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Seneca Valley Class of 2016 Urged to “Let the Sandpaper Work”



The 264 members of Seneca Valley High School’s Class of 2016 held their commencement exercises Friday morning in the Daughters of the American Revolution – Constitution Hall in Washington D.C.

The graduates were urged by Commencement Speaker Dr. Damien Robinson to “Let the sandpaper work.” Robinson, who is ACES Academic Coach with Montgomery College in Germantown, spoke to the Class of 2016 about the importance understanding that all the obstacles or hardships along the path to success are just sandpaper.


He said that life was full of sand paper, and the graduates need to “let the sandpaper work.”

“Sandpaper is the professor that prides himself on failing students,” said Robinson. “Sandpaper is your friend that makes you feel bad for not going to the party. Sandpaper is the music sheet the refuses to translate to harmonic sounds. Sandpaper is that voice in your head that tells you that you only need to study for a half-hour for the mid-term. Here is the thing about sandpaper, as it works against you, you end up smooth and shiny, and it ends up worn out and useless. So I say to you, let the sandpaper work.”


Robinson has been instrumental in developing and implementing Montgomery County’s’ flagship academic support program, Achieving Collegiate Excellence and Success (ACES). It is Montgomery College’s flagship college pathways program, established in 2013 and it is a partnership between Montgomery County Public Schools, Montgomery College, and Universities at Shady Grove. The mission of the program is to provide resources and access to higher education and follow them from high school to the completion of the Bachelor’s Degree.

“So many people around me poured knowledge, wisdom, time, money and, most importantly, love into me,” said Robinson. “I know that I can never pay them back, but they made it clear to me that I must pay it forward. Which leads to Lesson Number One: When someone helps you along your journey, you have a responsibility to pay it forward. No one has ever gotten anywhere by themselves, whether we have been given something or given the opportunity to earn something, please know that someone came before you and made it possible and as a result you owe it to the world.”


“That payment can come in the form of a kind word,” continued Robinson. “It can come by paying for a backpack full of school supplies to a young child who has nothing, or by passing along a piece of advice that someone older has shared with you. I like to say that knowledge and love are free.”

“Lesson Number Two: You are going to fail,” Robinson told the graduates. “It is inevitable. Sometimes you are going to do the best you can and follow all the directions, and things will still not go your way. Newsflash: Life is not about fair or unfair, it just is. Each time you fail you are going to learn something new. And when you reach your goal you will be stronger and wiser because of your failures. Never make excuses, instead, make it happen. Make sure that you push yourself to be the best person you can be.”