Joseph K. Oppong
Class of 2003
9:30 a.m., May 18, 2003
It is indeed an honor and a privilege to have been selected as a student speaker for this year's graduating class. Before I go any further, I would like to acknowledge family members and host parents gathered here today. It is by your prayer, support, foresight and in most cases budgeting for the last dollar that have allowed my colleagues and I to have received such an invaluable educational experience. On behalf of the graduating class of 2003, thank you.
The road to graduation for many seniors has been unique and diverse. Mine began when two international students met me at Des Moines Airport and warmly welcomed me to Grinnell. As we drove back, I stared at the vast corn fields bewildered that I had chosen a college in the middle of nowhere, in spite of coming from a big city, and hoping against hope that I hadn't made a terrible mistake. On the last day of International Student Orientation, each person was asked to make a final comment. With eagerness and with little thought, I said that I hoped the world would become a better place, void of violence, injustice and oppression. I immediately realized that my hopes for this world were somewhat idealistic. Nonetheless, I was quick to discover that Grinnell presented me with many opportunities to make a difference in the world. This campus was a haven for intellectual discourse, socio-political debates and invigorating philosophical deliberations that enhanced my perspective on life. From the inner cities of Bronx, New York to the mountains of Lesotho to the heart of Nanjing, China, ordinary Grinnellians take on extraordinary challenges to make the world a more beautiful place. Through music, theatre and volunteer services, I discovered that I needn't change one whole community to make a difference. However, if I could change one person with a simple act of kindness, I was on track for making the world a better place, one day at a time.
This act of kindness has become much more apparent in recent weeks when this community has faced tragedy. A recent convocation by Professor Bradley Bateman on "Discovering your Vocation through the Social Sciences" highlighted the importance of kindness. Professor Bateman taught my Economics seminar last semester, and as an act of reciprocity for canceling class, something that doesn't happen too often in Grinnell, I decided to go and listen to him talk after deliberating endlessly the previous day whether to sleep one more hour. As he interspersed his talk with stories of his own life, he argued that in a place like Grinnell, and in the presence of many devoted people, we get a rare opportunity of acquiring the tools essential for acquiring wisdom through an environment of true kindness. He stated, "Take, for instance, the love which Emily Moore puts into her teaching, her genuine concern for her students' welfare and well-being. If you have seen this, you know more than mathematics, you have seen wisdom. If Katya Gibel-Azoulay takes an hour to take the argument in one of your papers apart and explain to you why you simply have failed to make a coherent point, you are a lucky person, indeed. In this case, you have experienced a kind of kindness and loyalty that you may rarely encounter elsewhere. You are learning more than just how to write well."
As we enter into the real world, the subtleties of life and the complexities in the world will not always be kind to us. Like the hobbit, Frodo, in The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers, our immediate response when faced with adversity might be "I can't do this, Sam!" But Sam responded: "I know. It's all wrong. It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end. How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn't. Because they were holding on to something." "What are we holding onto, Sam?" Frodo replied.
Sam: "That there's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it's worth fighting for." Embedded in us, ladies and gentlemen, is the spirit of a champion. Proverbs 24:16 states that though a righteous man or a champion falls seven times, he always rises again. Though weeping may endure for a night, joy comes in the morning light. Remember that we have acquired the knowledge of how to act in the world under conditions of adversity and hardships, with loyalty to our friends and family and with bravery to stand against what is evil and wrong in the world, showing that there is still some good in this world, and it is worth fighting for. Make it a point to show kindness to people you meet realizing that today is a gift and tomorrow a mystery. Use the gifts of today to positively affect the mysteries of tomorrow.
And so we leave you, O gracious town of Grinnell, Iowa, looking towards the stars with a glimpse of hope into the future. May God richly bless you. Grace and Peace be with you. Benedicite.