Rebecca Catherine Schmidt
Class of 2004
9:30 a.m., May 16, 2004
This speech almost made the excitement of me being finished with college wane slightly -- it is a great honor to be chosen to speak but then again, I in turn had to write one more thing before I graduated. It seems fitting too that I finished this at the last minute. Honestly, with the excitement and confusion of this weekend and last week, I wasn't actually 100% positive that I would have a coherent speech written by 9:15 on Sunday morning. I wasn't actually 100% positive that I could BE here by 9:15 on Sunday morning -- I really do think this is the earliest I've done anything on a Sunday morning at Grinnell.
But here I am. And here you are. And somehow, in some way, in whatever way, we all made it. We made it to this quaint chapel on this Sunday morning in the middle of Iowa, and almost as impressive, we made it through Grinnell College as students and will graduate tomorrow as the Class of 2004. That's a pretty impressive accomplishment.
I just know that I didn't take enough time to reflect on this before this weekend, to reflect on this idea that we have done incredible and amazing things here as students in getting our Grinnell degrees. Our class is made up of incredible people. We truly are an impressive group. In the past few weeks I have seen my peers perform, display, present, compete in, and create incredible things, the most recent few including Devan McGranahan last night performing bird songs at the Senior Showcase. Only a Grinnellian could make bird songs interesting and fun to watch.
We as a group are writers, poets, artists, musicians, actors, dancers, and sculptors. We are physicists, biologists, psychologists, chemists, mathematicians, and computer scientists. We are historians, economists, political scientists, anthropologists, and literary scholars. We have collectively learned about global development, women and gender, cultures and civilizations around the world and within our country. We protests things, we organize things, and we change things. We are lovers, we are friends, and we are dreamers. We believe we can change the world, shake things up. We've been doing this together in various ways since we arrived in August of 2000.
We are talented and diverse and passionate. But above all of this lies another fact -- another quality that we all share - in about 24 hours, at this time tomorrow, we will also all be unemployed.
Well, not all of us, obviously. But regardless of what our plans are, or even if we do have plans or not, it is a scary thing to think about: going from this "Grinnell Bubble" as we know it, where we are surrounded by this particular group of people at this particular time and place, to this bigger world, to this "real world" that people speak so dejectedly about. And we really have no choice.
People will tell you and I that this "real world" aims to suck the life out of you, to crush your dreams, ambitions, and desires, and to either leave you curled up in bed whimpering, too jaded to make effective change or else it will leave you eating right out of the hand of "The Man," selling your soul for a new Gucci clutch and a larger client base.
I will tell you right now that though I don't know for sure any more than you all, I bet it IS hard outside of Grinnell. But I think that is part of the deal. And so it is our duty -- and in some ways, our survival tactic -- to rely on our memories and our experiences we have had here to help us move forward as competent members of our society outside of Grinnell; to effect change in other parts of the world as well as just from our bubble. I thought a while ago that "it isn't that you're leaving the bubble, you should just make your bubble bigger."
My first memory or experience of Grinnell was not really that exciting or profound. We expect first and last memories of things to be very important and carry lots of meaning. But mine didn't. It involved me carrying a suitcase through the loggia on the way to Clark the first day of my freshman year. My final memory or experience of Grinnell will most likely involve me carrying a suitcase as well. But the memories and experiences that fall between these two moments, however -- countless, timeless, and almost nondescript day-to-day memories we have -- are the ones that make up my college experience, my real Grinnell experience. I made a list, at one point this semester, that included all of these memories and experiences that set our class apart from others. I joked around that I could just stand up here and read that list for my speech today, and it would be the easiest speech ever. And then, really late last night, I almost decided to do that.
But honestly, those memories and experiences are important. Our experiences here at Grinnell are important. Mine involve events such as: every Block Party, 10/10, and Disco, when Jurassic Five and Black Eyed Peas came to perform, all the different Moose clubs, bakery runs, swim team and conference, bike rides through the countryside and the time my friends and I biked to Newton for Monster Margaritas, and Gardner/Bob's shows. I also remember feelings, like the beauty of the way the sky and light look sometimes when the sun is setting in the west, and the incredible bond I felt with the swim team, the feeling of being surrounded by wonderful friends for four years, and the way the ground shakes when the train goes through campus. I could never forget the countless hours spent in the library, forum, ARH, and especially the science building doing work I thought would never end, but then somehow, someway, it did. Every semester I amazed myself at both the amount of work I completed and at how little sleep I actually got. I remember going home during breaks and each time realizing that I was changing and learning things -- usually evidenced by the fact that I have gotten better and better able to debate with my father about politics and religion and everything in between. I also remember how the campus pulled itself together and was able to hold up our small community in the face of tragedy over the past few years -- such as during September 11, the death of John Mohan, and the suicides of two of our classmates last year.
I have a lot of memories, most of them good, some of them bad, but they make my time at Grinnell mine. I have had so many experiences here at Grinnell that there is no way I can list them all, but then I realized last night that ANYONE could have these experiences, even experiences like mine, and I thought about this for a while but then I realized something:
I realized that the difference between 'having experiences' and 'having an education' is simply the acquisition of wisdom. If we have all these experiences but aren't able to learn anything from them; if we aren't able to apply these experiences to our lives in some way - we haven't really been educated.
We must learn to take these memories and experiences we have made here, these experiences that have made Grinnell our place over the past few years and apply them, in whatever form, to the world we are about to enter. Whether you look back on your years at Grinnell with fondness or not, take those memories and those experiences and use them to effect change in wherever you end up, in whatever you end up doing. We are a talented and diverse and strong group of people. We will go very far in many directions. We will always have the connection of being part of this community at this point in time. But just remember - the only difference between mere experiences and really being educated is the acquisition of wisdom. Never stop acquiring that wisdom. Never stop that education. Never stop trying to change the world. I would expect nothing less from my fellow Grinnellians.