|June 7, 2010|
Remarks by student speaker Nikhil Kothari
Four years ago, I remember sitting here in Hull Plaza, attempting to be enthralled by the prospect of my sister’s graduation from Union College.
Surrounded by proud family members, I remember my mother and father constantly reminding me to put away the phone and show some interest. After the ceremony, my sister and her friends cried and hugged, and I replied with the warmth and consideration of a good younger brother: I told her to stop embarrassing me.
Nikhil A. Kothari '10 walks to the podium to give the student address at Commencement 2010.
Now, with the prospect of my own graduation, I completely understand the mix of emotions and the weight of the moment that she felt.
Although I’ve been fortunate enough to have engaged in many campus commitments and activities, describing my four years at Union proves to be a difficult task.
When people have asked me how I feel regarding about my college experience, and what I’ll miss the most, I generally respond with a blank stare and an eventual goofy but dismissive remark. Even at this point, I can’t decisively answer that question, and it doesn’t bother me in the slightest.
I’d prefer to avoid any element of nostalgia, redirecting my focus toward the future, and the tools that I and my classmates have been afforded by our years here. We can all agree that during freshman year, countless opportunities were thrown at us, but it was the very few that stuck that have shaped our time here.
Acknowledging the risk of sounding predictable, I’ll go ahead and state that Union College is one of the most unique undergraduate institutions around.
Despite our small size and “sheltered” atmosphere, students here display an eclectic range of interests and abilities.
It seems as though every day we can find venues to discuss political and cultural phenomena, however bizarre, and more importantly, score some free food. Minerva House councils are given the reins to annual budgets of tens of thousands of dollars, and the student investment fund actually controls a sizable portion of Union’s endowment.
Our celebration of diversity is commendable, as well. Anyone who has seen macho “frat boys” dancing to Indian music with crazed enthusiasm at some of our most well-attended cultural shows will attest to this. Principally, we’re constantly encouraged to take some sort of initiative, and in a small community such as this, it’s inevitable that each and every student will create a niche for him or herself.
Union molds its students into worldly individuals, intrinsically motivated and intensely concerned with disasters such as those in Haiti and Chile. However, members of our community acknowledge that disasters are not necessarily acute, and that slow-moving catastrophes occur daily.
I’ve found people to be remarkably receptive to any issues I wish to raise, regardless of the venue or cause. Every day, while sorting through the various Facebook invitations we inevitably receive, we’re reminded of this enthusiasm.
A great number of my fellow graduates, including myself, are planning to travel to developing nations, either through the Minerva Fellowship, the Peace Corps or the Watson, among others. Increasing numbers of our graduates enter the public sector, deliberately choosing the less commonly tread and prosperous paths.
This speaks to our sense of ambition, adventure and commitment.
Most importantly and regardless of our endeavors, it is clear that we all aim to extend our educations beyond the confines of the classroom. As such, while we leave the days of meal swipes and the point system (or naked Nott runs) behind us, now is not the time for melancholy reflection.
Today we celebrate the tools that our Union experiences have provided us, and perhaps imagine the impressive feats we’ll accomplish with such skills, along with the remarkable futures we’ll carve for ourselves and others.
Albeit with the limited wisdom that any 21-year-old can possess, I challenge all of you to remember the ambitions and accomplishments of these past few years.
We may all feel encumbered by a sense of inadequacy at this point, a lack of a confidence in our abilities to excel outside these gates. The key determinants of our successes and failures will rest upon our abilities to grapple with these reservations wisely and calmly.
The real world is just as intimidating as it may seem, however much more malleable than we allow ourselves to believe, and this distinction underlies a world of difference.
Today’s crises dictate that now, more than ever, society is in need of the resilience, concern and innovation that we have all shown throughout these few years.
So eventually, when we return to campus as alumni, remarking upon the new buildings we’ve had named in our honor and standing in a grand circle of accomplishments, I feel confident that we will return having already made an impact upon this “real world,” however subtle it may be.
We are here in an incalculably privileged position. These past four years have served as a training program of sorts, allowing us to surmount or succumb to challenges, all the while experiencing an essential cycle of personal growth.
And today, I sense that many of us still possess a vast number of unrealized innovative and trail-blazing ideas.
While we will leave this close-knit and comfortable community today, the world outside these gates is in dire need of these concepts. It is in this environment that we will be able to thrive, and firmly bridge the gap between our ambitions and our realities.
Those we respect and admire will attest to the fact that ordinary people are capable of extraordinary measures, and the past four years have only confirmed this belief.
Thank you, and congratulations to the Class of 2010.