Yesterday, Olivet College graduated over 200 students, and I was one of them. I was selected to be the senior class speaker, and that was huge for me, I’ll post more about that experience later. I spoke for around tn minutes in a speech, and I wanted to share this for ages, but here it is:
Thank you, President Corey, and Good afternoon, fellow students, honored guests, distinguished faculty, emotional parents, and those of you who showed up here thinking there was a basketball game. It is truly a great honor to be addressing you all today. I come to you today, not as a valedictorian, not as cum laude, No honors, I’m just an overwhelmingly typical Olivet College Student. To say this is the hardest thing I’ve had to do at Olivet may not necessarily be true, but at least everything else I’ve worked this hard on got to be in my graduation portfolio. Also, there wasn’t a lot of help on this one from Wikipedia.
Seated in front of me are Artists, Scientists, Musicians, Writers, Aspiring Entrepreneurs, Gamers, and Dreamers, Black, White, Male, Female, Greek, Independent, Athletes, non-athletes, straight A students, and those who saw extra credit, not as an opportunity, but as a necessity. What a diverse group of people we have gathered here today. Take a good look around. A group like this will never pass through the halls of Olivet College again.
We took Olivet by storm in 2009, being one of the largest incoming classes the college has ever seen. The first year we shared many new experiences. The first roommate, the second roommate. The third roommate, the realization that maybe it really is you. The first encounter with a frat; the first encounter with the Kirk Center. The state yanked our promise scholarship, and graduation seemed so far away.
Year two we saw even more experiences, and some even unique. A new president and a SNOW DAY. This was big, this one snow day far increased the likelihood that whenever snow fell, there would be someone that would swear that class would be cancelled. Never to be right again. We had hit our stride as college students. We lived through the Arab Spring, and half of our college career.
In the fall of 2011, we were juniors. We finally saw our football team win. Classes became brutal, and we realized that we had to start acting like grownups before time ran out and graduated. Those thoughts lasted for a little while until Netflix loaded the episode of whatever show we had fallen in love with when we were in the fourth grade. We even got to enjoy eighty degree days in March when we are just getting there in May.
We spent our final summer of college working in jobs and internships, realizing that in one year we wouldn’t be college students anymore. So coming in for our senior year was bittersweet, time was running out, but we were at the top of the food chain. It’s odd how when you were in high school, college freshmen seemed like the most mature people ever. And here we were as seniors, how perspective changes things.
Not everyone that started with us are here today, they left us for careers, they left us for service, or they are about to enjoy another summer avoiding having to grow up. Be proud, your own effort is what kept you on the path to where you are right now. However, I’m not discounting the support from everyone else here. The excellent faculty; who got to know us, and not just by name. The Support staff, with some of the most friendly people I have had the pleasure of getting to know. Our parents, who regularly assured us that money doesn’t grow on trees, our fellow students, I mean, Active Role in a Group project is a portfolio requirement. But it’s more than just that. For the last four years, we have been members of this large, often dysfunctional family. Living together, eating together, and learning together. I can’t think of a finer group of people with whom to have shared that time. Individually, however, you combined the efforts of those whose help I just mentioned. You, through determination, fortitude, a good amount of caffeine, and dash of panic, you pulled those all-nighters to meet the deadlines. You pretended to pay attention while your advisor told you the same story for the fourth time. You successfully avoided the dark places of the internet where pictures of cats with captions on them rule; well, at least long enough to get your work done.
Don’t think that the diploma you are about to receive means that you can stop working and just kick back, relax and let the cash start flowing in. The old adage that today is the first day of the rest of your lives hold true, especially today. Olivet has imparted you with the education. Now it’s up to you to use it. And regardless of what specific knowledge you may have gained. There is one central idea: Responsibility
You may recall that ‘Individual and Social Responsibility’ is the guiding principle by which Olivet College operates. Oookay, a lot of blank stares, how about the portfolio requirement? No? The one thing that was on every flier that got put out on campus? (defeated sigh) Just look on the back cover your programs.
Starting with individual responsibility, I’m sure you all are familiar with the responsibility of making good decisions Tuesday nights and spending the evening preparing for Seminar (the following day). You navigated the dangerous disorder known as senioritis, or as Provost Davis once pointed out to me, since the symptoms do not include inflammation, seniorosis. Our own choices and actions determine who we are and how we all fit in this odd society. We came to this college thinking we had a pretty good idea who we were, now we know a whole lot more.
Everyone about to graduate has, in their mind, some grandiose idea of how they will make this a perfect world, and it’s just so simple. And behind them sit everyone else, (face-palming and with a collective) ‘[gasping] gaaaaahhhddd’ they lament that we have no idea how the world really works. And you know, they’re right. We are all about to experience the real meaning of individual responsibility, we are about to have all kinds of bills, families, and careers. And, just like most in-class presentations we have had, you have to wing it until you find what works. Then, and only then, can you move on to making your impact on the world through the second half of our education, Social Responsibility.
Now being beneficial to society and making an impact on the world sound like big tasks, but in all reality, it means to live well; it means to do what’s right, not just some of the time, but all of the time. You don’t have to cure cancer, find high-powered, efficient alternatives to fossil fuels, or end world hunger. (I mean, if you can do that, then awesome, you get extra credit.); but do good work and take ideas like accountability and respect to heart and live them. You know how to do that already. These ideas are the spirit of the Olivet College Compact, and for the last four years, you have lived the seven, twenty-four seven. You are responsible for your own actions and the impact you make. Serving others and treating them with respect. Communicating and behaving with honesty and integrity. And taking pride in where you are and where you come from. So go forth with your new degrees today and begin your new lives. Share the wisdom that Olivet has imparted in you, and take to heart the compact. I have high hopes for us all. You are all bound for excellence. I’d like to once again thank you all, and congratulations, Class of 2013. Good luck.