Nolan Gear '12
To President Chopp; Vice-President Eldridge; thank you. To the administration, deans and professors, the amazing arboretum and environmental services staffs who've made our campus gorgeous: thank you. To my parents; my grandparents; my brother and sister and my very first schoolteacher; to my dear friends, the apocalyptically great class of 2012 (the last class); to your grandparents, parents and friends: for the next eight or nine minutes, I have you all at my mercy. It's amazing that commencement speakers before me hadn't considered filibustering.
Squelch. Spinach. Sarcophagus. I can keep going. Indefinitely. Wanna hear a joke?
Why don't you want to mess with two burly tent-cent coins?
'Cuz they're probably the dominant pair o' dimes (*paradigms).
On a more serious note: that joke cost just over $200,000. Your groans were already paid for. Now who's laughing.
Friends, if the Mayan diagnosticians were right, or if Mitt Romney wins the election this November, ours will have been the very last class to graduate from college. Since it is perhaps a dead institution, let's pause to think how fundamentally strange the college experience is. Dorm life; chocolates and choosing; finger painting study breaks; we once had ponies on campus; there's always a malamute or two; that and back-breaking soul-shrivelling mind-enfeebling knee-shattering examinations. That's a strange dissonance, folks. Playtime and PAIN. It's like going to the MOST INTENSE KINDERGARTEN EVER. And we're Swatties so... there's actually very little that isn't bizarre about the college experience. Screw your roommate; the crum regatta; ninjagrams? Swarthmore begins to sound like a school for gifted mutants, or children whose unruly imaginations and social maladjustment have made them exceedingly dangerous. At worst, it sounds like we're all psychotic and potentially violent. We have a much-cherished event called the pterodactyl hunt! Ponder for one moment the possibility that we are all insane.
But today, as we galavant off into the grassy-green future, I'd like to talk specifically about the strangeness of commonality. Sameness. Think back four years. Freshman orientation. Many of us were relieved in our first weeks to think that now - now, finally we could meet, and befriend, and crush on, and thence avoid, and forge lifelong friendships with, and marry and eventually divorce, people just like us. It's a nice idea. Common practice, common taste, common politic - yeah. Of course, it's not true. The thing is, commonality gets expressed as a precondition; an "always already;" a fact of peculiar precedence, as if we were always swatties long before we were actually swatties. Think about the inveterate, almost exhausted notion of quirk - that which registers one as idiosyncratic, different, unlike one's context. And yet, hang on, we're all, apparently, quirky... unlike our context...? On a literal conceptual level, how can this be true? It just sounds like anarchy.
This all seems sinister, which it's not. Because we do have something in common. Fundamentally. Honestly. Something that unites us all. Please indulge me for a sec and close your eyes. Imagine a moment of perfect peace. The sunrise after that horrendous all-nighter. The calm before the coming storm. That nanosecond after the kiss.
BAAAAAAAA BAAAAAAA BAAAAAAAA (twice)
For those of you who don't know, that is the sound of the Swarthmore firehorn. In our post-pager age of cellphones and interconnectivity, that sound marshals the Swarthmore volunteer firefighters. It calls them to action.
That, my friends, that damn fire horn, that sound whose phantom echoes I fully expect to wake me up at 4 in the morning when I'm fifty years old in some weird post-swatty-but-how-can-you-be-a-post-swatty-was-I-ever-truly-a-swatty bout of neurosis - THAT is the sound of common experience. It's disorienting! It's pure shock. It alters us. Becoming us, becoming a Swattie, becoming is never inert or passive or pleasant, but is instead a process of constant and tremendous upheaval.
That sound is also the sound of the future. It's something we anticipate, and anticipation is the emotion of futurity. In a profound way, it's the sound of many futures, many fires, encroaching on and eclipsing the present. Boy I dunno about you guys but to me that sounds a lot like graduation.
It's hard in a space as sunny and benign as our ampitheatre to remember that the future is not by definition rosy. In googling "Quotes about the Future" I found the following: "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams." That was Eleanor Roosevelt - writing in the midst of the Great Depression. Here's the thing, class of 2012. The future does not "belong" to us - though we've been told that it has. We cannot hope or dream the future into docility. The future is fire.
I have a friend who I won't call by name because she'd find it tremendously embarrassing, really mortifying. Hilary Hamilton is terrified of most things, but especially terrified of that horn. You know the tunnel between the fieldhouse and sharples? You know how it echoes? Really magnifies sound? Well, she runs through it, has for four years, so as not to get caught in paralyzing echoing noise.
Running through tunnels is an anticipation, a fear, and deferral of the future - at the expense of the present. Mel Brooks has a quote that I love. He says: "We should 'now' ourselves more. 'Now thyself' is more important than 'Know thyself.' [...] All we do is make plans. We think that somewhere there are going to be greener pastures. It's crazy. Heaven is nothing but a grand, monumental instance of the future. Listen, now is good. Now is wonderful."
Folks, as we leave and go our separate ways, I urge you not to run through tunnels. After four years, we have been turned into swatties - richly, densely, passionately, resplendently, pluterperfectly weird-ass folks. Having made it this far, after enough shock, let's try not to anticipate, not to extend ourselves into a future that's already insinuating itself. Let's not run. Let's stroll. Thank you.