Amanda Blue Gotera Class of 2009
Herrick Chapel Grinnell College 9 a.m., May 17, 2009
Thank you so much, all of you, for being here. Four years ago I came to Grinnell knowing certain things. I knew that I would be an English major and I knew that I was going to eat breakfast every day and I knew that I was too shy to dance in front of other people. Ever. Four years later I'm an enthusiastic anthropology major, I haven’t been to breakfast more than twice a semester since about 2006, and I dance even in the pasta bar line. The things I knew about myself and about the world have changed so much in my time at Grinnell in surprising and wonderful ways. I've been thinking a lot about these sorts of changes. Not so much about the pasta bar, really, but about the impact that this place makes on us.
I don't think I'm alone at all in the whole "changing while at Grinnell" thing. I think we all come to Grinnell, to this town, to this place, to each other, and I think that it kind of gets into our bones. I've been trying to think of different examples of how this place gets into our bones, and I came up with so many stories. Last night while I was sitting up, desperately trying to write this speech, my neighbor and friend, Sam Wice, who has been doing debate since high school, dropped by my room and gave me some Frosted Flakes and told me that I only had to pick one story.
So my one story is about the loggia. For those of you who aren't familiar with that word: the loggia is a covered walkway that connects the dorms on campus. Some dorm rooms have windows that open up onto the roof of the loggia. You can climb out there and sit in the sun when it’s warm. And years spent in Grinnell have trained me to do exactly that: as soon as the sun comes out at the end of winter, my very first instinct is always to find a window on the second floor of a building as soon as possible. And it happens every single spring and every single warm day. I feel a sudden, desperate need to get out onto a loggia immediately. I don't think that that instinct is going to go away very quickly. It’s in my bones.
Grinnell changes us in wonderful ways, and I think it's been doing that for years and years and years, for generations of Grinnell students. I had a conversation with John Kaplan earlier this year. John graduated from Grinnell in 1963 and he came back here, to stay, after retiring. Well, a couple weeks of ago there was a thunderstorm—we've been having a lot of thunderstorms lately—there was a thunderstorm, and I was heading into the JRC and there was John, sitting outside on a step, drinking some Grinnell Blend coffee from the Grille. We stood out there in the wet and he told me a story. John said that when he first came to Grinnell, he spent his first semester becoming what he called an "earth child," that he kind of got really “into nature.” It happens to all Grinnellians. Anyway there was this huge thunderstorm that Spring, and so of course John went out into a cornfield somewhere and ran around in the rain—naked—for a number of hours. In the following weeks John came down with the worst case of pneumonia. And he had this pneumonia until March, I believe, until March of that school year. I asked him if he regretted running around in that cornfield naked in the rain, and he gave me this look like I was crazy. He said, "Regret that!?"
I think this exemplifies what is wonderful about Grinnellians. And it also means that it's actually really breaking my heart to have to leave all of you. I’m here today, and like a lot of Grinnellians, I don't know what I'm doing or where I'm going to land in the next couple of years. The plans I made sort of fell through. And for the last couple months feeling like I didn't have a plan, like I didn't have a solid ground to plant my feet on, was really scary. But I was forgetting something really important. I was forgetting that I spent the last four years building a different kind of foundation. Even though I don't know what kind of job I'm going to have next, because God knows I don't have one of those lined up, I know some other really important things. I know that I need quick winters and long summers. I know that I always need a really big bag to take books home from the library. I know that I'm happiest hearing and telling stories, especially when I'm in the sun, especially on South Campus. I know that I need to be a part of a community that reaches out and helps others. I know a thing or two about self-governance. I know that I want a house full of good people and a vegetable garden in the back yard, and I want to eat meals late into the night with my friends. I know that if the situation arises, I will probably run through a cornfield in the rain, probably naked.
And I think that somehow in the last four years, during classes and during dinners and during walks downtown to the Farmers' Market to buy potatoes for soup, I figured out how I want to live. I'm a little cloudy on the logistics and the specifics and the job title, but Grinnell has taught me to be okay with that uncertainty. I'm okay with the chance of pneumonia, and that's because of Grinnell. That’s because of this place, because of this community, because of you.
At Block Party on Friday, under an umbrella, in a cold drizzle, I was trying to explain something like that to Sara Boyer, an alum who graduated a year ago. And she grabbed my shoulders and said, "Amanda, don't ever let anyone tell you that it's not okay to be uncertain." And that reminded me of what my friend Emma Lawler said to the rest of our anthropology seminar a couple weeks ago when we were all collectively despairing over the future. She said that not knowing what comes next can be kind of beautiful.
I am uncertain, and I'm so hopeful, and I cannot thank all of you enough for that. Thank you.