Graduation Speech -- Rhiana Swartz '00

29 May, 2000

Greetings fellow members of class 2k, families, friends, mom. And good morning to those of you who haven't been up this early in a while. Thank you all for coming.

Today is the day.

For a long time I have wanted to address my peers on this fateful occasion, congratulate them on a job extremely well done, on an achievement worth its name scratched on my forehead in blood.

Ah, graduation. The fateful rite of passage. The diving board hanging over the ocean of life. The last vine before reaching the rim of the jungle. What is there to be said before we let go?

The real world awaits. But first, closure.

I pondered a theme for this occasion. A thesis to have it all make sense. One concept that could neatly tie up four years of toil, tears, and mayhem.

Well, children of the 80s, we are a generation raised on television, movies, and media. As my mind raced to uncover the meaning of it all, I could not escape these influential forces in my life. Instead of the brilliant epiphany I was looking for to sum up Swarthmore, it was the graduations of the Saved By the Bell squad and the 90210 crew that dominated my mind.

I tried hard to fuces on my Swarthmore experiences. I trudged past memories of freshman year — the first Sharples meal, the discovery of broadcast... of sophomore year — declaring a major only to change it a week later... of junior year — thinking I had it all figured out, leaving only to realize how much I loved, respected, and dare I say needed, this place... and finally of senior year — year of "the lasts" — like the last time I got yelled at for saying I needed to read my number at Tarble.

No matter how much I reminisced with myself, though, I kept returning to the same worthless scene. I was obsessed. For those of you unfamiliar, this is called collegiate mindblock. It is that omnipotent force that compels one to clean their room or inbox, email long lost friends from times past, snood their life away, or play boggle till the letters can't be made out anymore.

This time, mindblock arrived as a vision. There is a high school senior. He is belting out a song to the dismay of everyone seated at the high school graduation. He is terrible. I cannot escape him.

The movie is Say Anything. The song — Whitney Houston's "Greatest Love of All." The line — "I decided long ago never to walk in anyone's shadow."

I refused to acknowledge this silliness. I tried and tried to think of something else, anything to do these past four years justice. But it was in vain. I had to accept my destiny. This was a task and I had to complete it. Swarthmore has taught me that if you can't go around something, go through it. And if I hangs on to your back, que cera cera. Just go with it.

There had to be an analogy embedded within this mindblock.

Infamously, Swarthmore teaches critical thinking, comparative analysis. Sadly this means that, as a political science major at the #1 school in the country, I cannot tell you the names of all the Presidents of the United States, I can barely remember state capitals. But breathing life into a metaphor, that we Swatties can do.

We all decided long ago never to walk in anyone's shadow. This is why we came here. Small, liberal arts school means individuality, independence, faces, not numbers, you can pave your own way, make your own tracks, be yourself. Learn.

We are the grad students here, we are the TAs, we do the research, we write the theses. We are the children who proclaimed "I do, I do."

So we came to Swarthmore. But, much to our dismay, there are shadows everywhere here! You can barely escape the shadows of the neatly labeled rare trees, the buildings, the corners of your poorly lit room. There is always someone better than you: someone used a smaller font, wrote a page more, finished the exam faster, asked a more intelligent question, stayed in the library an hour longer. Someone finagled two free plants out of the Scott arboretum instead of just one.

And so we learned to attack the shadows — those lurking in the corner of your brain, hiding valuable knowledge that you know is in there, those tempting you to nap in Dupont's lecture hall, those telling you that you are not good enough, are not smart enough, are not a worthwhile person. We stopped caring about the rest of the school. Stopped asking people what they got on their exams, stopped competing against the other, resenting the one who took this or that in high school. Swarthmore gave us all an inner drive stronger than we had ever experienced before. It is this that will stay with us.

And so yes, that famous Swarthmore community has been amended, forged yet again. This time by the class of 2000, the class that was never suppossed to make it because the world was going to blow up. But we did make it. Built on common experience, cynical success, misery poker, and hard, hard work.

The time has come. Give yourself a pat on the back, thank your parents, your teachers, your friends. We are the legacy now. The first, or last, class of the millennium, depending on how you measure it. It is our turn. To find new ways to use the drive.

Congratulations. That which did not kill us has made us stronger.

Thank you.