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Zain Talukdar '19 - Last Collection

Zain Talukdar speaks at Last Collection

Zain Talukdar '19 - Last Collection

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Good evening everyone. Thank you Swarthmore faculty, staff, and community members for making this day possible, and especially thank you to my Friends of the Class of 2019. My name is Zain Talukdar and I am a candle.

Four years ago, the opportunity to speak in front of all of you was a vague abstraction far above my pay grade. I was so overwhelmed with even being in Swat, so it felt like I didn’t even deserve to think about it. I had no idea that my abstraction would turn into this night of commemoration, and I’m grateful for that. So standing here tonight, in front of all of you, I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished. We made it. We are the Class of 2019 and we are candles.

So on this night of brightness, I want you to join me and think about candles. Especially the one that you will light later tonight. Are they just pieces of wax with a little wick to sustain a small fire, or do they represent something greater? At our First Collection, we were told these candles represent the Quaker notion of the Light within all of us. They are meant to burn brightly through four years of struggle and transformation. I know for many of us, First Collection seemed like a formality, and some of us haven’t been to another Collection since. But for me, candles have appeared as motifs, many times and have carried many different meanings throughout my Swarthmore career, and I want to share some of those moments with you. So today I say: I see candles everywhere.

I saw many small flames at First Collection that dared to enter here and explore the world’s possibilities. I saw candles in Orientation icebreakers turning into shape-shifting wax at Sophomore Planning. We sat with each other and saw Swarthmore as a radiant sculptor for our aspirations. We shared pass-fail’s innocent energy and sophomore years’ stressful discovery. We shared raining tears when our flames turned dim in times of slump, and we covered each other’s flames with our hands when the wind was too strong. The idea of liberal arts was far-fetched in four years ago, but today it represents a value system of intense, bright self-discovery that made us who we are today. I see candles in my education.

I see candles in myself, in mental health’s vocabulary arsenal of Imposter Syndrome and depression and suicidal thoughts and anxiety and panic attacks and maybe I see candles in my own dark clouds because my dark clouds once told me I was unfit for this place. I see candles in my journey of overcoming because I once only saw overcoming as an out-of-body experience, and now I see that overcoming is a candle that burns within me and around me.

To my family, thank you for braving immigration and the dangers it presented to our lights, to give me this opportunity. Thank you for so desperately clinging onto your home but coming here anyway. I hope I made you proud, but the work doesn’t end here. To my baby sister Abiha, I’ll always remember that you were safe in my mom’s stomach when I moved here and you are still unaware of the world your brother lives in away from home. On my few visits home I see candles in your toddler walk when you laugh at duckies and puppies and when you finally start recognizing me on FaceTime. I hope I make you proud. And to myself, please forgive me for the times I told you that you were less than capable, that you were less than a raging fire of possibility. I hope I make you proud. I hope I remind you that there are so many like you that struggled through this institution with you.

I see candles in the people of color, the low-income students, the first in their families who saw THIS as hope. I see the persistent ember of those who force solace with their wealthy peers every single day and I remind you that THIS is ours I see burning spirit when we say that this land used to belong to Lenape candles, and I see fiery rage when we talk about our resentment of setting foot here and claiming discovery lit under darkness. I see the fire of disappointment in some of you. We burn not just for us but for others whose flames we try our hardest to sustain.

I see candles in the mobilizers who turned burning injustice into productive, passionate energy when protest after protest after protest led to disappointment after disappointment after disappointment. I see candles that burn in a house that attempts to dim your light, but especially this semester, you taught me that student mobilization is the brightest fire I have ever felt here. You never cease to amaze me.

I learned that this world is illuminated by countless bright lights that I often let blend into the background, and I leave here with a sense of regret for every day I did not give you the time of day...from my EVS tech Arletta and her powerful “good mornings,” to Gilbert, Steve, Carol, Donny, Sally, everyone at Essie’s and Sharples, to Azim at Aria’s, to the guys at Hobbs that shout “triple caramel iced latte” out loud so everyone knows that my fire runs on caffeine but it burns because of you, and thank you for every day that you carried your stories and struggles but still managed to provide light in dark days.

I see candles that carry the spirit of Sam Jenkins, who should be with us today, but who lives on in the breath of this community of Swarthmore, and in the pulse of the flame we leave here with.

I see candles in the Class of 2019, who carried the formidable task of embodying Swarthmore and all its paradoxes. Of warm social interactions with subzero temperatures, of pride in our place here with imposter syndrome, of Parrish beach tightropes with Parrish beach snowstorms, of wearing school spirit while sighing exhaustion at our institution's failures, of forcefully representing diversity and acknowledging that there is a long way to go, of 1 a.m. McCabe extroverted excursions to introvertedly ignoring passing Swatties when we’re just tired of seeing the same people every single day. We have had to do all of that. Though we have yet to light our candles, I want you to think, really think about what you will be carrying in your hand tonight. What it embodies for you.

And here we are now, exhausted and weathered, but bright as transcendent lights of intelligence, power, and capability. Bright on this night and bright in the face of what’s to come. Thank you.