Since the most excellent and eloquent Mr. McBride will be giving our commencement speech, I wanted to share what Yrinee and I wrote as our version – seemed pertinent today after the Presidents’ Council meeting, and with graduation less than 2 weeks away.
Good morning, everyone. And by everyone, I mean fellow students, parents, faculty, staff, alumni, board members, everyone who happens to be sharing this moment here with us now, or watching in from the future (I’m seeing a couple of video cameras around; hi.) On behalf of the class of 2007, welcome to our second commencement at Olin.
Now it seems to me a little odd that we chose one person to speak on behalf of all of us graduating today. After taking statistics, we’re all aware of the dangers of using a sample size of n=1, especially when the population represented is such a diverse group; between the 73 of us, the standard deviation of our spread on almost any conceivable distribution is tremendous. Basically, what this means is that the average Olin student… isn’t.
And what this means is that… none of us can speak for Olin. None of us embody Olin, and none of us as individuals actually represents Olin… because all of us do. This school is made of the sweat and tears (and coffee) and visions and voices of so many that to leave any of these voices out would be giving a less than complete picture of our school, of our experience, of ourselves. For instance, I went and asked ten randomly chosen Olin community members what they would have told themselves either as incoming first-years or as new college graduates, and here’s what we’ve got:
(note: We had planned on going and interviewing people if our speech was selected. We’re still curious what the answers would be.)
Just look at that diversity. We contradict ourselves – and we contradict each other – all the time. Isn’t that wonderful?
Four years ago, we were given a contradiction. A school that wanted to be everything to everybody – which is a terrible design spec; it’s not supposed to work. But it worked – and it became what we wanted it to be for us- because what they gave us was the freedom to create the kind of school we wanted for ourselves. That’s what makes it alive to us, that’s why we take so much pride in it and why it’s been able to transform each of us; because it’s ours.
A few hours from now, it won’t be ours. Commencement is, among many other things, a time to pass things down to the next generation – it’s Olin letting go of us as we fly out of the nest, but it’s also us letting go of the home we’ve built, and learning how to be okay with leaving that behind. We’ll come back and visit, of course. But it won’t be ours in the same way that it’s ours now.
And what we’ve built now – the clubs, the projects, the classes, the homework assignments, the parties – well, hopefully those won’t even be around a few years from now. And hopefully the school we built will be something else entirely. Because others – the faculty and staff and the younger students crowding into the back of the tent today (hi, folks) will have taken this school and made it theirs and built it in their turn, and done all sorts of wonderful, wonderful things. We owe it to them to leave them that freedom and give them that chance.
And if that happens, then we’ll have left our mark. Our legacy, our tradition, is to not leave a legacy. To not have a tradition. To give the future the same chance we were given ourselves – to own a school, and run with it, and play with it, and make it theirs. And as they’re transforming this place, they’ll be transforming themselves in the process.
Today we celebrate what we have made. Today we celebrate where we are going. And tomorrow – well, tomorrow, it’s going to be your turn.