F&M Stories

Williamson Medalist Morgan Kincade's Remarks

Delivered at the 2016 Commencement of Franklin & Marshall College:

Thank you Dean Hazlett for the kind words and thanks to all of my peers and mentors for the constancy of your support.

In my first semester here at F&M, I went to Professor Bastian's office hours with a question I couldn't fully articulate: "I don't know how to explain it," I said, "But the more I read about Aristotle's idea of the 'state,' the fuzzier the idea becomes." She smiled saying, "That means I'm doing my job. My job isn't to make things clearer for you; if anything, it should be to make them less clear."

She was right. As I experienced continually over the next four years, opening space for new questions can be frustrating and even disorienting. But perhaps knowledge is not simply a thing obtained so much as a pattern of undoing. Our education at its best were times when we allowed ourselves to feel disoriented because that disorientation served as a site of growth.

The experience of "not knowing" manifested itself throughout our college careers. Consider the dreadfully awkward memories of moving into our Freshman dorms. On my first night here, I snuck out of a horribly uncomfortable pizza celebration in Brooks' common room with another first-year. We sat on the blue plastic cover of her bare bed and shared our anxieties. My partner in commiseration that day ultimately would become one of my closest friends here, but on that night we wondered: How would we make friends? What would the next four years be like? Did we really have to introduce ourselves to everyone we met?

We still experience uncertainty now but for different reasons. During my time here, I've sought the thrill of disorientation. After two years of adjusting in Lancaster, I pushed myself abroad. As I listened to the Call to Prayer resound through the hills of Amman and rode busline 76 through Paris on my daily commute, I felt utterly unmoored. Perhaps for you it was observing the stirring of cells on a petri dish or stepping out onto Roschel's stage for the first time. Each moment inspired a sense of wonder at how much is unknown and yet to be discovered—the disorientation, the terror, the joy.

We've experienced it in the classroom when the data we met in research didn't match our guiding theoretical models, so we learned to alter the models. This ability to adapt in response to disorientation was perhaps more important than any specific information we learned.

So how will this disorientation serve us moving forward? I can't say—or, at least, not for certain. I'm too fresh to this world for that. However, I'll share with you my hope. I hope that it will prepare us with tools to respond to our communities' needs more effectively.

Having had the privilege to know many of you, I know you hope to be constructive members of society. Your sense of humanity is immense and has inspired me as I've watched you fight to broaden educational access, advocate for gender equality, practice compassionate forms of therapy, research solutions to medical and social ills—the list goes on.

And yet, I sometimes felt bogged down by how much energy I spent on the haste of achieving. These moments were thrown into high relief by phone conversations with my parents. When I asked them about their days, I admired how they inevitably responded with conversations about their students, neighbors, or church members' wellbeing. To speak of themselves required speaking of themselves in relationship to others.

When they asked me about my day, on the other hand, my response too often felt like a self-centered list. I confessed to them that I felt consumed with too many things related to me: my thesis, my meetings, my job. And even though I was studying because I wanted to serve other people better, I felt caught up in myself.

Kindly, they listened and reminded me that the intensity of this experience was equipping me to be a better neighbor in the upcoming stages of my life.

I am confident that the skill of disorientation will aid us in being more constructive community members. I hope I can disorient myself again and again; I hope that I let my theoretical models dismantle themselves and reconfigure in a way that will make me a better community member—willing to be made uncertain in order to see others more clearly.

We didn't come here so we could feel confident in knowing; we didn't come here so we could pick out all of our social, political, and religious beliefs, because certainly we don't know what the future holds and what our place is in that future. Rather, we came to practice disorientation. We came to reorient ourselves into more active listeners and more thoughtful neighbors.

We will certainly meet challenges, the unknown. In fact, we are facing a new kind of unknown in this moment as we sit with our peers and mentors, waiting to cross the stage and approach the we're-not-quite-sure-what of our futures. Addressing all of you right now is its own kind of disorienting honor for me. I would like to suggest that this is not a problem. It is a site of growth. Allowing ourselves to be disoriented now and moving forward will enable us to realign ourselves in relationship to others. This is a lifelong project.

We may ask ourselves, "Where will I be in a year? Will I find this next step meaningful? Will it be lonely? And how will I know if I'm doing the right thing with my life?" The answer, for many of us, remains "I don't know." I would like to suggest that this uncertainty is our newest site of growth, and I hope we'll find comfort in the fact that this disorientation can make us better community members. So let's thank those who have and who will walk alongside us in this baffling and exciting complexity. And for how each of you has enriched my beautifully bewildering time on this campus, I want to say thank you. Congratulations, friends.

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