Mary Montgomery Powell '07
9:30 a.m. Sunday, May 20, 2007
I have to first say that it is truly an honor to be up here today with such a brilliant group of speakers. I am grateful to be standing here with them - some good friends, my mentor Professor Scott, and, of course, my smart aleck father.
One September day four years ago, Dale Mackey and I lay on a blanket on Cleveland Beach doing homework. It was a typical fall day in Iowa - inconceivably beautiful, sunny, and warm. A hand drumming circle was playing nearby, Nate Janega was climbing trees and scaling South Campus buildings. Dale and I were probably reading Plato or Marx or Judith Butler, thinking we were very smart. At a certain point, while listening to Ben Folds Five on tiny portable speakers, we both turned to each other and said with wonder, "WE ARE IN COLLEGE NOW! THIS IS WHAT COLLEGE IS!"
Of course, we were not quite right about that. Dale and I had not yet experienced Hell Week, we hadn't talked each other through term papers or broken hearts, we hadn't felt the utter despair of eating yet another stale bagel for dinner because Quad lacked edible food. We were naÐ¿ve, inexperienced first-years who had no idea what it feels like to grudgingly cram for a 2 p.m. final that would prevent us from drinking free beer at Block Party. Dale and I were a little dim. But I think we were on to something.
Grinnell, Iowa, is my home. It has been since I was four. All of my childhood babysitters were Grinnell College students, and I'll tell you - they were the coolest babysitters. All I wanted to do was be my cool college-student babysitters. In fact, it was my goal in life. So sitting on the blanket with Dale that day was a huge revelation for me - I had achieved my greatest life goal! I'm really sorry to tell this story to my fellow seniors - I realize it might be daunting that one of your classmates is so far ahead of you in her life plan, but it's true.
As a kid I didn't realize this, but part of what made those babysitters of mine so wonderful was the constant investment their professors made in their learning and lives. In my experience, the most important aspect of our education at Grinnell is the bond that students create with their professors and advisors. Our professors are dedicated and involved. For example, when I was seven I ate a little too much cantaloupe at a party at Victoria Brown's house and puked all over her bed - and she still took me on as an advisee when I came here as a first year.
Grinnell College professors see their work here as a vocation, a calling. They savor their jobs not only as opportunities to share knowledge with us, but as an opportunity to continue their own educations as we forge relationships and learn together. I cannot count the number of times I have received e-mails from Kesho Scott or Brigittine French letting me know about a job opportunity I might be interested in, nor can I tally the number of times I've seen the light on in Victoria Brown's office late at night. I routinely caught myself starting to applaud at the end of one of Professor Kaiser's lectures about Revolutionary Russia.
When I took Intro to Economics - my parents loved that - my mom came to my job at the Health Center one day where I was driving students to and from doctors' appointments. I had an exam the next day which I likely would have failed had she not ridden in the van with me for two hours, quizzing me on supply and demand. OK, most of us don't expect that kind of dedication from the faculty (and don't worry - she wasn't the instructor for my course).
But these professors truly do shape our college experience. They challenge our old perceptions of the world around us, affecting us in ways that are not going disappear when we graduate on Monday. We all have our Victoria Browns and Brigittine Frenches. Some students even think of my dad in that way. (Don't ask me why - I dropped his Environmental Economics classâ¦) Actually, some of the students who would say that about my dad have been my friends.
Aside from schoolwork, and I think this is what Dale and I were discovering during that first revelation on the lawn, our biggest occupation here is making friends. Those friends have profoundly guided our time here at Grinnell. We have spent four years cultivating some of the most intense friendships of our lives. Some of those friendships began in our first year - my relationships with Sarah Lu and my roommate Dale began in line for registration that first semester. And some of them have begun so late in our four years that we hadn't even expected to make any more new friends here. Each one of these people has been essential in the process of learning who we are.
I remember one night sophomore year about a dozen friends gathered in Dale's and my room on Main Second for a study break. Not just any study break - a Hobo Soup study break. You might think this is odd - and you're probably right about that - but each of us dressed up like a hobo and brought one random ingredient for our soup. We ended up with a vile mixture of Spam, Spaghetti-Os, rum, and canned peaches. Then we walked around campus, getting people to try it. We even convinced a prospective student's dad to taste it at the Forum.
That night we were all hobos, sharing the... 'collective hobo experience,' but during the day my friends and I are very different, with widely varying interests and passions. Lorin is trying to figure out how to get young people to stay in Iowa, Ross Koon builds contraptions and makes art, Laura is working on sustainable agriculture in Namibia, Laurie Glapa will be setting the exchange rate for the San Francisco Fed next year (OK, not really, but we're hoping to get her on the Board of Governors by 2010.) My housemate Liz and I are just about as different as can be. Liz is an all-star women's soccer goal keeper, and I, wellâ¦I am the furthest thing from an athlete you can imagine. I hear we have a nice new athletic facility somewhere on campus, but I'm really not sure where it isâ¦
These people and so many others have helped make up the last four tremendously rewarding and demanding years of my life. We have all made each other the people we are today - no, not hobos - but Grinnellians. (Although I have to admit that the hobo thing might come in handy sometime soon, as I am a History major and have no marketable skillsâ¦)
The week after I received my acceptance letter to Grinnell in January 2002, my mom and I rode on a bus for twenty hours to Washington D.C. to protest the impending war in Iraq. As you know, the acceptance letter was big news because it meant I was on my way to fulfilling my life goal - and I was really happy to be almost there. While Mom and I were at the protest we looked across a sea of thousands of people and saw a huge white banner with painted red letters that read "Grinnellians for Peace." Overjoyed, we fought through the throng of activists to see if we knew any of the Grinnellians. As we approached the group, my mom and I discovered that not a single one of them - and there were over a dozen people with that banner - not one of them was a current student. Each person had graduated at least a few years before, and yet, when going out in public to stand up for their convictions, each one of them chose to go as Grinnellians.
It was with that in mind that I started college, ready to embrace the Grinnell identity, and it is with that in mind that I prepare to say goodbye tomorrow, to this home of mine. Those former Grinnellians in D.C. continue to remind me that despite the imminent close of these happiest, most intense, formative years, we are all leaving here a little more solid and a little more Grinnellian than we could ever have imagined.
I am really moving away from Grinnell in a few days, away from my family and away from these friends, but Grinnell is bigger than this place. It is wherever we go, whatever we do, and it is always home.