Maggie Spencer Field
Class of 2004
9:30 a.m., May 16, 2004
It is an honor to have been asked by the graduation committee to speak at Baccalaureate. I know many of you parents, friends, grandparents and siblings alike have thought, until recently, that your child, grandchild, sister, brother, or friend has been attending Cornell College for the past four years. So as a clarifying note, welcome to one of the many ceremonies honoring the graduating class of the College of Grinnell, 2004.
To be honest, I have been having panic attacks because of this speech ever since I received the invitation. Of course the prospect of graduating has contributed greatly to my anxiety. It is not so much standing in front of you that makes me nervous, but more so the fear of not being able to convey something meaningful and poignant. I have dreamt about failing miserably, which usually entailed an inability to speak or being told mid-speech, that I was no longer allowed to speak. But ultimately I return to the certainty that I am incredibly honored to be standing here before you today.
What I have been asked to do, roughly, is sum up our four years here at Grinnell. It is unreasonable to assume that I can conflate everyone's experiences and emotions into a five minute speech. I thought about performing an improvisational dance, thinking that it would be a way to "speak" to everyone while allowing everyone to hold individual interpretations. However, I would regard this as hilarious, yet others, perhaps real dancers, would be offended or even horrified. Furthermore, we are in Herrick Chapel. . . and something about it seemed inappropriate.
I have struggled with the task of saying something that everyone can relate to. In a sense, offering something universal. Kathleen Skerrett has spoken about love, so I can't do that. And Victoria Brown spoke about Jane Addams, so I can't do that. However, I have recently learned a word in one of my classes that may help me to embark upon this task of encapsulating these past four years into a few words. This may seem ridiculous, however, bear with me. The word is heimat. A direct translation of heimat into English is home or homeland. Yet, heimat, the German word, is much richer in its definition. It invokes a sense of comfort, belonging, a site of growth, and a place where one is loved. For me, Grinnell has been all of these things. After my first semester when I was leaving New York, I recall telling my mother something to the effect ofâ¦ I'll do it when I get home. By home I was referring to Grinnell. Despite my mother's obvious sadness, this was a beautiful revelation: Grinnell was where I belonged.
Looking back on four years at Grinnell, the prospect of looking into a future without Grinnell is frightening. However, as we leave we must recognize the solid foundation upon which we will continue to grow. Although I have been both challenged and influenced intellectually, through courses and conversations, I have been influenced most profoundly by the friends I have made. I have learned what it means to live with friends, to be an open participant in a relationship, to be honest, and to love people so deeply that graduation feels like a personal affront. It feels counterintuitive to infuse this speech with humor, because what I truly feel is sadness. I will miss waking up in the morning, pulling myself to class and greeting many familiar faces. I will miss the comfort of sitting outside Burling with all the smokers, all stressed, but ultimately happy to be there. I will miss the joy of making a trip to Dari Barn or making a three hour cameo at Harris. Where else can you dance all night for free?
Mostly, I will miss the uniqueness and passion of our class. I remember when I was a prospie a woman from the admissions department spoke to us about the varying skills and abilities that we brought to the college. She listed awards that people had won, academic or otherwise, hobbies practiced, one of which was collecting monkeys, and finally she included what our teachers had written about us. I remember feeling overwhelmed by how many amazing, and weird people I was surrounded by. I was in awe of people's accomplishments, and I was drawn to their passionate commitment to different issues and activities. I have learned to cherish this passion and inspiration that surrounds me. My biggest fear is to lose that feeling of inspiration; it is what drives many of us, and what leads us to the next stages of our lives. I truly hope that all of you will find that source of inspiration. I hope that you can hold onto it, and infuse your community with the passion that it generates, just as we have done here. We each came to Grinnell with our individual abilities, strengths, and quirks. We came excited, anxious, and ready. And we helped to create a community which I am proud to call home. And now we leave with new abilities, strengths and yes, quirks and we begin a new life.
At my high school graduation, I told my class that although I did not enjoy high school, I felt as though I had grown. I had grown in response to discomfort. I had fought my way through high school to stay true to who I was. Today, I feel quite differently. I have loved my experience here at Grinnell, and I have enjoyed getting to know many of you. My growth has resulted from feeling encouraged, feeling loved and safe. Although high school was a learning experience, I am grateful for the comfort and love which Grinnell has offered me over the past four years. We have created a community in which we were able to grow, academically, socially and emotionally.
To those of you who are attending graduate school next year, or who already have jobs lined upâ¦.I hate you. And to those of you who have no idea what you are doing next year, it may be trite, but we must attempt to savor the beauty of our situation. For all of us the next few months are inevitably going to be new and scary. Although it is incredibly frightening to not know what to expect from our future, this is a time in our lives in which we have the opportunity to try something completely new. It is our chance to have an adventure, an adventure that will bring us closer to where we want to be, even if we don't know where that is.
On a final note, I would like to thank the loves of my life for being who they are, the members of the faculty who have been truly inspirational, our families for everything, and Britney, for "Toxic."
Fellow classmates, simply, thank you.
I wish you all luck. . . I know you will do great things.