Shonda Rhimes isn't the only one on the Yes Train

Shonda Rhimes' new book Year of Yes inspires others. GETTY IMAGES

LAST WEEK IT was announced that Shonda Rhimes, the award-winning creator of "Grey's Anatomy" and "Scandal" is releasing a book called Year of Yes.

Apparently Rhimes was inspired to write it after she was dared in December 2013 to say yes to unexpected invitations for one year.

I've always thought saying yes too often is right up there with smiling too much, being too friendly and trying too hard.

But sometime around New Year's Eve last year, I was similarly inspired.

I wondered: What would my year be like if I said yes to (almost) everything?

Sometime around my second or third Beiler's doughnut one day early in the year - an addictive treat I had actually vowed to give up - I promptly forgot all my resolutions.

But then in February, I inexplicably jumped back on the Yes Train.

A panel about media access? Why not? A mayoral candidate forum? Sure. An all-day youth conference on my husband's birthday? Sign me up. I am sure he'll understand.

Toot! Toot! All aboard the Yes Train.

And that's how I suddenly found myself overbooked, overwhelmed, and on a May morning, standing in front of 3,000 people.

"Will you be our featured commencement speaker?" the subject line of the message had read a few months earlier.

"Would I?!"

OK, I wasn't that enthusiastic, but I gladly accepted the invitation from the community college I attended during my scenic route through college.

Normally, I would have come up with a list of reasons I couldn't - never admitting that the real reason was that public speaking is my definition of hell. (That and small talk.)

I have a long, documented history of humiliating myself when all eyes are on me. I would have passed out at my wedding if the minister's icy grip didn't keep me upright. I once invited audience members to join me in the front of a journalism workshop I was leading, like some sort of deranged game show host, because I forgot every single point I had planned to make. You there, come on down, and save the speaker from herself!

All to say, I had no business saying yes to giving a commencement speech.

But yes I did, and last month I found myself at a podium at Northern Essex Community College in Haverhill, Mass., whisper-praying that I would not pass out.

To mess with me, a colleague said he expected no less than something along the lines of the legendary "This is Water" speech David Foster Wallace gave at Kenyon College in 2005.

Instead, I told the students and family members under the huge white tent how Northern Essex changed my life. How I found myself and my future there.

I talked about being a first-generation college graduate, about finding my voice at the school's student newspaper, and the privilege of using my voice on behalf of others at two newspapers.

There is a lot of noise in the world, I told the students, but there are also a lot of voices that must be heard: the undocumented young people demanding the passage of legislation that would give them legal residency in the only home many have known; the protesters who have taken to the streets of major cities across this country to push for police reform; the working poor calling for living wages; the students in failing schools pleading for their chance at a better education.

I urged the graduates, in whatever field they chose, to empower those who are being ignored or silenced.

"Be fierce and fearless in that pursuit!" I told them, feeling neither fierce nor fearless as I wondered if they could hear my heart beating out of my chest.

I always knew how grateful I was to Northern Essex Community College, I told them, wrapping up my eight-minute speech.

"But before I was asked to speak to you today, I didn't realize how important it was for me to come back to say thank you, and to tell you how proud I am to not just be among you, but to be one of you."

What I didn't say is how a fleeting moment of yes had made it possible for me to revel in the jubilation of graduates who had made huge sacrifices to walk across that stage.

I'm off the Yes Train for a while. Too many yesses makes for a crazy schedule.

But I'm glad I rode it for a little while because if I hadn't I would have missed out on a moment that will stay with me forever.


Phone: 215-854-5943

On Twitter: @NotesFromHel

On Facebook: Helen.Ubinas