Dear Class of 2013 and those who love and support you,
I am so honored to have been asked to speak to you tonight on behalf of my faculty colleagues. This weekend is filled with such joy and celebration of your accomplishments—all that you have achieved leading up to and during your years here. I speak on behalf of the entire faculty when I say to you, “you are fabulous!”
You will get asked a lot of questions this weekend and in the weeks to come. Questions about your degree, your future plans, probably even your final GPA; did you graduate summa cum, laude, magna cum laude or thank you laude.
Rightly so—most of the weekend focuses on what you have accomplished: undergraduate and graduate degrees, achievements in departments and programs and your activities, which are too numerous to mention. And I am all for celebrating your achievements. You’ve attended a tough yet wonderful college during a tough yet wonderful time in history and came out ahead! So since for most of the weekend, we’re going to celebrate your achievements, I’m a take five minutes here and celebrate from a slightly different angle—I’m a celebrate you! Just you—who you are—and who you will become. For the next few minutes, you are you and not your major, your degree, you are not your class year, you not even your future plans.
If you want to know what I’ve done, (Why she up there?) Google it up. Instead, I’ll tell you a little bit about who I am.
Who am I—I am on Route 5 through open fields trying not to get a ticket—I’m the gal whose breath is taken away every time she sees her husband walk out in a suit and tie on to Ukrop Drive through those fancy Mason School of Business doors! I’m trying to think of everything that I and the College of William & Mary didn’t get to do to support you during your time here that I can get right with the class of 2017—help me with that. I’m on a journey to make sure everyone is included here — in this place, so that I can walk around the Wren building just smiling.
So who are you, class of 2013? To me, that’s the most awesome part.
In many senses you will always be the you who you were when you first were here — several years younger, running through the Sunken Garden, I hope with your clothes on.
You are fun nights at the Delis before some of you moved over to the Crust. You are forever the one who played hooky and rode the Verbolten or the one who spent 20 hours straight in Swem.
You are rugby rough and community research strong, you are cheering football teams on and sad people up, you are driving classmates you didn’t know before home through Hurricane Irene just because someone emailed and asked you to.
You are on all sides of political activism with passion and intellect.
You are Virginia’s promise, New Jersey’s dream, China’s spirit, part of the TJ posse, and that one kid to make it here from your hometown—ever!
You are somebody’s sibling—either by blood or oath or hope.
You are about to give your mother her best mother’s day ever—even if she can’t be here with you or if you’ve never even met her—even if she is a he.
Some of you are fashion plates and some of you have had on the same sweat pants for 4 years or 8.
But OH MY GOODNESS—I can’t wait to see WHO you will become!
I spend my spare time with my students and have no shame about it. Why? Because each of you is an individual masterpiece. And that’s what makes what I do intertwine with who I am (someone who will be here years from now happy to see you on your return, no matter if you knew me before just now or not.)
A couple of things to think about as you are becoming, you—post-graduation style:
- You could become someone who cleans up your social media. Cuz you know some of that confession stuff ain’t gone look so cute in a year or two. Because who you are is likely to be slightly different and context can be everything. And if it isn’t, share on—do you, boo boo!
- You could become someone who still always takes time to write a few thank you notes. It is amazing to be someone who takes that minute and they mean so much.
- You can become someone who continues to make friends in your class even after tomorrow- you’re gonna meet new people because of where you’re standing or what names are on the chairs in W&M Hall and in your department ceremonies! Say hi all eager like you did in Orientation 2009! It’s not too late! That person may be headed to your new town, or interested in the same type of music, or job as you.
- You can be someone – who even if you don’t care for W&M as a monolith who love the people affiliated with W&M individually – the students who come after you are desperately looking to you for advice and glimpses of what their dreams may look like realized. You can become someone who walks out of here tomorrow never to return or you can become someone who doesn’t miss a reunion or homecoming and either way I hope you’ll connect with the students – come guest lecture, speak at events in your old organizations, Skype with someone from around your way who has a dream of making it to William & Mary— make it a time and a priority commitment.
I’m becoming someone right now because of who my grandmother was that wasn’t even legally possible at the time of her dream. And in turn, the spirit of my grandmother has become the grandmother of a granddaughter who is giving this talk and the grandmother of a grandson who is graduating from here tomorrow. I can think of no better example of the fact that who you will become may actually take generations.
So honestly, there are no words for who we are in moments such as these. For those times when the who and the what are indistinguishable—our ancestors live again and the future is written. And that’s the true definition of swagga.
We’re doing our best tonight to honor that privilege and experience tonight through your triumph, some silence, and flames.