Patrick Ross '15
Thank you, President Hungerford, for the introduction. Thank you to the Board of Managers. Speeches like this tend to start with a long list of thank you’s, but unless I missed a memo, it turns out no one actually tells you who to thank. Apparently you just to get to make it up.
So here are the people I would like to thank.
Thanks to the LPAC staff, who have been preparing for this event all year long; to the Sharples staff; to the Essie Mae’s staff for working past midnight and not judging me for buying nine dollars worth of ginger ale; thank you to Financial Aid for making my education possible; thanks to Diane Anderson cause we’re tight. Thanks to the Theater Department for giving me a degree; to Media Services for being the coolest people on campus; thanks to Jocelyn Adams and Sarah Kaeppel for ghostwriting this speech; thanks to whoever controls the weather, I assume that’s someone on the Arboretum staff, although, I get overheated very easily, so especially under this gown, I might have appreciated a light drizzle.
And finally, I’d like to thank the provost, the president, and the faculty. As you probably are all aware, there was some controversy regarding the date of today's ceremony. It were originally scheduled for today, then rescheduled for one week ago - then rescheduled again for today after the students, uh, revolted. And so I would just like to say to the faculty, on behalf of the Class of 2015, and I would turn to face you if I could but you're all behind me and Scott Burgess from LPAC will get really mad if I mess up this microphone, so I'll just say it out but know that I am speaking to you, the faculty: thanks for having our backs.
I’d like to begin today with a few inspirational quotes...from Yik Yak. For those of you who don’t know, Yik Yak is an anonymous comment app, so these are real quotes that some of my classmates shared this morning.
Class of 2015, don't cry because it's over, smile because it's over.
Anyone have any last minute packing tips?
And then just a bunch of quotes about yeast.
Like much of this campus, up until yesterday this speech was under construction. But now that all of our families are here, don’t worry – it’s ready to go. There has been a lot of construction: the squash courts were torn down, and the Matchbox was built. There’s that crazy roundabout down in the Ville – frankly, I’m impressed that you all managed to get here on time. They’re working on the SEPTA tracks and the Crum Woods are now a wasteland. Dana and Hallowell dormitories are being connected. And I’m told that some of the offices on Parrish 2nd are being converted into residence halls for Mountain Justice members.
And it’s not just the campus that’s changed, either. We saw the end of the reign of Rebecca Chopp, who once called herself the Queen of Swarthmore. (Admittedly, in a Game of Thrones parody script I wrote for her, but the point still stands.) And things aren’t done changing. Next year, the College will welcome a new Queen, our 15th president, and first president of color, Valerie Smith. Of equal momentousness, all dorms will soon offer free laundry. These two equally important changes demonstrate to me that Swarthmore is in good hands.
Speaking of being in good hands... I’m not sure you’re in them right now. Don’t get me wrong, it is an honor to be speaking to you alltoday, but it’s a strange one. In theory, I'm supposed to have some great wisdom to share with you all. But I don't think that's why you elected me to speak. I think you probably just thought I was funny. I’m not Nina Johnson, nor am I Noel Quiñones. I do have to say SOMETHING of substance, however - offer some anecdote or advice and wrap it up in a way you haven't heard.
Last year’s student speaker, Morgan Williams, had a good metaphor. He compared Swarthmore to a prison. I like to think it’s more like a retirement home. All of your friends are here, everything you need is within a seven minute walk, the food is prepared for you, and eventually, everybody leaves. Some of us are going to a better place, and some of us, myself included, are stepping into the unknown... I was advised that that metaphor was too morbid, and I admit that it may have been. Let me try another one.
Swarthmore is like its bell tower. When you first start to climb it, it’s claustrophobic, you don’t know what’s happening, it’s all so fast, everybody’s crowded in together, shoulder to shoulder. Then you get up a little higher and it’s not claustrophobic anymore, it’s a fear of heights you’ve got. You’ve got so far to climb and the space to climb it. It’s so far up. We’ll never get there. But we go up, step by narrow step, and then before you know it, we’re at the top, and the whole campus looks tiny, and the Big Chair looks Small, and you feel on top of the world. And then you climb down.
Except I actually feel somewhat disingenuous using that metaphor because I missed the bell tower tour for a job interview. So I have one more attempt. Swarthmore is like a Latina magazine. I promise I’m going to make that make sense. Sophomore year, my roommate Josh McLucas and I ended up with a Latina magazine in our dorm room, because Anita Castillo-Halvorssen left it there, and neither of us were interested in it cause we’re both white dudes. So Josh and I started hiding it on each other’s side of the room, in pillowcases and closets, and eventually things escalated and I mailed it to London when he was studying abroad, and he sent it to Florida when I was there on spring break, and now, Josh, it’s behind you.
