John Buse '11 Baccalaureate Address
I apologize for my perspiration and for not being Kathleen Skerret. Before I begin my speech, I want to get the concrete advice part out of the way. If I were Monessa Cummins, or my mom, or my grandparents, or anyone who I imagine has wiser words or clearer minds, I would dispense advice for the next five minutes. One day, I might, but right now I have five seconds of advice: Don't let the system or haters get you down, and be fabulous, however you interpret that. This advice is cliched but I still believe it's good. And to start what I'm afraid to start.
I was tempted for the sake of simplicity or out of a fear of honesty, to emulate the cliched collegiate, picturing the ceremony this weekend in some sepia-toned montage, all gowns and smiles and packed-up cars and Victamin C. This collegiate image is something I, and many of you in your own way, tossed around in our heads before we came here. On August 15th, 2007, I wrote to myself, "Goodby St. Louis, hello world." You're allowed to laugh. Now I'm up here ostensibly to say, "Goodbye Grinnell, hello world." We're leaving what can be defined as an enclosed place that nurutures us and holds our hand.
Yesterday, today, tomortrow, we'll hear plenty of what the college has given us: an ability to think, a passion for justice, marketable skills, and a dining experience that - in their own words - "makes the idfference." And the college did give us these things, to some degree at least, and we should all reflect on how grategful and lucky we are for having them, or what a hundred sixty thousand dollars is worth. This is okay. Being guided, taught and fed is a luxury experience. These are things of the bubble - this is Grinnell and only Grinnell, this is college and only college. This is what we'll be saying goodbye to in the most permanent of ways. And we should be happy to. We should be satisfied, if not stuffed, after four years.
We will also be saying goodbye to each other in a very real way. We've been slammed together, smooshed undesireably, and molded happily. We placed ourselves in a small parcel of land with fifteen hundred strangers, a bunch that was also largely confused most of the time. We were naked, but not in the library. Thank you Kathleen, if you're in here. Now we pull apart. We'll talk and visit, but we won't live here together, or anywhere together. We know each other - some too well, some by only name or face, some only by their usernames - and we've shared moments and rooms and something together. Something that we're supposed to define about right now.
And this is where my speech jammed up. I wrote a jumble of sentences, tossing around words like loggia, Neverland, laughter and j-garg - all things we've shared, undoubtedly, but pieces of something else I couldn't quite get at. Something eluding my definition, my vocabulary, and frankly, our sight. Often we're too busy looking back at specifics, quickly trying to slug up memories, or we're too busy looking forward to grander things: Who am I? What do I do? When do I get to leave? And what mid-sized urban zone am I going to get to gentrify? And I think maybe that what we've shared is the world. Intially we were alone here, and ultimately, we are alone here again. And we've made something of it, with those around us, both the ones we like and the ones we might not really like all that much. And these categories aren't rigid or bound, they're fluid. I first said, "Meh" upon meeting some of my now best friends, and I've watched some friendships disappear. For we've all blossomed and scarred, been blossomed and been scarred in the smallest and biggest of ways. We are irreparably changed because of one another and the times we've spent, and the things we've done. We came running into this place and put ourselves, or some image of ourselves, into the common pot. This is the world boiled down, other people, running into other people and their lives with yourself and your life. Because of that we slammed into each other through the world and found the world through one another. Maybe sometimes with the result of feeling alone when surrounded by so many. We can't deny what we've been through, even if the surroundings aren't constructed or comfortable or fake. The essence of what we experience is real, and we will carry it with one another and the poeple that we were, and are, and the way we run into others from here on out. Because ultimately we are not creatures of the collegiate; we are people, as a friend simply put it for me earlier this week. That's what we have been. We'll shed the Grinnellian on the outside of us, some readily, some hesitantly. We will not shed what we have been to one another. This is sad. This is happy. This is noteworthy. This is what we've done. This is life.
These are huge four years of your life, as all the others you experience will be as well. But that does not dilute these years. Instead it says, "this was not just a phase but something real." There is something special about all us too. Whether pre-conditional - only Grinnellians come to Grinnell - or conditional - Grinnell makes Grinnellians - we should recognize that for one another we're a heavy bunch. That's the thing: even when we felt alone, I think we may have been surprised that there was someone there. I've never seen and likely never will again see a group of people take such thorough care of one another. Never seen and likely never will again see so many people saying to one another, "My door is open please talk to me." You are probably the only bunch of people with whom I'm comfortable enough to talk about the story of my spiritual experience I had as I crapped my pants in a Mount Pleasant motel parking lot. You all tell these things analogous to your own life as well. I've heard them. Everybody poops. I think it will be like this alone and together in some balance, talking and sharing - at times too much - in some way, forever.
So maybe this could be my advice: talk to the people around you before you leave. Not just about that time you did that thing and you were like "Swag!" Or "No, no, no, no! Let me tell it!" These are good though, do this. Don't forget laughing hard. We shouldn't be scared to remember with words and conversation, crying hard. For each of us, there's someone you won't be able to have that last conversation with, for whatever reason good or bad. But just because college is over tomorrow, that doesn't mean that person is gone from you or you from them. This is not a box we close, trapping everyone else inside. Remember, these might be some big years, but don't let them be the best four years of your life. I don't know who said it first. So talk to you friends if not for the last time, then once again about what you are and what you feel and how you got to that, and listen to them talk back. Look back later, mind and heart open, that's all we should want, because at the end of it all, as the artist and former member of the Grinnell College Class of 2011 Christine Stoddard once sang to us: I love you.