Swarthmore Commencement Address -- Toby David '06
Hello, hey howdy, I wanna say hi to everybody out there, all of you, whom I love, hey Bubby. This is awesome, I feel great, I feel really great. It's one of those times in life, occasions I am not unfamiliar with, where you have to step back and ask yourself, am I as big as I feel? I feel huge.
I wanna thank primarily democracy for making this possible for me today, but also the small yet... tenacious group of conspirators that really pulled me through, as in any democracy really...
Anyway, forget all that nonsense, drivel, we have something important to talk about today. I've been studying a fair amount recently, well... a lot, for a while now. I'm a... I was a religion minor here at Swarthmore, so I've learned a lot about reading, I've done a lot of reading, I've learned how to read a lot, and not read. I've also not read a lot. But in any case I've learned that there are a lot of ways to read, you can read through different lenses... I'm really trying to tell a story here, today. This is a pretty huge story, it's totally sweet, pretty important to me, but you know what makes this story different from all other stories is what makes this day special... it just fits it fits, snugly.
I guess if I were to title to this speech I would call it "Re-Reading Exodus as Swarthmore through a Babelian Hermeneutic." I'm going to tell the story here today of a people's exodus, an escape, and a subsequent, extended, sometimes painfully protracted period of wandering. I'm gonna focus here on details, snapshots, flashjobs if you will. Excerpts from the story, sometimes esoteric, that do a particularly righteous job of being exactly what went down here, with us, I hope. I'll tell the story not as it goes in the original telling, that is in the book of Exodus in The Bible, but as the story went when we were the people, the tribe, not of Israel... not at all of Israel, but of Swarthmore.
So... I should say I cannot speak for everyone's experience, but when I came to Swarthmore I was coming from a place of bondage, oh it was bad. And I left that place and went towards the land of Swarthmore. Behind me the army of my oppressors rode furiously on red-eyed spit-mouthed steeds kicking up a cloud of red dust on the horizon. I stood on the banks of the great sea of Swarthmore, looking out over the sea, the wine-dark, the snot-green sea, the scrotum-tightening sea. And I stood prepared to cross this sea on foot, to ford the wagons and such, but the sea did not part. I entered the water unafraid, I walked in and the water rose to my ankle, I walked on and the water rose to my knees, it rose to my hips, to my navel, my nipples, the water rose to my chin, I walked on. I got in way over my head.
And then here, on the beach of Swarthmore, and I saw the people of the tribe of Swarthmore, we were all brought here by the powers that be, fate, chance, karma, the divine, evolution, what have you. Together we wandered in this wilderness for forty years... alright, four years, wandering in this strange wilderness. But not a desert, no, that would have been far too straightforward, instead we found ourselves in a place that looked much more like a garden, an Eden, an Edenic wasteland. And I looked around for a leader, the one who would guide us all through the wilderness, our Moses, and found instead that everyone at Swarthmore is Moses, everyone has long grey hair, and wears robes, and has horns with light coming out of them. And so at Swarthmore I have been led by all of you, taught by all of you, inspired by and perspired on by all of you. Thanks.
The people of Swarthmore were hungry and called for food, and the powers that be sent down manna for the people, in the form of bag lunches, and the people ate and it was good, and the squirrels also ate of the manna, and had no fear of the people of Swarthmore, less good.
And since the children of Swarthmore had never been and never would be of a single mind, never, never ever, they divided into smaller tribes, with particular interests. And so came the tribe of the Humanities, which begat the tribe of Literature, which begat many aimless but fervently well read and passionate youths. And also came the tribe of the Sciences, which felt pure, and the Tribe of the Social Sciences, which seemed a little contradictory. And also the tribe of honors students, the most self-flagellating of all the tribes, and many other tribes and sub-tribes, and clubs and receptions with free wine for the bold. Also tribes of all sorts, that supported eachother... and all the Moseses were down with their own jams. And each tribe received tablets of commandments from the powers that be. Commandments like "Thou Shalt Honor Thy Professors" which were followed by all, mostly, and commandments like "Thou shalt honor public property" which were followed less, and commandments like "Thou shalt work more than thou can, and turn in a WA copy," commandments against which I have sinned gravely. And still they were a people, a single people, the people of Swarthmore, who wandered on in this wilderness.
And the children of Swarthmore longed for fleshpots, the sumptuous fleshpots that lay outside of the wilderness. And the powers that be sent them to Sharples, and the people were struck down by a plague of rapid onset loose poopy.
And the kids beheld a fire blazing in the night sky, or rather, many fires blazing in the night sky, and each Moses-person faced their blazing apparition which the powers that be set before them to guide them out of the wilderness and into a promised land, or at least, a land, somewhere else. And the fire burned in the hearts and in the undercarriages of the people, and it was warm, and sometimes hot, burned.
And still the children of Swarthmore mourned, and moaned, and wailed. And moaned and bitched and whined and mourned.
Thirst came upon the tired, the so very awfully tired, the third blue balls energy drink tired people of Swarthmore. And the thirst would not be quenched, and they called on the powers that be and they were told to break rocks. And they did. To slake my thirst, I have broken many...rocks. In anger, here in the beautifully maintained wilderness, broken a lot of things, pencils, stuff, from my thirst. (Shrug). I don't know.
This wilderness has been a... a carnival-esque comfortable fantasy cage. Right? And all the people were alone and all the people were together, and always wandering, sometimes walking purposefully, towards their path out of here,
And now we stand at the border of the wilderness, facing out over our promised inevitable-somewhere-land. And we will go out, some together, some alone, and find the walled cities of our enemies... no, not our enemies, but walled cities, or gated in communities, where things ain't quite right. And it will be the children of Swarthmore who topple the walls of these cities, after the people have carefully considered as many perspectives of the walls and what they contain as possible of course, the people of Swarthmore will bring the great stones and also bits of mortar, down from the walls that do greatly offend the people and their senses.
And most importantly, it will not be accomplished through violence, or ignorance or stubborn-hood. But instead through the very force and play of our vision, our intelligence, our will to do what is right, our fecundity, our questing curiosity, our virility... or what have you.
So, Moses...es, everybody, Thank you for being with me as I wandered, thank you for walking before me, behind me, and beside me. Thank you for moaning... Thank you for all that you have given me, all the commandments, all the fleshpots, all the friendship, everything. After all, what is life but a breath of smoke, out of the mouth of the powers that be, and into the wind. And you have all carried me. Congratulations, hug your family, make good choices, word is bond.