Noel Quiñones '15 - Last Collection
Thank you and good evening to faculty, staff, families, friends, and most importantly my fellow Swarthmore students. My name is Noel Quiñones and I know everything.
I know myself. I know you. I know swat swivels, pterodactyl battle cries, and intellectual wealth.
I know days that haunt you with a weight you can’t describe, for heavy is the head of the student with both little and abundant time, I know the misdirection of cramming, the misperception of knowledge, and the mistakes it takes to earn your weight here.
I know everything, I know Philadelphia, I know New York City, London, and Cape Town and the Swatties in every country who let me sleep on their floor, some of which I hadn’t even met before.
I know how the universe works or at least how upside down engineering lawn chair pranks work, old bay seasoning for Donny’s fries when my pride hurts, and that we could have crashed through an Essie Mae’s ceiling at the Childish Gambino concert, looking up from the rubble, dazed freshmen wondering if this was the first of many higher education perks?
I know insulated swat bubble cynicism, biological dissection, statistical analysis, and the price of pass/fail averages. I know everything. I know what I’m worth and some days, if I’m generous at heart, I don’t need recognition, and other days I do need your permission to cry.
I know what is and isn’t for me, but still listen to every word said in Sharples because they don’t come free, I’ve been a listener all my life who hides behind speaking.
I know contradictions.
I know a community’s worth of demands, and a room so stuffed with thought you couldn’t stand, or stand up, or stand it at all. I know leaving, silently. I know sighing ever so slightly, whispering to a friend: I don’t think I know everything.
I sat in the center of McCabe, staring at all these books, surrounded by so many exceptional people, friends and not, and realized I know everything and nothing at the same time.
This is another singular story, and I am just another storyteller who hungers for answers as much as you do. And so I have often sat in large spaces on campus, surrounded by dozens of you and wondered silently, what is our collective story, why Swarthmore, why us? I know myself and I know you, here, right now. Swattie, you are sitting with me, one on one, in the Amphitheater, in Essies, in McCabe, in a corner of the Crum, on a lawn chair in the sun on Parrish beach, or atop the roof of Papazian on a starry night. There are so many places I know you’ve been, and so many thoughts I know you’ve had, and that déjà vu you felt weeks, months, years ago, I’ve felt it, too. I have embraced sonder.
The word sonder is defined as the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own. What I do not like about this definition is that it does not highlight the importance of random passerbys, these crossroads of coincidence. This is where I wish to speak with you.
I’ve wanted to tell you I have felt your thirst for knowledge, but you already knew that, that one book, which actually wasn’t just one book, that kept you up all night, reading beyond the assignment, I silently cried with you at that vigil, I was that guy you saw dancing on a wall alone, awkwardly at that party.
I stood next to you at that protest and felt your anger, or felt anger towards you because you were not there, or felt anger at myself for not being at the next one, I know contradictions.
I have laid on the floor of a dormitory: heads, legs, and arms, a mesh of friendship kris-crossed into the night, and discussed theory and application and plans and no possible way to get food after midnight, and dreams, so many dreams until the birds woke us up to the sun, again, I have skipped that same class, again, on that same day, and felt cemented to my bed just like you, wondering if it’s worth it to walk to a class that is only five minutes away, knowing you really want to ask, if it’s worth four years, this formidable sonder. How we may have been a random assortment of passerbys four years ago, but we are now a web of stories intertwined in the most unexpected of places.
Yet, I ignored that same person on Magill Walk because I was tired, or I was caught up in knowing myself, or I was heavy with intellectual wealth and thought maybe you wouldn’t understand or I never even asked, I have hugged a professor without warning, and turned to a friend and asked how did we get here? Or I thought I knew this? Or wait that person is a senior, I swear I’ve never seen them in my life. Or tell me what you know?
I have known that swatties were swatties before Swarthmore, so weird and, at times, desirous of knowledge to a fault, burying ourselves in things we love, but coming out on the other side with a hand left in that rubble to pull someone we love with us.
I know that hand has sometimes come back empty, I know you spent that one day waiting too long for the answers to come, for your friend to return from their semester off, for your recognition to reveal itself in your grades or in your reflection.
And I know contradictions, because I know that my life is vivid and complex and therefore I get caught up in the ridiculousness that it means to say I know myself after four years. But the truth is, I’m still getting to know myself through each and every one of you, through four years of being told swatties are all about what they know but we are also what we have been through, together.
Our roads have overlapped so many, many times, and we can’t possibly remember every crack in the pavement, every time you said something racist, sexist, homophobic and thought not here, and every time you were so egotistical with intellectual wealth, the room was more stuffed with you than with other students, every time this institution has held you tight with a lie, and let you go with a weighty promise. Every time we questioned the cracks but forgot the rest of the road.
Our roads have overlapped so many, many times, and we can’t possibly remember every hand that paved a crack for us, every time I heard something brilliant in Sharples without you knowing and I shared it as if it was my own quote, and every time I secretly heard the music through your headphones and it was the perfect song for my day, every spontaneous sing-a-long, every congregation in front of the mailboxes, every dash to get food before Essie’s closed, every time you congratulated me because I finished a thing, not because I got the grade back, every time you stayed because I could not be alone, every time you reminisce with me about how we met freshman year and it was so weird, every time this institution taught you something beautiful, technical, spiritual, and you struggled for it. For knowledge, we gave everything, together.
We know contradictions, because we know life, because we know vividness and complexity, how to be sentimental and critical of our time here, how to weigh the good and the bad, and the best quality of all, is that we know how to be weird, in the most remarkable way, the most resilient way.
And that is why I believe I know you, we just haven’t spoken yet, but I hope you want to and I hope you know our paths will overlap, because there is no intellectual process to coincidence. I will see you on the other side, and we will not be random passerbys, we will sit and we will talk about the remarkable times we had, together.