Christopher Hildebrand '10 Baccalaureate Remarks
Good morning, guys. President Osgood, faculty, staff, members of the class of 2010, and the commencement committee, thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today, and to the class of 2010, congratulations. Like any good Grinnellian in this room, the first thing I did after Thomas asked me to speak to you today was to immediately go to Burling and do some research. I’d like to share with you today what I found during that afternoon on Burling fourth. I started, and I quickly ended my search, when I found the online archives of previous student baccalaureate speakers. By the time I’d finished reading many of them, I discovered a creepy, but reassuring realization. I’d found most of the Grinnellians in this room reflected in those previous speeches, and I’d found myself too.
Let me explain what I mean by that by sharing with you a few examples. First, a previous student a few years ago discussed the times they’d experienced terror at Grinnell. Terror at standing up here and speaking to you, which I can certainly relate to you right now, the usual academic terrors of an intimidating and demanding professor, the terror of awkward first dates, the freakishly large cockroaches in the basement of the Forum. Another speaker reflected on uncertainty: uncertainty about the future, about the world that lies outside of our Grinnell bubble, about not knowing what to do with your life after leaving Grinnell. Another speaker talked about something called the “Grinnell Moment,” that instance in every Grinnellian’s career when everything seems to fall apart around you. That time you stayed up all night writing a paper, only to realize it was on the wrong prompt, the day you completely blanked on your econ test, or, this is important, the numerous times you failed to get up in time to get to the morning egg line before your 9 a.m. class. Or it also might have been the small things that made up that Grinnell moment: spending every night during final’s week, huddled together with your friends and other Grinnellians in the library, straining to hear Con Brio or G-Tones perform, or laughing as Improv combined ecstacy with cats before wildly shooting a crossbow across the room in celebration of the seniors. Congratulations to you too, by the way. And finally, one Grinnellian talked a few years ago about what Grinnell taught him. About how he’s come to learn how to question the measure of our successes, to challenge authority, and to respect differences.
I realized after reading all those speeches that, I’m like a lot of those people, that all of the Grinnellians in this room are like a lot of those people, and that we all understand exactly where those students come from. Like the first speaker, I’ve been terrified often enough at Grinnell. My first debate in Professor Moyer’s IR class, struggling through Calculus 2 my first year, or the first time I lost a friendship at Grinnell. And I certainly know what it feels like to be uncertain, pardon the pun, it’s a big world out there, and despite having a plan for the next two years of my life, I’ve no clue what I want to do with it in the future. Don’t tell my parents. Besides that I want to try to have some fun in there, among all the work I’m sure I’ll be doing. And like the second to last speaker I mentioned, I’ve come to appreciate the Grinnell Moment: panicking during finals week only to receive welcome relief from an understanding professor, or the arrival of a friend with a hug, a smile, and a big cookie from the Grill. For me, that Grinnell Moment has often been unexpected and wonderful, getting stuck, for example, on the wrong side of the train tracks at 11 o’clock at night and ending up talking to the trapped individuals after the train has long since passed. Or racing a friend through all four floors of Noyce on the wheely chairs from the stats lab instead of writing a paper, or class bonding in Eco House over a crazy English class. All of these experiences, and the experiences of so many other Grinnellians, have proved that my time at Grinnell has not been defined solely by what my professors have taught me in class, but also by my experiences outside the classroom, where I learned how to live and I learned how to grow.
Each Grinnellian, all of us in this room or far off campus, has had that 2 a.m. bakery run, that tragic death of a friend, that moment where everything seems to fall apart. I can relate to other Grinnellians simply because I’ve shared many of these same experiences. Because these four small blocks of Iowan corn fields throw so many emotions and experiences at us that it drives us all together. My good friend, Kate, who I hope is in this room today, passed on a metaphor to me the other day, and it fits this situation, and these shared experiences perfectly for us seniors. She told me that life right now is like a high school freshman art class on the first day: the teacher hands you a piece of paper and tells you to draw, but she doesn’t tell you what. You experience a brief moment of panic while you frantically try to figure out what on earth you know how to draw, before finally scribbling off something that you’re completely unsatisfied with. Grinnell, right now, is sort of like that art class. Only now, I think instead of each of us having a blank piece of paper in front of us, the experiences we’ve all shared at Grinnell have filled in part of that paper, so it’s no longer blank, and it leaves it up to us to fill in the rest. Now I bet we’re not all going to hold the pencil the same way, and we’re certainly not all going to draw the same thing, because Grinnellians are very unique. But the works of art that we produce, that this college has taught us to produce, will still bear the marks of these corn fields, these classrooms, and these individuals. So, to the class of 2010, I hope we leave this wonderful corn field full of new experiences, and that we use those shared experiences to make some great art with this world. But if we forget where we’re from, if we forget the terror, the uncertainty, the Grinnell Moments, the unexpected joys and happiness, all that we’ve learned from this school over four years, we’ll not only be forgetting our friends and our loved ones, but we’ll also be forgetting ourselves. We’ll lose our passion for social justice, for critical thinking, for respecting differences and questioning authority. And that drawing won’t have the outline of Grinnell in it anymore. So the next time you’re faced with that blank piece of paper in your life, Grinnellians, think of each other. Think of these shared experiences, and I bet you’ll suddenly know what to draw. Thank you all, and congratulations to the class of 2010 once again.