Graduation Speech -- Evan Gregory '01
4 June, 2001
College is like a boat! A sea-faring ship, buffeted by the waves of controversy and propelled by the engine of bureaucracy.
Arrr, mateys, as we sail o'er the ocean of academia, we must surely be swabbin' our own poop deck lest we be broadsided and forced to walk the plank of over-commitment and be devoured by the sharks of extra-curricular activities, at long last ending up in Davy Jones' locker of scurvy personal unfulfillment.
But we, the students, are perhaps more aptly likened to a deciduous forest, where, as in our own beautiful campus, a diverse species of trees live in harmony, a harmony disrupted only by the occasional conflict over sunlight or water, or some harassment from small woodland creatures... with skateboards.
On that note, I would like to quote at this time from the beloved poet Robert Frost, who said: "Two roads diverged in a wood and I went left."
Or something quite like that.
And so, at this tender moment in our careers, I want to remind you that Swarthmore is very much like a colony of hard-working ants, with hundreds of worker ants dashing about, constantly worrying about time management, and dozens of thesis advisor ants reprimanding the workers for not finishing their abstracts or bibliographies on time, not to mention the drones, who regurgitate their own partially digested food for the colony's larvae until they develop into adult insects.
Or on second thought, Swarthmore is nothing like that at all.
Why are we here today? This is the question we must ask ourselves. Well, it's because we are going to graduate. That question was too easy! We must challenge ourselves! Swarthmore is about asking the tough questions, like "What does it mean to be socially responsible and how may I bring that knowledge to my daily life?" or "What is the nature of this cafeteria meat product and how may we know it?"
My point is: This is an impossible job, addressing this body of people today. This speech is somehow expected to give closure to the last several years of our lives, spent at an institution of incredible intensity. To my mind, no sentence I might utter could possibly do justice to what the graduating students have accomplished.
Go forth, young citizens of the world, and do good! Lift high your heads and live each day to the fullest! Hoo-rah!
No, rather what needs to be said is quite different. Should it pluck our youthful heartstrings? Should it inspire us to greater heights or humbler deeds? How do I say goodbye?
How do I say goodbye to what we had? The good times that made us laugh Outweigh the bad. I thought we'd get to see forever But forever's gone away...
There are times in our lives when words do not suffice. There are certain occasions when the significance of personal achievement and gravity of emotion is greater than our power to represent them in speech. Some of these times are sorrowful, and some are joyous. Today is joyous.
In my lifetime, I have delivered thousands of graduation speeches. Only now that I am faced with the prospect of the graduation of my classmates and myself am I shaken. Today, my vast wealth of experience as an orator has finally failed me.
So please don't look up here for the answers, for neatly packaged wisdom or glib words of encouragement. Instead I ask you to look among yourselves, the class of 2001. But do not just pass your gaze over the sea of mortarboards around you. I mean make direct eye contact with the people sitting on your right and your left.
You may barely know these people, or they may be your best friends. You might have had entirely different experiences at Swarthmore, following entirely different paths, or you might have spent time with them day in and day out. Shake hands. Say something to each other, something you think is appropriate. Let the sincere congratulations of a person who is sharing this moment, right now, ring true.
We know now what makes Swarthmore special. We know what it means not just to want to learn about something specific, but to love learning. We know what it means to have close community, and what it means to bring a social conscience to our everyday life.
To our families and friends, to the faculty and staff of the College, we will be forever grateful for the support and guidance you have given us while we have been here. Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts.
To the class of 2001, this is the last time we will be together as a whole. Revel in our shared experience. Beam with pride for yourself, and for every member of our class that joins you today. And as you accept your very hard-earned diploma, know that every one of us is beaming with you.