David Kamin '02
Commencement Address, 2 June 2002

 

Thank you President Bloom for an introduction that I can only describe as good but not great, since it failed to mention my most notable accomplishments here at Swarthmore. I would like to add:

1. I ate pasta bar twice a week, and I enjoyed it.

2. I forfeited hundreds of dollars worth of meal points all for the good of this institution. But, I should note that the administration as of yet has failed to respond to my letter asking that the Kohlberg Coffee Bar be named in my honor.

3. Through a variety of illegal but covert parking operations, I was never once ticketed by Public Safety.

4. I lived for four years in an arboretum, passing by all those little white plant signs every day, and I managed not to learn a thing about plants - and that takes talent ladies and gentlemen.

So, as you can imagine, I am not a modest man, and I've decided to diverge from the customary graduation speech, in which the speaker claims that he or she cannot offer any lasting pearls of wisdom. Instead, I bring with me a profound understanding of the world around us that I am willing to share with you, class of 2002. So I haven't prepared your traditional graduation speech.

[throws away paper]

I now have no papers before me, and now I will do what few can and spontaneously channel the voice of the Zeitgeist - the spirit of this place - uninhibited and uncensored, directly to you, class of 2002. The only question here today is "Are you ready?"

[waits for response]

[channels the "Spirit of Swarthmore." It does not materialize]

Ok, back up plan.

[pulls out "back-up speech"]

"Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you're going to get."

On the topic of chocolates - I had to wonder what type of chocolate I was when I first arrived at Swarthmore. Was I one of those really delectable kinds with just chocolate and gobs of caramel, or alternatively, was I one of those disgusting nut ones that looked really good from the outside, but when you bite into them they make you gag, and you have to spit them out. I came to Swarthmore with great ambition - with the desire to prove that I was a tasty, luscious chocolate. But, I also had a lurking anxiety that someone would discover a nut at my core.

How to prove that I was a "keeper?" How to show that I was worthy? I'm not proud of it - but what I did was criticize. I deconstructed. I tore apart books, essays, studies and even fellow students - in every attempt to prove that they, and not I, were nutty. So what I did was destroy; I never built. Or, in other words, I just consumed chocolates, but did I ever make more?

Now that I've bludgeoned that metaphor to death, let's continue on to Smurfs.

You may not think that us bunch of Swatties are anything like little blue creatures who live in mushroom houses, but I have to say that Smurfs remind me of what I liked best about Swarthmore and when I saw myself at my best. We are a tight-knit community that functions so well not because we are all the same, but because we are each so different. As opposed to merely being substitutes for one another, we complement each other.

For example, among the wide variety of Smurfs that populate Swarthmore, there is the McCabe Library Smurf - a rather pale creature who rarely ventures out of his or her cave-like domain during day light hours. But of course, the McCabe Library Smurfs - a Smurf that can be found sometimes at parties and Pub Nites - should never be confused with the McCabe-Cornell Smurf - a Smurf that when kicked out of McCabe lair on Saturday nights at 6 p.m. makes a wild dash to another dank, dark corner in the Cornell Library. This is a breed of Smurf that is indeed hard to spot. And then there is the Paces Cafe Smurf - outfitted with black turtleneck and cigarette. Although there is some overlap, the Paces Cafe Smurf should be differentiated from the Interpretation Theory Smurf - who is just slightly cooler. As we all know, this list could go on for pages, ranging from Activist Smurf to S.W.I.L. Smurf, to the now endangered and soon-to-be-extinct Football Smurf - but let-s focus on the happier thoughts.

The point is - and I do not mean to make light of this - there are real differences between us. We are a truly diverse community, and as I grew in my "Smurfiness" here at Swarthmore, I became less wrapped up in my own need to prove myself - less intimidated by the uniqueness of those around me, and I was able to learn from instead of compete with the ideas and experiences of my fellow Swatties. After four years of working together to escape the plotting Gargamel time and time again, I have to say that I leave with the deepest respect for you, class of 2002.

But before I leave this podium, I feel compelled to share my thoughts on the greatest philosophic and artistic work of the 20th century. First released in 1982 and re-released this year with digital enhancements, Steven Spielberg's E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial transformed how we see the aliens among us, but I believe that you can find an even deeper meaning in Spielberg's work - a meaning that relates to how we see ourselves and our role as graduates.

First arriving at Swarthmore was like being left behind on a foreign world. We were E.T. exploring a strange planet, and just like E.T., we would desperately call home. Oh yes, we put on a stoic first-year facade, but as our parents know, with the roommate out the door, there would be a desperate call home: "Mommy, Daddy, don't leave me here! I just want to go home!"

Now Swarthmore has become our "mother ship," so to speak. We have been empowered with an education that few can receive. We are, whether we like it or not, an intellectual elite, and we are about to venture out into world that seems sadly sinister. It is a world divided by culture and rocked by violence - a world in which despair has won the day and in which the future seems only to promise further bloodshed.

We enter this world with a special power. Do you remember how E.T. could heal things? He would stick out his finger; light would shine; a dead pot of flowers, without hope, without a future, would be resurrected: and most importantly, Drew Barrymore would smile.

I wish I could say that we're just like E.T. - that at the moment we graduate, we could open our mouths, and the world would understand the futility of today's violence. Sadly, we're not quite E.T., although, at a younger age, it did take a while for my parents to convince me of that fact. But although we may not be magical, we are powerful.

We are powerful because of the hope that the years here at Swarthmore give us - the hope of seeing students from different cultures and backgrounds coming together to build one peaceful, intellectual community. We are powerful because we have been given the tools of this elite institution.

The tasks before us are vast. Our efforts may fail, but in one way or another, it is our duty to try to heal this world.

Thank you for these last years, class of 2002. Congratulations. And if you happen to find the Zeitgeist wandering around somewhere, please give me a call.

 

| Return to Commencement 2002 |


Copyright © 2002 Swarthmore College. Office of News & Information
Swarthmore College, 500 College Avenue, Swarthmore, PA, 19081-1390
Phone: (610) 328-8533 | Email:
Web Editor