Joe Boninger '16 - Last Collection
Thank you for that introduction. I’d also like to thank the administration and the Class of 2016 for the opportunity to speak tonight, and Brooke Kelsey for helping me edit.
One event brings us together tonight, and of course, that’s the Apocalypse.
Here we are: the last humans on Earth untainted by the Zombie Virus that became an epidemic two weeks ago. For 14 days we have formed a bastion of civilization—a bubble if you will—making our homes in abandoned dorms and dining in our ramshackle mess hall, Sharples. Some of us have embraced the end times and lived hedonistically, holding events like “Night of Revelry,” a beer garden, a visit to an arcade bar, and a second beer garden for some reason. Others have been preparing for journeys into the wasteland beyond campus, hoping to find refuge in not too small, decently priced apartments. Some of us took Honors exams. Tonight we gather for our final stand against the zombie hoards. A lucky few of you will survive, and the rest will learn the subtle difference between the life of the mind and the life of the brain. By which I mean, eating brains.
Okay, that isn’t quite right. College graduation is not the Zombie Apocalypse. But I did experience a strange, end-of-the-world feeling when I finished my last homework assignment 12 days ago, a few hours before sunrise. I dragged my hastily typed essay into the Moodle submission box and I thought, “Wow, I did it. Now I can kick back, relax, move to a city where I know very few people, and begin the process of building a stable and fulfilling adult life for myself.” And suddenly I needed some air, so I walked out of my room and was met by empty rooms with bare mattresses on the beds. Door signs hung at odd angles and a few lay on the floor among garbage bags and forgotten shoes, indicating the residents had left in a hurry. A zombie attack seemed imminent.
Graduation is not the end of the world, but it is the end of a world for us, and the beginning of a new one. In the eyes of American society, we will be promoted from irritating millennial college students to irritating millennials in the workforce. To the Swarthmore Development Office, we will cease to be money trees and become money seedlings that must be watered with free alcohol during Alumni Weekends to bear fruit.
Our friends will not become zombies, thankfully, but some will be in different cities than us next year. Maybe that isn’t bad. To be honest, I only became friends with many you so I could name-drop you in 20 years. Mario Sanchez, we are not really friends, but when we took a seminar together last fall I made sure to just by chance sign up for the same presentation topic as you. This way, regardless of what I do with my life, I’ll be able to brag to my children that I once did a math project with the professional and probably accomplished mathematician Mario Sanchez. Not many people in the world can say that, and I hope my children will be nerdy enough to appreciate it.
Christine Emery, trumpet player, jazz music arranger, composer, designer of new surgical tools, I’m name-dropping you right now in this speech. You’re probably uncomfortable. The thing is, I could stand up here and brag about every single person I know in the Swarthmore Class of 2016 because the people I’ve met here are extraordinarily passionate, intelligent, and kind, and statistically that means the people I haven’t met are extraordinary as well. I feel honored to share this space with you, and while we’ll miss each other next year I know we’ll be moving on to bigger and better things.
Of course, bigger and better things won’t be easy to obtain. Our first jobs are not likely to be our last jobs, and our career paths will be steep and seldom straight. I was personally disappointed when I learned nearly all the jobs I could get next year would involve doing work in only one field. That isn’t very liberal arts at all! None of my interviewers even asked me if I knew how to swim. The career search reminded me of the computer science concept of NP problems: problems where a solution may be hard to find, but easy to recognize once you find it. I’m sorry, that isn’t meant to be a metaphor; it’s just an example of knowledge that I will not use in my job next year. I don’t mean to imply that our time spent learning here wasn’t worthwhile. On the contrary, I lament the fact that education will soon be an extra-curricular activity for many of us, including myself.
This new world we are entering is not a wasteland, but it does have some problems we will be confronting much more directly. Jay-Z was unfaithful to Beyoncé. There are too many superhero movies. And there are a whole bunch of more serious issues I won’t mention here to avoid trivializing them.
Comparing graduation to the Zombie Apocalypse is ridiculous and comically dark, but until recently my actual conception of graduation had not been that bright. Earlier in the year I’ve imagined myself rafting slowly down a river when, as if in a cartoon, someone yells “Waterfall!” and everyone else goes, “Ahhh!” What’s at the bottom of the waterfall? I don’t know, maybe sharp rocks. But I know we’re going over it, and that’s what graduation was to me. Then last week I was eating lunch with Elaine Zhou, who was preparing for a trip to Six Flags Great Adventure. She said to me, “Do you know how roller coasters always begin with a big uphill climb and then a steep drop? And when you’re near the top of that climb and you’re about to go over that drop, you can see the whole park—the tiny people in different-colored shirts and the merry-go-round and the cars parked on the asphalt outside—and your heart stops for a second and you feel a mix of fear and excitement? That’s what graduation is like for me.”
That’s a much better metaphor. She out-metaphored me, and she made me realize I had been shortsighted. Because there will be low points in our futures, and maybe sharp rocks close by, but there will also be very high peaks. Most importantly, the future is going to be a lot of fun. We’re going to chase our dreams. We’re going to take the love we’ve found in this community for each other and for the things we’ve studied, and spread it beyond the bubble. This weekend, let’s enjoy the view. Thank you again, and I wish you all a good night.