Faculty Speaker – Rebecca Hamlin, Assistant Professor of Political Science
Thank you so much for that very generous introduction.
Good morning. I'll start off by speaking to the parents and granparents and siblings and other family and friends of the Grinnell Class of 2011. Congratulations to you! You have supported and nurtured these graduates in so many different ways and today is a day for you to celebrate and be proud.
To the Class of 2011, today is also a day for you to celebrate and be proud, but, and I know I'm just speculating about your inner emotions right now, but my guess is that your feelings today are probably a little bit more complex. You're probably feeling one or more of the following emotions: happy, sad, excited, scared, exhausted, energized. Maybe you are feeling all of those things at the same time combined with a hangover. If so, I'm sorry. Like I said, it's a complicated moment. I want you to know I've been there. Granted, I graduated over a decade ago but I will tell you what I remember. During my senior year of college I remember living in fear of the well-meaning relative, friend or stranger who would say, "So you're graduating, what are you gonna do after?" And I must admit that my responses to such inquirires were neither coherent nor gracious. They were something along the lines of "Yeah...I don't know...yeah," and then I would go be by myself where sometimes I would cry. So I'm not going to lie to you, I cried a lot during my first year out of college.
Part of it was that major transitions can be incredibly difficult. Even, and this is really key, even incredibly important, really healthy transitions, transitions to fabulous new things, can be incredibly difficult. When I was a new graduate I didn't want to be back in college per se, but there were things about college that I missed a lot. I missed intellectual stimulation. I missed the community that I had been a part of. And I missed the wild times, the ridiculously fun only-in-college kinds of moments. So my message for you today is one that really took me a while to figure out, and it's this: for all I had left behind in college, I had actually taken those things that I missed the most with me, and so will you.
If you were not Grinnellians, I would be tempted to give you advice, to make sure that once you are off in the big world you should remember to read the newspaper, go to art galleries, plays, and concerts, visit the wonders of our national parks, travel the world, learn that language that you didn't have time to study here, pick up a book that's outside of your field just because it looks interesting. In other words, keep your creative and critical juices flowing. But in the two years that I have been among you I have learned that I do not need to give you that advice. You are an increbibly curious group of people. You take all kinds of classes you don't need to take and then you discover some new obsession. You discuss big questions over dinner and examine life's minutiae with one another into the wee hours. You are critical consumers and thoughtful observers of the world around you. In fact, my hunch is that you chose Grinnell because you wanted to be a lifelong learner. That is precisely what a liberal arts education is. It's a gift that keeps on giving; because you went to Grinnell you do not have to miss the learning experience once you leave this place. You will create it over and over again for yorself, and you will be drawn to those that do the same.
If you were not Grinnellians I would also be tempted to give you the advice to make sure that once you are off in the big world, you get involved in your community, whatever or wherever that is. Go to your town or city hall meeting, join an organization and work to improve something, or if you see a need for something to be improved, form a new organization. Volunteer, rabble-rouse, make a difference. But in the two years that I've been among you I've seen you do these things again and again, naturally and powerfully. I've seen you respond to death and hate and ignorance in your campus community. I've seen you protest and demand more. I've seen you organize campaigns, start all kinds of groups, volunteer, and get stuff done. So once you leave the Grinnell bubble you may have to work a little bit harder to create and discover true community, but you have the tools to see what needs to be done and to do it, and frankly, I can't wait to hear about all the amazing changes that you will continue to bring to the new communities that you join.
Finally, if you were not Grinnellians, I would be tempted to remind you that once you go out into the big world, you should remember to have fun. Take breaks. Dance until dawn from time to time. Organize outings and festivals and parties, do something outlandish, goofy, hilarious. But, in the two years that I ahave been among you I have become quite sure that you know how to have fun. Now, once you leave Grinnell, the bubble, the wild times will not be handed to you on a platter like they are here. No one is going to ring your doorbell in your new apartment and say, "Hi, my name is Alice. Would you like to jump on my bouncy castle?" Your new neighborhood might not have a regular block party or regular drag show, but maybe it should. Here's something you probably won't believe: post-college fun is actually more amazing and rewarding because you have to create just the exact kind of fun that you want and that you need. And I have confidence that if anyone can make fun and discover the fun to be had in this world, it is you. So do not listen when people tell you that college is the best years of your life. What a terrible trap. It gets so much better. In part because you chose Grinnell, you will now continue to learn and build community and have wild times in all kinds of new places and wherever you end up you will bring a little bit of Grinnell with you. So, it's been a true honor to help send you off on your new adventure. Thank you.