The following has been lightly edited.

Serifa Donaldson was a recent alumni speaker for a Burlington Building Bridges Getting Ahead graduation in Burlington, Iowa. Her words are below.

Class 13, you have conquered yet another chapter in your life for the better.

When you look around, I hope you no longer see strangers. I hope you see people who sincerely care about you.

We are all more alike than we are different. There are many negative aspects in the world, but only if you give them power to cloud your life. 

There are many positive aspects in life as well.

Did you know everything you think of helps create your day-to-day life?

What are you thinking of?

If I sat here and spoke about all the bad things that I’ve encountered, I’d be bringing them back alive again.

Instead, I’d like to tell you my life has really changed for the better. I am strong because I’ve been weak.

I’m walking at a great pace, while waiting for the day I run at my full potential for what God has called me to be.

I’ve also stopped crawling and feeling sorry for myself, but I’ve learned not to build habits around pity. I’ve learned to keep moving or I will be stuck in a sinkhole. I’ve formed healthy boundaries, and I know when to say enough is enough.

Learn the power of I am—you’ll gain more strength that way.

I am a great mom, sister, daughter, friend, and loving individual who is proud to be a member of Bridges.

I have been inspired to tell each one of the graduates this:

  • Put God first.
  • Never take your eyes off the prize, no matter how unattainable it may seem.
  • Increase your positivity.
  • Surround yourself with smarter people than you.
  • You are responsible for your happiness.
  • There is nothing wrong with putting yourself first.
  • Your life will change in a year if you take ownership.
  • You are more powerful when you point the finger at your own faults before viewing someone else’s.
  • Do you believe in yourself enough to love yourself more?
  • Are you brave enough to demand more?
  • Become very disciplined.
  • Hold yourself accountable.
  • Say your words intentionally.
  • Most importantly, remember that you can start over, start late, be unsure, change.
  • Don’t be apologetic for how your strength might scare others. Instead, live your life. Start now, because you only live once, you know.

“We are super proud of Serifa,” says Mona Ash, director of Burlington Building Bridges. “She is an amazing young woman. She is intelligent, strong, compassionate, committed, and enthusiastic, and she makes everyone feel welcome and at ease. She is a wonderful mom and is raising a sweet little boy. She served in high school in the Bridges teen class helping with presentations with Vern Reed. She graduated from Getting Ahead Class 12. She serves on the Bridges leadership team and assists in multiple ways, including volunteering to help with Getting Ahead workshops to help clean up after the meals, and soon she will begin serving as an ally for our Faith and Finance class. She is meeting her life goals, and she is putting in the time and effort to make things happen for herself. She works as a CNA and is studying for her license to become an insurance agent.

“The thing I love the most about this young lady is her enthusiasm for life. Her positive energy is contagious, and she really is an encouragement to all she meets. Well done, girl, by using your gifts and talents to help others!!”


The aha! Process Getting Ahead program engages investigators (participants) in exploring the realities of poverty in their communities and how those realities impact them. They also explore the causes of poverty, the “hidden rules” of economic class, and ways to develop resources and build stable lives. Getting Ahead graduates build relationships across class lines and often join the decision-making tables in their communities.