President Riggs, Dean Ramsey, members of the faculty, parents, and my fellow classmates:
It felt like yesterday that we moved in here. As we drove our packed cars in the long line on North Washington Street that hot August afternoon 4 years ago, we got our first taste of the new journey we were about to begin.
We were surprised to see complete strangers happily grab our bags and shuffle them up to our new rooms. And our dads were thrilled to see complete strangers grab our bags.
Our parents were nervous about us living alone for the first time -- and let’s be honest, we were all nervous because we never did laundry before.
Orientation -- with its ice breakers, the first-year walk, and the Gettysburg Address -- came and went, and our classes began. Homework piled up and things got a bit more difficult than we had planned.
Some of us missed home. Some of us wished we could go back to the simpler high school days.
And all of us -- at one point or another -- struggled to find our place among 700 new faces.
But then, along the way, something amazing happened. High school soon became a distant memory. When away from school, “home” no longer meant our house, but Gettysburg College. We started to call this place home.
We began to cherish the friendships we formed on our floors, in our classes and in our clubs -- and over all-you-can-eat meals at Servo, the campus dining hall.
We may not realize it now, but Servo is one of the things we’ll miss most about Gettysburg.
Because of the food, yes, but more importantly because it embodies all that Gettysburg stands for and values.
When I stepped out of the van to begin my campus tour 4 years ago, I was nervous. My parents didn’t go to college, so this journey was new for us all. I had applied to 16 schools, and Gettysburg was the last one I was visiting.
It was Springfest when we came to campus. Girls were wearing sundresses. Guys were wearing tank tops.
And there was a DJ playing as students danced on the quad.
My dad and I shared a fist bump, because we assumed that college was like this every day.
But don’t worry, President Riggs, that wasn’t the only reason I chose Gettysburg.
As we headed towards the CUB in our group, the tour guide began to describe the dining hall, and the signature “USA -- Unlimited Servo Access” meal plan enjoyed by all first-year students.
Taken aback, I asked our guide, “Does this mean that I can eat as much as I want, whenever I want?”
“Yes,” he replied, as everyone else in the group looked at me. “But you have to go to class sometime!”
Still on a mission, I peeked into the dining hall, and my parents and I were greeted by Gary Brautigam, the director of dining services.
Servo was closed because food was being served in an outdoor tent that day. But that didn’t stop Gary. He wouldn’t let us leave without taking a tour of the kitchen.
He showed us everything -- how the dishes are washed, how the food is cooked, and how they plan a meal for the thousand or so students who come through their doors three times a day.
He didn’t let us leave without seeing the clean kitchen; without seeing the passion and care that goes into every meal served at Gettysburg.
I share this story because that was what sealed the deal for me. Someone, going out of their way, to make sure that I had the visit that he felt my family and I deserved -- one that lived up to all Gettysburg has to offer.
In a process often characterized by numbers, SAT scores, and competition, one man with a big smile showed me that Gettysburg is about the human experience.
About passion, people, and treating your work like art.
My Gettysburg education began on that tour four years ago, and I haven’t stopped learning since.
In a question and answer session on Twitter, someone asked President Riggs: “What makes Gettysburg special?”
“That’s easy,” she answered. “It’s the people.”
It is the people. If there’s one thing we’ve learned here, it’s that people matter.
Thousands of photos captured our experience. As we pack up our things, the buildings stay put. As the chalkboards are wiped clean, the empty class is just a quiet room full of desks.
But it’s the life that fills our buildings, the knowledge, passion and care that animates our classrooms -- and the people who fill our photos that make this day a celebration.
And we’ll remember them long after we leave here.
We’ll remember our faculty members, who saw our true potential, went out of their way to mentor us, and showed us that it’s really possible to love your work.
We’ll remember Sue, who swiped our cards and greeted us for virtually every meal of our college career.
We’ll remember Linda, also known as “Omelet Lady,” whose warm smile and great cooking made us excited to go to breakfast every morning.
And we’ll even remember that mysterious hand that reached out to grab our cups through the tray window.
We’ll miss Thanksgiving Dinner, Servo Sitting for hours, and Sunday Brunches filled with laughter, stories, and a whole lot of love.
One meal at a time, we learned that the person who matters most, is the one sitting across from you.
But most importantly, it’s about the people sitting right here in this audience: mom and dad. They drove us to practice, tended our cuts and bruises, and helped us with homework and college applications after long days at work -- all in the hopes that we be happy.
To you we say, Thank You. Your unconditional love is the wind beneath our wings.
Countless other people have had a hand in our journey to this very moment. There is no way to thank them for all they’ve done. All we can do is pay it forward; and give back to those that come after us.
We can remember that in a time when people are more cynical and discouraged with humanity, government, and institutions, we can be like Gary Brautigam. We can show them the clean kitchen, and exceed their expectations of humanity. One person at a time.
“If you have a favorite recipe from home and it’s not on our menu, we’d love to make it for you,” Gary said.
“We like to make this place feel like home.”
Somehow, someway -- everyone on this stage -- and everyone in this audience -- continues to make this place feel more and more like home.
And our Gettysburg home is a lot like the cafeteria we leave behind:
Hundreds of us entered its doors, each hungry for something different. We shared our time and ourselves with one another. And in the process, we became a family.
Today we leave those doors fuller than when we came in. Filled with love, hope, and confidence -- knowing that the world is ready for the Gettysburg College Class of 2013.