Carl D. Damerow
Class of 2005
9:30 a.m., May 22, 2005
For 22 years we have been training for the real world; we pass from one academic stage to the next in preparation for what's to come. So graduations should not be new to us. Four years ago, across the country and the world, we passed across a stage and received a diploma marking our honorable achievements in high school. Four years before that, we did the same thing to commemorate our successful completion of middle school. Many of us probably sang a little song about flying or jumping over stars.
And at each of these graduation ceremonies, we take stock and prepare to enter the real world. I was told by my eighth grade biology teacher that I couldn't go to the bathroom because once I got to the real world of high school, there would be no bathroom breaks. Now most Grinnellians can be thankful that high school turned out not to be the real world, and if I have learned anything here at Grinnell, it's that college is about as far from it as possible. If college was the real world, then I would get a job hanging around and eating cookies. My friends would be professional video game testers and full-time poker players.
But then again, these kinds of jobs exist! People have careers where they fly around and test out the newest massages so they can come back and tell the rest of us, "Hey, do I know a good place to go get a foot rub!" So where is the real world? What have all of these guidance counselors and eighth grade biology teachers been talking about? The closest thing I can think of is the college loan exit interview. Now for those parents who may have suppressed these dark memories out of their consciousness, the exit interview is where a nice, soft-spoken woman sits you down, gives you a nice little cup of juice, and then scares the living crap out of you with debt. But short of quick and easy monthly payments with a fixed consolidated interest rate starting at low as 2.77%, I can't seem to put my thumb on the real world.
But when I start to think about it, I can't put my finger on a real Grinnell. When we came here, East campus was a football field, Darby lived, and the Chrystal Center was. . . I think it was a hot dog stand or volleyball courts. I don't really remember. The point is, real is relative. The year that I prospied, I was told that that was the year that self governance died, and from what I was told it sounded amazing: it was acceptable to walk naked in public, you could ride motorcycles through dorm hallways, and instead of finals I understand professors just passed out cans of beer. I can't help but think it's funny to hear the same exact thing being said by seniors of the 2005 class. I understand criticisms that our generation is a transition year as far as the College is concerned. This is the era right before we have adequate pool space and a SAT math average that's 40 points higher. But I think it is selfish to think that we are the class that saw the end of the Grinnell that we came to. Every year is a transition year. And every year is just as real as the one before and behind it.
This is why graduations can be a little dangerous, because they make our academic and our personal development so tangible that it's as if by getting a diploma, we make this huge jump into a new life. But I want to say that, for better or worse, on Tuesday morning we will feel pretty much the same way we felt yesterday, not counting hangovers. Our diplomas are not certificates to commence living in some real world, they are a commemoration of the process of getting to where we are now. It is a challenging process we have finished and that is why we know we can continue to succeed from here. It is a process that takes 4 years, 3.5 years, 5 years, 22 years.
I'm grateful for my four years here at Grinnell College. I'd like to thank everyone who got me here and I'd like to thank all of the students who shared it with me. It's been very real.