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Charisma Hasan '24 - Last Collection

student speaking at podium

Charisma Hasan '24 - Last Collection

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Good evening. As we gather here today for Last Collection, I've been struck by the gravity of this moment for the past four years of college. It's not lost on me that addressing this event is no easy task. There are no grand gestures or theatrics involved in Last Collection. We are not here to please our parents and family members, nor to entertain the Alumni Office or the administration of the College. Simply, we have no formal obligation to Last Collection.

And while I realize that this may be a good enough reason for some of our class members to skip this event, I think that that is what makes Last Collection a special event. We are here right now sitting in the heart of our campus for only ourselves and those around us. So yes, while there is no formal obligation to this event, I do feel as though we have an informal obligation to use Last Collection as an opportunity for reflection.

As such, I'm not going to tell you what Last Collection should mean to you, nor what the speech should as well. Last Collection is an opportunity for each of us to pause, to reflect, and to find closure as we bid farewell to our time at Swarthmore.

While this is a deeply personal event for each of us, lean on your friends sitting next to you and lean on your peers who are all going through a similar process. We are very much together in this situation.

While I hope that what I share with you now might help guide your reflection or add fodder to thought, there is much reflection to be done by each of us individually. So tonight, rather than overwhelm you with formalities or existential questions, I simply want to tell you about one aspect of my personal reflection upon my experience at Swarthmore, and I'll keep it brief.

To me, the greatest gift this institution has bestowed upon us is space for thought and a community of thinkers. In any place at any time on campus, students can be observed and heard engaging with thought. From the dining halls and cafes to the grass lawns and maybe a library every once in a while, thinking is alive at Swarthmore. While this may sometimes manifest in an impressive ability to study in every chair and stump around campus, it also manifests in vibrant and often entertaining conversations. You'll overhear discussions of quantum mechanics in the Matchbox, breakdown of game tapes in McCabe, and debates over whether you are slipping or sliding during slip and slide on the Willetts Hill at 2 a.m. I never said that the thinking has to be academic.

All this is to say, though, that thought is what Swarthmore students thrive on. This being said, I have no doubt that every one of us here can critically think about the things that come next after college.

Swarthmore has more than prepared us for the intellectual challenges that we will face in our careers and our personal lives. We are knowledgeable in broad fields, and even so more specific in our disciplines. We are not afraid to ask questions, spark debate, and are eager to add to the intellectual communities that we're a part of.

But amidst all the intellectual prowess, I've come to realize that true wisdom extends beyond knowledge alone. No job or personal situation will ever rely solely on your intellect or your ability to reason. Every situation you encounter in life will require more than an application of knowledge to be handled in the best way possible. I say this not to be pessimistic about your college experience, but to ensure that you're taking away as much as you possibly can from the past four years.

I've thought about this quite a lot recently amongst the personal existential rumblings of my last semester here. At Swarthmore, I have garnered such breadth and depth of knowledge in my intended career fields. But how will this knowledge really serve me? As future professors, physicians, lawyers, activists, and change makers, how do we really make use of our time at Swarthmore?

This past semester, I felt as though I got a bit closer to bridging this gap. As a part of my senior capstone for my philosophy major, I studied Aristotle quite heavily. In all the work that Aristotle is acclaimed for, he is particularly known for his determination of the virtues or qualities and characteristics of an individual that make them a good or moral person. Courage, temperance, magnanimity, patience, and justice come to mind.

However, there is one lesser discussed virtue that I found myself particularly interested in. This virtue is what Aristotle calls phronesis, and can be thought of as practical wisdom. In short, phronesis is the ability to apply your intellect and abilities to real life situations in a way that does the most good for others.

In my opinion, practical wisdom should be regarded as the master virtue above all other intellectual or personal capacities one may have, and I will tell you why. Practical wisdom is the bridge between the knowledge that we take away from Swarthmore and the impact that we make on the world. The intellectual expertise we have can stand on its own in a classroom or on a paper, but it cannot in the real world. Our careers and personal lives will challenge us with situations and interactions that will not fit the mold of a textbook or any lecture.

To handle the nuances of experiences and challenges we will face, we must be practically wise. Because practical wisdom at its core is the wisdom of action. It is a skill necessary to make applicable the formal knowledge that we have gathered here. It is a skill necessary to live a fulfilling life for yourself, to do the most good for those around you, and to be a change maker.

So how does one develop practical wisdom? The short answer is through improvisation, failure, and reflection. Face new experiences and challenges eagerly. Whatever comes with these experiences is an opportunity to learn. So allow yourself to fail at times as long as you are intentional about reflecting upon those failures. Give yourself time and space to reflect on experiences to improve your decision making. We must carve out spaces, both mental and physical, to dissect our missteps, to reflect carefully, and to glean wisdom from every stumble.

As my good friend Sam always reminds me, Michael Jordan never lost, he just learned. Practical wisdom is not an easy virtue to develop. It requires a commitment to doing good by others, an ability to recognize your faults and failures, and the confidence in your own knowledge and judgment to make the difficult decisions when needed. However, most of all, it requires grit and perseverance through challenges.

We encountered our fair share of challenges together in our time here, and we will continue to throughout life. But with the knowledge we've gathered at Swarthmore, along with the commitment to develop our practical wisdom in a way that will serve others and ourselves, I'm certain that we can all navigate the confusing world of post-collegiate life with grace.

I want to close with a poem from William Ernest Henley that has been very pivotal in my college career and development as a young person. For if anything sticks with you tonight, I want it to be that you are the keeper of your own education, and you will continue to be so throughout the rest of your life.

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever Gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance,
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

With that, Class of 2024, I urge you to continue to be thoughtful, but also make that thoughtfulness count. Be a student of the world, but also be an actor in it. Go forth with courage, bravery, and grit, because the world will thank you for it. Thank you.