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Ripujeet "Sonny" Sidhu '09

Sonny will graduate this morning with a Special Major in Film and Media Studies, dual minors in History and Religion, and a passion for exploring the potential of human-computer interactions to alter and enrich human experience.
President Bloom's full introduction.

Good morning, everyone. Thank you, President Bloom, for that incredibly generous introduction — I'm really quite overwhelmed. Greetings and good morning to the faculty, the deans, the staff, and the members of the Board of Managers, the families and friends of the graduates, and, most of all, the Class of Oh Nine.

I am deeply humbled by the honor and grateful for the opportunity that you, my classmates, have bestowed upon me today. That said, it occurred to me, a few times actually, during the marvelous and mostly relaxing Senior Week we just shared, that somehow out of all of us, I was the last one still working, still burning the old midnight oil and desperately turning out pages in that familiar race against the evermore looming deadline. So, I thank you, '09, for this extra-special bonus graduation requirement. But I hope that you'll understand and forgive me if what I've finally opted to share with you on this most beautiful and momentous day, after much deliberation in the darkest bowels of McCabe, happens to begin with a brief meta-textual analysis of the commencement speech itself, tracing the evolution of the form through its recent history. It's been four years, folks, and old habits, I think we'll all soon be finding, die hard.

2009 will go down in history as a big, big year for the commencement speech, in terms of political interest, media attention, and cultural influence. This a season of high drama on the commencement dais, and addressing our class year has already proved an unusually demanding challenge to commencement speakers across the world. See, it used to be that a good commencement speaker only had to congratulate the graduating class, welcome them warmly into the productive society of their new peers, gently admonish them to remember their duty towards public service, and simply step aside to allow handsome editions of Dr. Seuss's seminal Oh, The Places You'll Go! to be exchanged in a timely manner, and that was it. Transaction complete. Hats in the air, everybody go home.

This year, the times seem to demand something more than the traditional effort, mostly because the ranks of the productive, adult society we've spent the last four years preparing to join are in somewhat obvious disarray. To be taken seriously today, any commencement speech has to include a long, hard examination of the harsh reality of the contemporary historical moment. In this regard, I promise not to disappoint.

I should note, however, that there is both good news and bad news.

I'll give you the bad news first. In the course of my analysis I've learned that in a commencement speech you never save the bad news for last.

The bad news is: The world is a mess. Integral parts of our society are broken, and desperately need fixing. And yet, just as there's so much work to be done, there's so little of it to be found. The worst thing is, none of this is our fault, but it's mostly going to be our problem. See, we always believed people older than us when they told us money doesn't grow on trees. It sounded right at the time. It still does, too. We figured the grownups had at least reached a consensus on this point before passing it on to us, though. We didn't know it was still up for debate all this time. That came as a surprise. In any case, it's settled now — the money-perhaps-might-in-fact-grow-on-trees crowd has finally and definitively lost their case. Somehow, though, when they lost, we all lost, and now it's a race to see which is drying up faster: the job supply or the credit supply. Now we stand on the amphitheatrical precipice of our graduation from Swarthmore, and the only thing that's certain for all of us is: whatever comes next, it's not going to be easy.

The good news is: Itis really no biggie. We got this, '09. Listen to me. This is what we do. This is what we're good at. We're Swatties. We flourish in an unforgiving climate. It's not exactly our style to back away from a difficult challenge. If it was our style, we wouldn't be at this school, and we certainly wouldn't be here today, dressed like this, getting ready to do what we're getting ready to do. The global economic crisis that will probably forever be synonymous with our class year may have made our lives more difficult, but it hasn't exactly rocked our worldview. We know you can't just declare that something has value when it really doesn't. That’s because we willingly attended a school at which 'grade inflation' is a foreign concept. We got that an 'A' was an 'A,' and if you didn't turn in the necessary effort (and in some cases the necessary WA copy), you just didn't get an 'A.' Period. Of course, that doesn't mean that we all aspired to an 'A' all of the time, but at least we know the rules of the game, and more importantly, we know that they exist for a reason. Perhaps if everyone was like us Swatties in this regard, there would have been no collapse. Here at Swarthmore, we've always understood the inherent value of hard work. It was this understanding that sustained us, through late nights and gritted teeth, for each of these past four years, and it's this understanding that will sustain us through whatever twists and turns an uncertain future has in store for us.

All I'm saying is, don't let all the recession talk that's taken over our graduation season rattle you for a minute, Class of 2009. I believe we've got this on lock. This recession thing, it’s the last of my worries, and it should be the last of all of yours, too. If we can just hold on to whatever it was that got us through the demands of a Swarthmore education, and keep doing that, the rest should pretty much fall into place on its own. The fact that some of us are trading the demands of academic assignments for the demands of money shouldn't make much of a difference, because the answer to both is always the same: hard work. Hard work is what we're good at, and hard work will always pay off in the end. So let the kids who coasted through college worry about the recession — they're the ones that don’t know how to deal with its demands. In the meantime, the most important thing we can do today is look to our closest friends, thank them for sharing this experience, and keep them close, because these are the people who made sure we completed this journey, from the first tentative steps of Freshman Orientation four years ago, to making sure we all got here on time this morning. Though we may have done our absolute best to distract each other from our work at every possible turn over the past four years, right now, at this moment, looking at how far we have come, it's impossible not to see that we have always been integral to our friends' successes here, and they have always been essential to our own achievements. Try to keep these friends close, because you never know when you might need that sort of support again.

The Class of 2009 is almost certainly going to face new challenges in the next year, above and well beyond those that have greeted any freshly minted Swarthmore class in a generation. The question, today, is not how we will confront the challenges that lie in our future, but how we will say goodbye to this place, this experience, and these incredible people — the very things that have prepared us so amply for any uncertainties ahead. I don't know the answer to this. I'm not sure any of us do. I hope we can figure it out together. For now, all I can say is good luck, and congratulations on a job done well and journey well done.