Romane Paul '10

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At the 2010 Commencement, senior speaker Romane Paul '10 recounted the story of the Swavi, "an intellectual and quirky people."

Romane will graduate this morning with a special major in political science and education and a minor in religion. He is determined to forge a career that draws upon the strength of these disciplines and the ways in which they have shaped his intellectual development.
President Chopp's full introduction.

To members of the Board who are present, to families and friends, to President Chopp — thank you for your wonderful and gracious introduction — to Mom, and, most importantly, to the Class of 2010 also known as 20X.

I want to begin by thanking the people who made this day possible for us graduates. If it were not for them, we literally would not be here today getting ready to receive our diplomas. They have passed on their knowledge, their intellect, and their skills to us, and, for that, I would like to personally thank our swimming instructors for making this day possible. I also want to thank our amazing professors who are sitting behind me. Thank you for forcing us to think, for challenging us. I'll admit, it was hard, tough, and yes — let me confirm the rumors — it has been grueling.

I have something to say — a letter I wanted to read before I started my speech to you. It was inspired by one of my favorite movies and, after this week, an appropriate movie for this occasion, The Hangover.

Hello. How about that walk in? I guess that's why they call it a processional. You guys might not know this, but I considered myself a bit of a loner. I tend to think of myself as a one-man wolf pack. But when I came to this campus and met all 365 of you, I thought, "Wait a second, could it be?" And now I know for sure, I just added 365 more of you guys to my wolf pack. All of us wolves, running around Swat together searching for knowledge and intellectual stimulation. So I thank you, 20X, for making me part of your wolf pack.

Today, I have been asked by my class to somehow capture the past four years in 10 minutes or less. As I spent the past few weeks thinking, I realized what a difficult assignment this would be. How do I find words to describe such an interesting group of diverse people whom I have come to know so well trying to inspire you to greatness?

Initially, I wanted to discuss our role in creating innovation at the college and in the world, of using our education to become Swarthmore world citizens. I would have then moved on to discuss how our education has enabled us to change the world, how we must work hard to create a culture of perpetual learning, and how our education will help us take down the current social order — but then I realized, President Chopp, that I would almost be stealing your speech.

So, as I began to think about what I would say, I immediately thought about our honorary degree recipients, and I realized how I could attempt to capture our experiences here. Before coming to Swat, I always wanted to be a movie writer. So, I thought it would be appropriate given that you were part of this movie, Mr. Lang, to tell our story through the plot of Avatar. Now, Mr. Lang, if you like this storyline, with me being an unemployed senior, it would help for you to let me know. This could be worth lots of money — that is, unless you decide to sell it to the College bookstore. When thinking about the title, I thought Swavatar would be perfect. Then, I thought, "No, that was too easy. We are Swarthmore students. Nothing is easy. We must challenge ourselves." So the new title of my movie is Swavatar: The Retelling of Avatar Utilizing an Epistemological Interpretationist Approach.

I'm going to tell the story of a people, of an intellectual and quirky people — that's us — and their experiences in a distant land where apparently everyone is a worthwhile person. I will take excerpts from the movie Avatar that do a good job of telling the story as we experienced it here at Swat.

In a far away land, there existed the Swavi people, an interesting people to say the least. The Swavi people were known throughout all the other worlds for their uniqueness. In our land, for example, you are considered one of us only if you have used any of the following terms: queer, problematic, hegemonic, paradigm, heteronormative, gendered, modernist, Hegelian, complicate, ossify, pedagogy, or my favorite — green. In our land, due dates take on a completely new meaning than they traditionally would in other worlds. A due date in the Swavi land means "turn it in when it feels done." Most importantly, we know that in our land a "C" is an "A" anywhere else — except Morehouse, of course. We even speak in abbreviations. Consider the following sentence: A SMART WIZARD and NINJA threw DARTS at the RAs and SAMs, forcing them to cry WA.

The Swavi were also divided into villages. There existed the disciplined village of the Humanities. There was also the village of Social Sciences, one that seemed a bit contradictory. There were the strong villages of the Sciences and Engineers. There also existed the most self-righteous, the Honors village. Despite these differences, the Swavi people had to work together. We were one people. For four years we lived together. We ate together. We slept together. We moaned together.

As I roamed this land, I began to look for our Captain Jake Sully — the main character of our land, our knight in shining armor, our savior, the one who would lead our people and preserve our land. After much thinking and interacting with others, I realized that we were all Jake Sully; we were all brave, strong, excited, and passionate. We were also stressed, broken, and confused. Most importantly, we were in love with our land. So at Swarthmore, I've been led by all of you. Thank you for living with me, sleeping with me, eating with me, and moaning with me.

Now, I don't have much time to talk about the villain in the movie, but if I did, I would talk about how our traditions were under attack by the Abu Dhabites who struck us not once or twice, but three times — even abducting our former leader and forcing him to send us cryptic messages through of all people, Miley Cyrus.

So now, to you my Swavi people — to the Class of 20X, we stand at the border of our Swavi land, of our Pandora, staring out into the future. As many generations have done before us, we will leave our world to change others. We will use our knowledge and intellect to change the worlds of poverty, war, and disease.

I do want to conclude by saying this: in the course of my lifetime, I have given hundreds of commencement speeches, but this seems to be one of the most difficult for me. Believe it or not, there are no words today that can capture the significance of our achievements here or the weight of our accomplishments.

If there is something I can leave you with, it's this: our generation is living in the most exciting time in human history. We are living in a period marked by increasing inequality and instability in our world. What makes this time such an exciting one, however, is not just the fact that we will have to address these issues, but that we will have the knowledge to do so. At Swarthmore, we have been equipped in unique ways, by unique people — from professors to EVS, dining services, and administrative staff-to address the problems in this increasingly unstable world, whether it be through teaching, through the arts, or volunteering. As a Haitian Swavi, I was so pleased to learn that a few of my classmates will be heading to Haiti to volunteer in orphanages after graduating. That has been the spirit of our class at Swarthmore. A spirit of giving unto others, of putting others above self.

So to the Class 20X, I wish you all the best as you move on to the next stages of your life. I congratulate you all on such a wonderful job well done, and remember — now that you have gotten through Swarthmore, you can go just about anywhere you imagine. Congratulations.