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Commencement Address -- Ryan Budish '04

30 May 2004

I was duly prepared to present a speech this afternoon on Hegelian interpretations of our transference to larger hegemonic mediating social institutions and their ossification of dynamic manifestations of the dominant gender paradigms of our age. While I assure you that the wry and witty meta-humor would have had you rolling in the aisles, the administration requested that I tackle a far more serious issue: The persistent problem of Swarthmore's misunderstood image.

You all know what I'm referring to: The outside world thinks of our school as an elite academic pressure cooker. Just look in any one of those books that describes how to select a college and you will find Swarthmore described as the most intense or the most intellectual school in the country.

I remember when I was first considering schools, there was one book that I was particularly fond of that said that at Swarthmore students often enjoy discussing the intricacies of tax policy over dinner. While that image intrigued me, my younger brother Daniel found this description to be pathetically funny and a surefire guarantee of four years of pain and suffering. Whenever he called me during freshman year, he always made a point of asking if we had discussed tax policy each night in Sharples. Not wanting to confirm his initial impression of Swarthmore, I told him of course not. I know I shouldn't lie to my brother. So Daniel I apologize, we did talk about taxes, but this gets at the issue I want to discuss — Swarthmore's image and the administration's efforts to enhance our school's public persona.

Since the elimination of football, which only affirmed Swarthmore's intense scholarly image, our administration has worked diligently to try to portray a more wild, sexy, party-loving image. They allowed Abercrombie and Fitch to do a risqué catalogue shoot on campus. They also brought in an army of camera crews to shoot a hip new promotional video.

But so far, the administration has failed to reshape the school's image from the party-poopers of Parrish to the cool cats of the Crum. Now, in a new image strategy, they are turning to us, the graduating class of 2004, to present the new view of Swarthmore by carefully coordinating our actions, as we spread through out the country. To help direct our behavior, the school, in its infinite wisdom, has created a manual entitled The Graduate Guide to Bourgeois Bloviations.

So, today I reluctantly put Hegel aside and instead I've been asked to entice your participation by presenting a few tempting tidbits from the document. This, however, is just a taste; the entire 417 page manual will be shipped to your homes after printing is completed off of Blackboard from the McCabe public printers.

Now on to the guidelines:

  • If, say, you are invited by friends to visit an art gallery, do not immediately ask "What time?" Instead, crinkle your nose and proudly state: "I am a graduate of Swarthmore College, and I can't go because I'll be watching football and guzzling beer." Of course, if you don't remember what football is, substitute basketball instead.
  • When describing your upcoming vacation plans, do not excitedly describe the geologic rock formations you hope to discover in Arizona. No, instead state "I'm a graduate of Swarthmore College, and I can hardly wait to get to Graceland and get me an Elvis bobblehead."
  • When buying a car, forget the hybrid. Just walk in to the dealer and loudly proclaim, "I am a graduate of Swarthmore College, so just give me whichever SUV guzzles the most gas."
  • If someone offers you tickets to a symphony concert, do not respond with "I hope it's not the Pastorale because I've heard it three times already this week." Instead, the correct reply is: "No thanks, I am a graduate of Swarthmore College, and I already have tickets to see Outkast."
  • When comparing notes on your favorite radio shows, do not bemoan the loss of Bob Edwards on NPR's Morning Edition. Instead, it's: "I'm a graduate of Swarthmore College, and Howard Stern rules."
  • When ordering a meal in a restaurant, do not carefully peruse the menu to search out the vegetarian special. Instead, throw down the menu and proudly announce "I am a graduate of Swarthmore College. Just give me meat... raw!
  • And, if your date or significant other drags you to a film with subtitles, do not bring along your foreign language dictionary. No, wait until the movie starts and then in an easily audible whisper declare: "I am a graduate of Swarthmore College, and I can't believe this movie is going to make me read. I HATE reading!"

At first, you may feel a tad uncomfortable with these rules. But after a while, well, you'll still feel uncomfortable. Let's face it, you can take the students out of Swarthmore, but you can't take Swarthmore out of the students.

And you know what? That's really nothing to be ashamed of. There's nothing wrong with being intense, intellectual, or even quirky. There's nothing wrong with it because during my time here I have met some of the most fascinating, talented, and committed people.

I have been given not just the honor of speaking to you today, but also the task of trying to put something about the last four years into words. Several friends spoke to me about giving a speech that represented the class as a whole. After much thought, I realized that is a nearly impossible task and one that I did not undertake for you this morning. As much as we have been a community of friends, lovers, activists, teammates, and study partners over the past few years, the diversity of the Swarthmore experience keeps me from being able to collapse the totality of our time here into a few brief words that would be truly representative of the entire class. SWAT cannot be boiled down to an 8 minute speech, a catchy soundbite, a cool t-shirt, or even a short video. Swarthmore instills within us enduring values that cannot and should not be condensed or even re-imagined. We're sophisticated and complex people and this is a sophisticated and complex place.

Great works of literature can only be truly understood by reading each and every page. While SparkNotes might have helped us pass a few exams, it can never capture the eloquence of the author. In the same way, Swarthmore, in all its complexity, must be lived to be understood.

As I finish, I will avoid the temptation to give the obligatory motivational yet corny conclusion, like "go forth and succeed", or "we are all winners," or "no matter what they say or do to you, you're still a worthwhile person." There is little I could say that would motivate you beyond the great accomplishment of making it to this day. So instead I simply want to urge you to hold on to the intensity, hold on to the intellectualism and above all to hold on to the quirkiness, because those are the qualities that have made the last four years memorable. And I, for one, would not trade those years for anything. Although I suppose more Abercrombie and Fitch models would have been nice.