As we reflect on our time at Union, I think I speak for all of us when I say the feeling is bittersweet. Though we are excited for the next adventure, we can’t help but feel some sadness at leaving this place. Whether its Dawn’s smile greeting us in Dutch, hanging out in the gardens, or even Professor Berk threatening to “condemn us to the depths of academic hell,” we know what we will miss; this infectious spirit of camaraderie, this indelible sense of belonging, the knowledge that we are Union.
The beautiful thing about this moment is the tantalizing sense of possibility. We have spent our four years discovering what moves and inspires us, and now we are poised to share ourselves with the world. Yet at the same time, a gnawing anxiety threatens to steal our enthusiasm. The cynics tell us we’re in for a rude awakening. To be fair, they have a point. Not only are we entering a fragile economy, but our generation is also faced with the daunting task of quite literally saving the planet. As an unemployed theater major with a middling GPA, I am completely unqualified to offer you any kind of advice. But I figure that while I’m up here, I might as well. Anyway, if we apply just a few of the lessons we’ve learned here, I think we’ll be just fine.
I think the most important thing Union has taught us, is how dumb we are. I know that sounds crazy, but if you think about the purpose of a liberal arts education, it actually makes a lot of sense. There are a lot of old clichés about the liberal arts broadening our minds or teaching us how to think. While there is some truth to that, I think these notions miss the larger point of what it means to be educated.
As much as taking a range of classes may make us more cultured, the truth is, we will probably forget 90 percent of what we’ve learned in the classroom. And that’s fine, because the purpose of our education was never to memorize thousands of facts. The point of our education, the idea behind an engineer taking Anthro, or an English Major taking Psych, is to remind us that no matter how much we learn, there is a universe of information we can never hope to know, that the reality we experience is individualized and personal. Even at this tiny school, the person sitting next to you had a radically different college experience from your own.
The liberal arts remind us that our perception of the world is filtered through the sieve of our minds --- that your reality is not everyone else’s. While this may seem obvious, living by this truth has profound implications for the way we treat each other. We are kinder, more humble. We appreciate the beauty of our differences even as we recognize the unifying humanity of our existence.
I know that these seem like lofty, ethereal platitudes, but the truth is we have already enacted them at Union. The atmosphere that makes this college so wonderful comes from the application of these principles. That national championship you won because of selfless teamwork, that night you took care of a sick friend, that day you showed up to my father’s wake even though you barely knew me.
There’s a popular narrative that our generation is selfish, apathetic and lazy. Now maybe I’m naïve and have no idea what I’m talking about, but I think this notion is dead wrong. My friends, after spending four years with you, I would ask the cynics to take a look at Union College --- to see how smart, and talented, and kind, and compassionate you are. I want them to see that under laws of Minerva we have all become one family. I want them to see that we are Union.
My classmates, our challenge is to carry this spirit of community and this energy of possibility wherever we go. This is not an easy task. No matter how much we succeed, our road will also be riddled with pain, frustration, and failure. That voice of fear will always try to tell us that we’re not good enough, that we should give up. It will masquerade as reason, belittling our sense of hope as folly, and sometimes fear will win. But in those moments of doubt, think back to your time at Union and remember this beautiful spirit of hope. Think about the first time you did a Naked Nott --- the utter joy and freedom you felt in that moment. Think about how unified we feel right now. Let it comfort you. Let it inspire you.
My hope for us, is that we never lose hope --- that we always find the strength to be open to the world, to see the good in humanity, to keep on going when our intellect tells us we’ve tried everything. We’ve been so blessed to call this place our home, to have learned so much from each other. We owe it to our families, we owe it to our professors, we owe it to each other to keep this spirit of Union alive in our hearts and in our minds. I know that we will. Thank you for an incredible four years. May you be blessed on your journey ahead.