully direct their life paths. The theme of her address is “Steer your life; don’t let it steer you.” Mundy said addressing IUPUI’s graduating class of 2022 brings that statement full circle, as IUPUI was the place where she took the wheel and steered her own life journey.

Description of the following video:

[Video: Alumna Jori Mundy stands in front of an IUPUI-logo backdrop wearing cap, gown and hood regalia.]

Mundy speaks on camera: Good afternoon graduates.

President Whitten, the first female president in IU’s history, Chancellor Klein, all of the IUPUI community, esteemed guests, and especially the 2022 IUPUI graduating class:  

I am beyond elated to stand here and feel a rush of energy, excitement and a euphoria to come back home and celebrate a pivotal point and a major milestone of success in your journey. 

Congratulations, congratulations, congratulations!

Let me start by saying that my first goal here is to not end up like the Michael Jordan crying meme on social media for whatever reason or to go viral on TikTok for something not to do, like the crate challenge.

As I prepared for today, I reflected on what I’d want to share with you, having walked the same path of early-morning classes, late-night studying, all-nighters, random late-night pizza calls, and there’s a whole lot of other things I’m leaving out, if you know what I mean.

And I landed with three things and an impactful experience. Having learned some valuable lessons about achieving overall success in life, I learned the importance of taking life by the reins and directing it in the way of your own choosing, all while integrating three important pillars. The first one being, search for what you see until it appears. Create a strong vision for yourself and follow it.

I recently recalled a conversation with someone that I would entitle a superhero. She shared with me a vision she once had of having children. She’d married young and had spent over 10-plus years married without children. Now, I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing.

She decided to go to the doctor to get a checkup just to make sure everything was OK. Unfortunately, the doctor told her that she would never be able to have children. Initially, she was devastated and later decided with her husband to adopt. Within six months’ time, they had successfully gained a 4-month-old son that they loved as if he was their own. About a year later, her husband noticed that her feet were swollen to the point of not being able to walk, so she went back to the doctor just to make sure everything was OK.

This time her told her that she was pregnant with a son. A year later she had a daughter. And that daughter just happens to be the person speaking to you today.

But it all started with a vision. A vision of hope, a vision of possibility, a vision of happiness. Searching for what she saw until it appeared. My late mother had a vision and a dream to give life and here I stand. That hallmark, her hallmark, was education, along with my father.

That cornerstone led me to having a vision of pursuing both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from this incredible institution. But before pursuing my master’s degree, I imagined myself walking across the stage to collect a diploma. And back in 2015, when I walked across the stage to collect a diploma, and when asked what I planned to do, I mentioned that I plan to lead, inspire and serve others, and here I stand grateful, graduates.

Your parents had a vision for you. And likely that vision including getting you to this exact moment of graduation. Well, in addition to learning the date that you’d be moving out because nobody is off limits. My parents asked me for a date on the day I graduated high school.

Parents, spouses, significant others, friends, it’s because of your vision, support and resilience that we made it to today. Thank you for dreaming, for believing, and for seeing and helping take action to make this happen.

Graduates, from this collegiate educational experience you’ve exercised discipline, determination, commitment. Those characteristics lay the groundwork to fulfill a compelling vision. And you’re walking into a new beginning at a time where the world is presented with some challenges – there’s something called COVID that’s going around – where you can step in using this educational experience and your own greatness to help overcome those challenges. You can create a compelling vision of your own that could have a ripple effect globally.

I challenge you to search for what you see until it appears, to create a strong vision for yourself and to follow it. What is your dream, your vision? Write out a plan with actionable steps and take action towards it every single day. And if you ever feel like you’ve hit a brick wall, like my parents did, don’t give up. Use your creativity, your discipline, determination and commitment, to fulfill your vision. Because your vision is your future. Steer your life in the direction of your own choosing; don’t let it steer you.

The next point I want to share is to follow the voice of your heart, the goosebumps.

