Natalie Bamdad '11
Good morning! I am pleased to introduce you to Natalie Bamdad, who was chosen by her classmates to be their senior class speaker. Natalie graduates today with an honors major in English literature and a course major in psychology. Though Natalie remains open to many possibilities, she has not settled on a career path yet but she is intent—in keeping with a guiding, very Swarthmorean philosophy — and I quote her, "on doing good in the least invasive way I can."
Thank you President Chopp. Congratulations class of 2011. Today I am met with the difficult and probably impossible task of summing up the Swarthmore student experience. Of course, we are all reflecting on different memories and feeling a variety of different emotions. However, whether right now you're happy, sad, terrified, or bored, I think that for most of us, graduation probably feels like a bad break-up. Maybe you've heard this analogy before, but in typical Swarthmore fashion, I'm going to "unpack it" for you.
Leaving Swarthmore is like breaking up after a long four-year relationship. One day you're hanging out on Parrish Beach and then next day, it's over. Swarthmore is making you pack your bags, leave your key, and hit the road. Your life is one oldies song lyric after the other.
Following graduation, you might want to check up on Swarthmore, see how it's doing without you. You visit Swarthmore's Facebook page only to discover that its new friends are all younger and more academically ambitious than you are. And you'll hope that maybe Swarthmore is Facebook stalking you, too. So just in case, you update your status: Natalie is reading. Yeah, Swarthmore I do that without you. You wait by the phone, but now Swarthmore only calls you for money. You think of calling Swarthmore yourself or maybe stopping by for a visit, but you're worried about looking pathetic. Not until I have a job, you think.
Eventually, you do visit. You'll see all these new faces on Parrish beach. That's my lawn you'll say, get off my lawn. You're no match for these underclassmen, a new breed of nerd-jocks who play Frisbee while they read; they're smart and play sports. Defeated, you move on.
Some of us are headed off to grad school or to new jobs. Others of us have found comfort in the belief that jobs are just social constructions, made for greedy people who don't see the value in returning to your roots, spending some time with good 'ole mom and dad, sitting on the couch with a bowl of cereal, existing as a warm body radiating love.
If you're like me and still don't have a job, you probably have hope. A dream that one day while sitting on the subway, flipping through a book from your Modernism seminar, a man in a fancy suit will point and say, "you there, reading the Kierkegaard, you have the exact skills I'm looking for! Come join my multi-billion dollar company and help make world peace." And you will be glad you waited.
Recently, I discovered a hidden irony in graduating. Just when you can throw away your fake ID and stop pretending you're over 21, your student ID expires and you're pretending to be a student. Thus, my first investment following graduation will be in a new fake ID so I can continue getting cheaper movie tickets, the student special at Renatos, and the five cent discount at the co-op.
Regardless of what lies ahead, graduation is a strange, uncertain time. Freshman orientation seemed to be a week of firsts — First Collection, your first college party, your first roommate — whereas senior week seems to be a bittersweet celebration of lasts. Many of us spent the past week with our best friends trying to really hold on to and solidify those special relationships. However, I'm beginning to realize that the tragedy of graduating is not really in leaving behind the important people in your life - because those people will stay with you forever. The real tragedy, I think, is in forgetting the things on the periphery of memory: all those acquaintances, the girl in your history class who you were only beginning to know, the feeling you get when you step off SEPTA, the joy of having eight different kinds of cereal to choose from at any given meal. These experiences are by no means central, or even memorable, but together they encompass the various textures and patterns that made our experience at Swarthmore so particular and so real.
Ever since classes ended, I keep returning to this memory from freshman year. It was after winter break and my parents were dropping me off at the bus station. As they were leaving, I said offhandedly, "Bye, I'll call you when I get home." And I thought, "Home? Is Swarthmore home now?" Many of us probably have some version of this story, a memory of that strange moment when you realize you now have two homes, rather than just one.
I also remember how, as a freshman, the walk from the train station up to Parrish seemed so long. Granted, it might be because McGill Walk is an entirely uphill climb, but every year it felt shorter and shorter. After today, after we graduate, we will be faced with another really long McGill walk, but I think there's also promise in the fact that, eventually, it will feel shorter, more familiar, and not so steep.
I began today by saying that there is no singular Swarthmore graduate experience and there isn't. However, what makes right now so special and important is that today, in this moment, 366 uniquely different people are all looking in the same direction.
So with that in mind let's get out there and embark on new journeys, sow seeds of intellectual curiosity, erect towers of innovative thought, and do other vaguely imperialist sounding things to make Swarthmore proud.