Sarah Wells Boyer
Class of 2008
9:30 a.m., May 18, 2008
Can you hear me now back there? And Dad, don't worry; I am one of those very well behaved students, very well behaved. So I am up here supposedly to give advice. I don't really profess to have any advice to give, and since I function best, as anyone who knows me, in the realm of the anecdote, I am going to tell you a story.
Four years ago, NSO, not quite to the day. Imagine August, Iowa. It is hot, humid. I have just driven 12 hours in the car with my father and mother from South Dakota and I am exhausted. I have already received my red prospie bag, which I believe we all have, my excessive packet materials, and I am standing in the third floor of my Rose Hall room, watching my father drive away in a Suburban and thinking, "I am in college." So I am sweaty, tired, aching. and scared of being alone; I am scared that my professors will hate me; I am scared that class will be too hard, but at this moment I am so overcome by the potential of it all, the newness of it all. It is like a new box of crayons; I have new friends, I have a new town, I have new classes, a fresh start. So at this moment, I decide the only appropriate thing to do is something collegiate.
So, I am rummaging through this box of books. I decided to not unpack my room. Anyone who knows me knows I am a very messy person -- shocking -- so I don't unpack my room. I am rummaging around, looking for this particular book of poetry. What could be more collegiate that reading a book of poetry under a tree, right? So I am finding this book of poems and I am going to go ride my red Schwinn, somewhere, I don't care where, destination is not the goal, and read my book of poetry under a tree. What you have to understand about this bike, however, this is not some Trek or a Giant. It is not fancy, it doesn't have things that really work very well, but it is this beautiful red Schwinn, with chipping paint and rust and side metal basket. Very stylish. Quite dysfunctional though. So I climb onto this bike, wearing this big, beautiful, wrap-around black sarong, which I think is going to look hot billowing in the wind behind me. So I have this bike and my skirt is billowing in the wind behind me, and I am riding down 8th Avenue going west and I think, "I'm in college." And I feel this tug at my waist. Keep in mind this is all happening at NSO. I don't know anybody on this campus. So I feel this tug at my waist. I'm invincible, nothing bad could be happening. So I feel this tug and another tug, and the next thing I know I am lying on the ground. My skirt had gotten so tangled in the back tire of my bike that it launched me off the back, and I am lying in the parking lot by the old Noyce, my skirt six ways to heaven. I'm bruised, bleeding and pissed off at the world, and thinking. "Iowa just bit me in the ass." And as if this moment couldn't get any worse, a biology professor drove past, rolled down the window of his Ford Explorer, leans his head out looking very smugly at me and says, "You doin' okay down there?" I was like, "I think I am going to have to take my skirt off and walk back to my dorm in my underwear. Am I doing okay? I'm gonna be that girl for the rest of college." So I look at him, and I laugh and I say, "Yeah, yeah it's totally fine."
What I want to say is, we have all had this Grinnell moment, when some expectation we have about this school is wrong, it goes unfulfilled, or you know, totally falls apart. When you're 3 a.m. on Burling Fourth after having stayed after the library closed -- shhh -- and you realize you won't be able to finish your paper for Ralph Savarese and that he might actually kill you. Or when you're sitting on the second floor of Burling and there is a first year who insists on having a very loud phone conversation on the first floor and it's making it totally impossible for you to work. When people close to us die; when there are hate crimes on campus, like Spencer spoke of; or when you are in the middle of a breakup -- this is a small campus, when every loggia encounter is a series of avoided eyes, and each person awkwardly pretending to talk on their cell phone; or even just in a moment of rashness you decide to try some beef ole in the dining hall and end up hugging a toilet later -- sheer rashness my friend. But despite, or with, or regardless of all of these moments where some expectation about this school wasn't right, you fell off your bike, a biology professor saw your underwear, and you said, "Oh my God, what am I doing here?" we all stayed. Grinnell after all is in the middle of Iowa -- news flash, in case you did not notice. We are surrounded by corn, it is not the most exciting place and the geography is not usually a draw.
But this school is an intentional community. There are reasons we have all stayed. We often cite the people, the professors, the academic rigor, shall I say, "No Limits." But what I remember about Grinnell and, I believe, what we all remember about Grinnell is the minutia. 3 a.m. at Kum and Go with Erin Sindewald, sitting over there, eating a pint of Ben and Jerry's Oatmeal Cookie Ice Cream with little broken plastic spoons and sitting on a bag of mulch. Dancing on the bar at the campus pub and listing to Vegetable Medley play. I'm walking though a field with Zack Rider this last summer, watching fireflies' little blue butts flitting around in a corn fields. I'm sitting with Kristen Audet at Saints' Rest drinking iced coffee. I'm body surfing through eight inches of water with Kate Morley on Mac Field and Chris Neubert and Mitchell Parks. I'm studying in the library with Maggie Potthoff. I'm going on a bakery run at 2 a.m. -- I am sorry, there is nothing better than a glazed donut at 2 o'clock in the morning after five hours of paper writing -- and I'm drinking at The Pom, a house just three houses down there, and I'm having an argument with someone about Judith Butler. And living for once in a community where I can wear nothing that matches, or for that matter, nothing at all, and feel fashionable. These are the things that we all, the little tiny details, the snippets, the anecdotes, the falls, the beauty of it all that we will all remember.
And indeed, we are all about to embark upon a year or several years. I do not profess to assume that you all have this all planned out, because I don't. I, for example, will maybe be living in Iowa City -- I will be living in Iowa City, don't worry Whitney. Kristen, you too, don't worry -- but I don't have a job yet, I am going to class, kind of. Whatever you are doing next year, I know as sad as it sounds but for each and every one of us there will be a bike moment, when our proverbial skirts get caught in the back of our metaphoric bikes, and we fall flat on our faces in the middle of next year or in the middle of 25 years from now. And then when we are lying on the concrete bruised, bleeding and pissed off at the world, some smug individual, who for right now is nameless and faceless, will turn to you and ask, "Are you okay?" and we will want to strangle them for the extent of our not okayness at that particular moment. And I hope, right then, when everything is falling apart, when I am 37 years old, I'm dragging two kids through the grocery store and attempting to push the cart at the same time and I can't find the Cheerios, that when Madonna's "Like A Prayer" comes on, that all I want to do is dance. Grinnell will linger for us all. Carry those moments and carry those memories. I love this place. I love it. Thank you.