Anyway, I mostly put that in the speech so I’d have an excuse to give him the magazine, but when I thought about it, it actually does sum up my Swarthmore career. It’s something that happened unexpectedly, early on, that had a lasting impact, like taking that computer science class freshman fall when you’re sure you’re going to be an English major.
And the most important thing about that magazine is that it’s going to last forever. It’s this random, stupid, possibly offensive thing that just happened and now one of us is going to be buried with that magazine. I expect it to pop up at my wedding, at the birth of my children, and I expect it to turn up when I least expect it. And that’s true of Swarthmore, too. For me and Josh, it’s about this magazine, but it’s really about the little things we learned, the people we met, the connections we made, and how Swarthmore will pop in and out of our lives for the rest of our lives – at those big moments, yes, but also when we least expect it.
It’s also about friends who will come in and out of our lives, some who we won’t hear from for periods of time, some who we might never hear from again. And some who, if we’re lucky, won’t go far at all.
This past week – Senior Week – that week that almost wasn't - was, in theory, a week for relaxation and spending time with those friends, and just enjoying their company while we can. What I didn't realize is that when you aren't white water rafting or watching The Graduate, or on the beach or climbing the bell tower, you're undergoing a deep existential crisis about your future. Commencement is supposed to be the time where experienced people come onstage and tell you it's all going to be okay, and you elected me to come up here and give advice. I have no advice to give, except about magazines, because I'm undergoing the same deep existential crisis as you are. I'm still unemployed. (If anyone is particularly charmed by this speech, by the way, my dad is in the audience and he has copies of my résumé.)
Anyway, I’m no smarter than any of my classmates, and I don’t have life experience to share, so I did what any Swattie would do. I did my research. I watched a bunch of classic commencement speeches. Steve Jobs, 2005, Stanford. J.K. Rowling, 2008, Harvard. I read Hillary Clinton’s 1969 student address at Wellesley – she started campaigning for president there and then. She spoke about the poverty line, protests, and human liberation. You give 21-year-old Hillary Rodham a microphone and that’s what she talks about, which is why she’s going to be president. I’m never going to be president. You put me in front of 3,000 people, in a live stream over the Internet, simultaneously translated into three languages, in a speech that will live forever on the College website and I’m just gonna make a bunch of jokes.
But I have to say something. Hillary quoted TS Eliot in her speech, so I’m going to quote a poet of equal renown. Remember how your grandmother gave you a copy of "Oh, the Places You'll Go" when you graduated high school, and you didn't read it because you already had assigned readings for your first year seminar at Swarthmore? Well, now is the time, if you'll permit, for a few well-worn words from Dr Seuss.
You're off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting,
So... get on your way!
You might go to grad school, you might go to work,
You might get a place in the Ville and just lurk,
You might take a year off, a mental vacation,
You might just go home for parental placation,
And finally show all your grades to your mother,
But we'll all save the world, in one way or another.
You might join a think tank and think a whole lot.
You might go and teach all the things you've been taught.
You might go to med school and become a surgeon,
Or study some specific species of sturgeon.
You might go and help refugees out of war zones,
Or spend your days building, or harvesting hormones,
Maybe you'll go join the Cirque du Soleil
Or barista at Starbucks just for the pay
If you are a barista, you'll save the world too,
With your blog where you do PC TV reviews.
Swarthmore, the campus, is really quite small,
And quickly we learn it’s a small world after all
With that microcosmic yet spacious worldview
We realize we know what we’re all meant to do.
All worlds need saving. And now we’re prepared
To be the ones saving it. We can be scared.
We can be terrified we won’t succeed
But we will. That’s a promise I make, guaranteed.
Simple it's not, I'm afraid you will find
For a mind maker-upper to make up his mind
Nor a world-saver to savor the world
When into the future he, she or they’s whirled,
But we’ll make it happen. We’ll savor and save,
Together we’ll whirl into the world; we’ll be brave.
We’ve made it this far, might as well just keep going,
Keep learning, keep working, keep laughing, keep growing.
Keep keeping the good from the bad, and between,
And just keep on being the Class of...
Now, one last thing, just to reinforce my point that I’ll never be president, I’d like to address a campaign promise that I may have broken. John Alston, gird your loins, because I may have promised everybody that I would get the Chester Children’s Chorus to sing "Closing Time" by Semisonic. And then it became clear that a song with the line “one last call for alcohol” might not be the most appropriate song to be sung by a children’s chorus. So then I tried to get some a cappella groups to sing it but Kimaya Diggs told me the acoustics would be lousy and I just blindly trust her judgment on things like that so...
Instead, I’m just going to end with a line from that song, one which I think is particularly poignant: “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end.”
If that line wasn’t written to be quoted in a graduation speech, I don’t know what is.
This is it, Class of 2015. It’s closing time. Time to open all the doors and let us out into the world. We don’t have to go home but we can’t stay here. Time for us to go out to the places we will be from. I hope you have found a friend. I certainly have.
I know who I want to take me home. And it’s you.