When I graduated with my master’s degree I had a clear vision to lead, inspire and serve others that drove me. But I honestly didn’t know exactly how it would all come to fruition. And I’ll never forget, I woke up one morning, knowing that I was off track, because I felt like I was slowly dying inside doing work that I wasn’t passionate about. So I started to follow the voice of my heart, the goosebumps that I felt doing the things that I loved to do. I started to serve others, volunteer. 

And believe it or not, choosing to follow the voice of my heart opened up a multitude of opportunities. Last month I gave a TEDx talk. Back in 2021, I was named bureau director at a Health and Human Services agency and helped co-author a number one Amazon best-selling book.

Every day we all have a front seat to watch so many individuals who have followed their goosebumps, who have achieved insurmountable success. We see Michael Jordan, Oprah Winfrey, Steve Jobs, J.K. Rowling. We see our very own fellow alumni – Josh Kaufman, winner of “The Voice”; Shari Lynn Himes, filmmaker and playwright of “Malcolm X” and TV’s “ER”; and let’s not forget our very own George Hill, Cleveland Cavaliers guard and NBA draft pick.

The takeaway here is to follow the voice of your heart, your goosebumps. And let me be clear, the good ones, not the ones that we get after we ate those questionable leftovers. And don’t leave me hanging as if I’m the only one that’s ever had that happen.

But seriously, seek out opportunities that give you that feeling; don’t necessarily wait for them to come to you. And you will experience the most fulfilling reward of success to love what you do. 

And a caution, sometimes your mind will try to talk you out of what your heart has said to you. Don’t let it. Distractions will show up continuously on your journey, but you must decide to stay focused. Steer your life in the direction of your own choosing; don’t let it steer you.

And the third point that I wanted to share with you is to follow the nudge of your truth that will push you to be your most authentic self.

A few years back, I had the privilege of participating in a national leadership program called Leadership America. We attended experiential sessions all over the country, and at the closing session, the president of an impactful nonprofit challenged us to lean into ourselves, to be more of who we are and to stand for something. 

Now as many of us know or have experienced at some point throughout our lives, sometimes the mere ask to be yourself can be the most challenging request to fulfill, right? 

And I confess, I’ve not always shown up as my most authentic self due to fear. And it has chipped away at parts of my soul. But I left that experience inspired. I started to show more of myself, and the more that I opened up, the most expansive opportunities became. I became an advocate on topics. I shared my truth. I opened doors for people where I could. I leaned into myself.

The takeaway here is to never be afraid to show exactly who you are, no matter how scary or painful it may be, and to commit to showing up as your most authentic self in each and every scenario you encounter. As Horace Mann says, “If any man seeks for greatness, let him forget greatness and ask for truth, and he shall find both.”

Tying this all together, I challenge you to search for what you see until it appears, to create a strong vision for yourself and to follow it. To use the voice of your heart, your passion, your goosebumps to lead you to do the things that you love to do and follow the nudge of your truth that will push you to be just you.

The world needs you to create new pathways and solve problems. And believe it or not, class of 2022 Jaguars, you all have the power to change the trajectory and the evolution of where this world could go; all while living out your very own dreams. Steer your life in the direction of your own choosing; don’t let it steer you.

Finally, I wrote something for you I want to leave you with.

A Jaguar is beholden of courage, determination and speed, a beaming light, and a leader that transforms and illuminates in the time of need, raising the evolution of the planet. As a Jaguar you represent the best of who we are and run the full gamut. A shooting star in the daylight transmuting society, creating new norms and making an impact, the IUPUI Class of 2022 Jaguars are proven to be the hack.

Jaguars are destined to contribute to a world of citizens who are informed, committed and ready to take action, and thank goodness this graduating class will meet those needs and do so with such passion.

To find your place in the world is to find yourself. It’s true. And the IUPUI class of 2022 Jaguars are ready to meet, deliver and pursue the challenge of delivering what’s within you.

Congratulations graduates; you did it!



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Amber Denney

Senior Communications Consultant, Strategic Communications

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