Text of student speaker Alexandra Speak's remarks

Publication Date

Thank you Professor Brennan for the wonderful introduction. What an honor it is to stand in front of you all on this momentous occasion. From this podium, I can see all the people who have molded me these past four years. I see members of the faculty and staff full of pride and I see parents and family members beaming. Fellow graduates: you too have a glow this morning, perhaps from the hangover. Now that I have your attention, I ask you to bear with me for the next few minutes. Maybe there will be more jokes, maybe not. But this is college, so there will be a quiz at the end of this.

There is a certain intrinsic strangeness to the end of an era; and college, in our society, certainly qualifies as an era. To the class of 2016: take this moment and picture yourselves facing the first-year version of you. Notice your nervousness or even your tenuous confidence, recall your views on life, your hopes, your dreams. I know; some things have not changed since we awkwardly sang the alma mater before President Ainlay on our first day here. Namely, I still don’t know the words. That being said, I ask you to recognize that although you are looking at this reflection of yourself, this is not a mirror image. What a strange feeling. Much has changed, innocence lost with intellect gained, and in this image we realize how much we have evolved. I have so much to tell first-year me, and so do you: about the heartbreaks, the all-nighters, the unforeseen epiphanies, the overwhelming course loads, and all moments where we felt the opposite of lonely.

In using the term “opposite of lonely”, I think of an essay written by Marina Keegan, a Yale English major whose life was cut too short a few years back. “The opposite of loneliness” was the title of her last essay and the opening sentence reads, “we don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I could say that’s what I want in life”. This sentiment comes back to me because that’s what I have at here at Union. I may not have a GPA that grazes 4.0, a healthy sleep schedule or a job locked-down for next year, but I am the opposite of lonely. You and I have made lifelong friends, we have been guided by the most insightful of mentors, and at all times we are put at ease by the awareness of being well surrounded. What we have all realized over the years is that Union is what you make of it, and you and I have truly made it our home.

Tomorrow, we approach the very extremities of the “Union bubble” and, with our pens as swords, we pop it. I have heard people describe Union as a microcosm of society, but I am much more inclined to describe our college as a utopia. Where else could you leave your laptop and your open wallet unattended in Wold for half a day to find it right where you left it. Hence the term, “real world”, because Union is, in many ways, a utopic vision of the world beyond the bubble. This year alone, we met Neil Degrasse Tyson, we are currently building a new Visual Arts Building and we got smoothies at Skeller! In all seriousness, that is the beauty of our Union experience; it has been molded by our intention and our conviction. My call to action for the 500 something of you before me is to understand this privilege we have been given. It is very easy to be persuaded by the lure of money, recognition and comfort. But as it goes, comfort it is the enemy of change and it is our responsibility, with this privilege we have been granted, to be agents of positive change. Realistically, I am in no position to be giving you advice. I am your peer, I procrastinate an absurd amount and I make the same mistakes you do. But I will say this: your value and your worth are not measured in your salary, in a GRE score or certainly in Instagram likes. Our value is in the challenges we have collectively overcome and the challenges we have the courage to take on in the future, whether we overcome them or not.

And so, ladies and gentlemen, here comes the bittersweet moment not all of us have been waiting for. We can’t know what life has in store for us. There will difficult times, there will be momentous accomplishments; and many of you will achieve greatness, but many more will achieve something even greater, and that is fulfillment. There is so much over which we have no control. The most crucial decision we can make is in choosing the people we surround ourselves with and in choosing the principles that ground us and on which we refuse to compromise. The world is both a scary or wondrous place, depending on which you choose to see. So, if I am to leave you with any words to live by, they are the following: be courageous and be kind.

And of course, graduates, congratulations!