Thank you, Dean Hazlett, for your kind words. Thank you, professors, mentors, friends, my parents, for the parts you have played in my life over these four years. I would not be standing here today without your unfaltering trust, support and kindness.
Four years ago when I arrived at Franklin & Marshall College, I was unsure about what I would make of my experiences here. I came to college in the U.S., on the other side of the planet, thousands of miles away from home in Georgia to spend four years among people whose culture I was not truly familiar with. I packed my life in a single suitcase and took a leap of faith. Curiously, when I think back to those moments, it is not the uncertainty or the fear of the unknown that I remember. I remember hope and excitement, the thrill of discovery that accompanied not knowing exactly what I should or could do.
We have all experienced some of the same kind of uncertainty at one point or another during our time at F&M. You may have experienced it when you were moving in, just like me. Or when you were declaring your major. Or when you studied abroad or took an internship in a new city. In those moments, you truly embraced the randomness of circumstances because regardless of how much you planned ahead, there was always a pretty big chance that you would be caught by surprise. So you allowed yourself to be surprised, to explore what you did not know, to challenge your perspective and broaden your understanding.
The process of discovery and learning is driven by uncertainty. It is what gives the pursuit of knowledge such an appeal. It is the unknown that is most fascinating to explore because of its promise and its potential to help us learn about our own selves and the world around us.
At F&M, our uncertainty at the beginning of our four-year journey was given room to develop in all aspects of our college lives. We explored the unknown in our research projects and honors theses. We heeded the counsel of advisers and mentors when we thought we had lost our sense of direction. We tested ourselves as leaders, proposing a variety of events and projects, in an attempt to help further the causes that needed attention, time and commitment. We were never completely sure of the results of these actions, but we were driven by the understanding that we had to try.
In our classes, we were encouraged to work through the murkiness by asking questions, conducting tests and experiments, solving problems – all in order to give rise to more questions, to identify more of the unknown. We have been taught to be open-minded and to find creative ways to understand and deal with problems. From the science and methods labs to writing and painting workshops, our liberal arts education has taught us to critically question what we take for granted, to improvise, and to not fear but rather embrace the uncertain.
Because uncertainty is a fact of life. And yet in moments like this, when you have completed one of the milestones and emerged as a new person from the rite of passage, it is hard not to experience uncertainty with some trepidation. Especially because this year, more than any other year of college, has been particularly hectic and because most of us have been thrown into the chaos of reconfiguring our goals and reorienting ourselves in relation to these goals.
Over the past few days, I have been once again packing up my life. Instead of one suitcase, as it was four years ago, it’s now two large ones. As I pack, I have been inevitably reminiscing about our experiences together, from the first-year orientation to the last few all-nighters in the library.
I found our convocation program, which also was held in ASFC, so we have really come full circle (thanks partially to the rain). I also found my major declaration form, dated Dec. 11, 2014, and an accompanying loose guide for completing it. I recall going to the office of my academic adviser sometime after declaring Business, Organizations and Society along with Sociology and presenting her with my thoughtful, scientifically constructed and empirically feasible plan for completing both of my majors. I remember her smiling at me and telling me that it is good to plan for life as long as life does not escape you while you are planning for it.
Other things that I found include five stress balls collected at various OSPGD events and from the libraries, innumerable notes and cards from friends, the volunteer T-shirt from our first year, and a very recent addition to my collection of oddities – a teleidoscope.
I have to thank Professor Carol Auster for introducing me to a teleidoscope. A teleidoscope is a type of kaleidoscope; in terms of physical form and shape, the two are practically indistinguishable. It is only when you look through the lens of each that you can tell the difference between them. Looking through the lens of a kaleidoscope, one can only see two or three sets of colorful patterns designed and installed during the production process. In a teleidoscope, mirrors are positioned so that they reflect what is visible through the lens, rather than the pre-installed patterns. Through the lens of a teleidoscope, your environment breaks apart and comes together in countless colorful pieces, and geometric patterns. Everywhere you look, something different meets the eye; nothing looks the same. This surreal world is dazzling and confusing. It is familiar and foreign. It is ever-changing. It is uncertain. It is an organized mess.
As we step over the threshold and enter the intimidating “real world,” as we pack the immeasurable weight and significance of our education and experiences into a few bags, boxes, trunks and suitcases, I hope we remember that the world we have been living in for our young lives has been far from unreal. I hope we remember the uncertainty we felt when we first saw the Barshinger cupola or the spires of Old Main – and how that uncertainty was met with the thrill of learning and discovery we have experienced at F&M. We have seen the beauty, the appeal and the challenge of being uncertain, and at F&M, we have tested our strengths in dealing with what we do not know and do not understand.
My classmates, have faith in your abilities and in your education, reflect on your experiences, and you will find what you need to overcome the trepidation over not knowing what is to come.
Watching you expanding the limits of our knowledge and shaping the form and purpose of our community with inexhaustible dedication has been inspiring and a constant reminder of what a privilege it is to be one of you. Thank you, Class of 2017! Best of luck in your future endeavors and congratulations!