Ranmal Samarasinghe '03
June 1, 2003
Swarthmore serves a wide array of interests and talents, and, as such, most students come here for a number of different reasons. I, however, came here pretty much for one reason — I wanted to be a professional athlete. Given my temperament and body type I thought pro-wrestling would be the best way to go. So, I hoped that after my tenure here, I could join the ranks of such esteemed fellows as Hulk Hogan, Demolition Ax, and of course, my personal favorite the Rock. And maybe, if I were really lucky, after an illustrious career on the pro-circuit, I could even go on to become the governor of a large but relatively under-populated midwestern state.
As you may be able to tell, things haven't exactly turned out as I had hoped. Personally, I blame the sundae bar at Sharples. But I am not exactly sure what went wrong. Perhaps Madonna said it best when she proclaimed, "life is a mystery, everyone must stand alone." Then again, maybe not. Perhaps even more to the point, life is full of the unexpected, and it's pretty uncanny how things rarely turn out as you'd expect. I think I am more aware of this now than I ever have been in the past.
Speaking of expectations, they say you form around thirty expectations about situations and about people within the first seven seconds of a novel encounter. It eludes me how one would make such an estimation, but I read it on the internet, so it must be true. Besides, it didn't take me much longer than that to form my first expectations about Swarthmore when I actually landed here for orientation about 4 years ago. More than anything else I remember Dean Gross telling us that at some point we may have to say to ourselves "no matter what they say or do to me, I am still a worthwhile person." Like everyone else, I laughed a bit, but really in the back of my mind I was trying to imagine what it is that they would actually say or do to me that would make me have to utter such a self-affirmation. Perhaps the professors were especially strict and demanding... or much worse, maybe it would be my peers, these very intelligent and overachieving students who would not only go to great lengths to point out every mistake and misstep that I would make along my academic journey here, but in doing so would make sure to use the most complicated sentences and vocabulary words imaginable.
But like I said, things rarely turn out as you'd expect. As for my peers, it's not that they weren't very intelligent, it's that no one really went out of their way to let me know that. To be sure their have been times when I felt that the lines at Sharples were absurdly too long, or that the DJ played 'Like A Prayer' one too many times, or when I otherwise wished I were anywhere but here at Swarthmore. But no one ever said or did anything to make me feel that way, at least not in the way that I expected. If at all, it's what was said and done to me by my closest friends that made those low points all the more bearable.
And as for those professors I was so afraid of on my first day, they weren't so scary after all; at least not usually. And we certainly owe them a debt of gratitude, most importantly for their guidance and encouragement, and, also, but less importantly for writing for us the best recommendations any undergraduate could possibly hope for. Since I'm on the topic of thank yous, I think many of us owe our biggest thank you to our families and especially to our parents; not only for their love and support during our four years here, but also for all that they did for us before Swarthmore, and all that they will do for us after Swarthmore. Perhaps that last part is more of plea.
In speaking to you today my aim hasn't been to say something so deep or profound that it somehow, magically, encompasses your four years here. Although if I have, please don't let me change your mind. But more likely, as you sit there listening to me, you feel like Swarthmore's most infamous Saturday night personality when she said, "just like a muse me, you are a mystery, just like a dream you are not what you seem." I hope I haven't been that confusing to you, because all that I aimed to do, and all that I really could do today was to share with you some small part of my own experiences at Swarthmore, albeit peppered with my own idiosyncrasies, and some minor exaggerations, and hope that there is something there that resonates with you as well.
I came here with many expectations, and it has been disappointing to have some things not turn out as I would have liked, but at this point, I still feel more fortunate than not that other, more important, things, have turned out better than I could have hoped.
That said I wish each of you all the best. Thank you.