President Riggs, administrators, members of the faculty, families, ghosts of Gettysburg, and, most of all, the Class of 2014.
Life is a series of moments; some good, some bad; some exciting, some wonderful; some terrifying, some nerve-racking; some so filled with hope, some so filled with despair; some that make you laugh, some that make you cry; some that relax you, and some that even make you want to throw up.
Graduation, this prestigious and time-honored tradition for which we are all dossed in such a vibrant black, seems, amazingly, to encompass every single one of these contradictory descriptors. This moment, and another moment with similarly confusing characteristics, will be my “talking points” for this afternoon.
Let’s take a little journey. Ignoring how creepy that may have sounded, try to remember arriving here at Gettysburg for the first time four years ago. Try to remember that moment. After the long drive or maybe longer flight, you were probably half asleep pulling up to our new home. For hours you listened to your Dad saying “man, I wish I was the one going to college!” in between your mom sobbing. Or maybe vice versa –who knows.
Before you awake from your slumber and even have the chance to open the car door, 94 of your newest classmates just Pickett’s charged your car, unloading it in a matter seconds. After picking up your key, on the walk to your room you’re wondering what frat basement your futon just ended up in, and which group of juniors were laughing at your Lilo and Stitch coffee mug –maybe that was just me.
But, when you arrived, it was all there –all of your things placed with care and love outside your door. If not, the Office of Residence Life would like to take the time now to formally apologize; please let Danielle Phillips know via email what you are missing and we will try to track that down for you.
Adding to the mix of emotions is what else you may have discovered in your room –a roommate. For some, this was the first time you would be living with someone else in the same space. The initial awkwardness is stifling; rules needed to be established and boundaries set: how late can my light be on? How often do we take out the trash? Can I use your printer? How naked is too naked? The point is, our first moments here are a “wild ride” on the old emotional roller coaster.
That being said, citing from my opening list, not all these emotions were negative. The idea of a clean slate brings hope for a new future and a redefinition of self-identity –gone were the days of high school when your jeans ripped down the middle during gym class volleyball or when you almost lit your entire garage on fire trying to burn spider webs with a lighter –my bad on that one mom and dad.
With all of that behind us, we were ready to take the lessons we had learned through hard work, fun, experience, and embarrassment and apply them in a new zone, a new environment, with new friends and hopefully more stringent regulations barring the use of lighters in our dorm rooms. This moment of new life, this moment of change, this moment of excitement, brought us all together in one bond –a bond we share today and will forever share. In August of 2010, we (660 of us) converged on this hallowed ground from all corners of the Earth, from diverse backgrounds, experiences, native languages, genders, races, and what occurred was a “big bang” –from the randomness of the universe, there was something created so beautiful from chaos; 660 different bodies in motion converging on the exact same place at the exact same moment. And, from this moment on, we were different –we had affected each other permanently without even knowing it yet; every interaction we had over the next four years shaped us, formed us, and left us tattooed.
And this leads us to today, and our next moment.
Having studied Italian here at Gettysburg and abroad in northern Italy, I had the opportunity to meet a dear friend of mine named Fabrizio Core. During one of our many conversations, our graduation came up and he taught me an old Italian saying: “la fine corona l’opera” –the ending crowns the work.
This ceremony, this ending –it is the sparkling “crown” that sits atop our four incredible years here. È il nostro momento. It is our moment –the moment when walk across this stage and part ways in the same chaotic manner by which we came to this place. 660 different “bullets”, flying in 660 different directions; some probably with a little more velocity than others; some probably with a more clearly defined target; but all, all of us, shooting off with the same tattoo, the same permanent imprint and Gettysburg frame that leaves our options in life endless, with no real exaggeration.
Class of 2014, a town and a place and a college that have so enormously shaped our nation too have shaped us and left us forever changed in the best way possible and forever prepared to confront whatever our lives and the world throws in our direction.
For those of you with which these thoughts resonated, I am very thankful. And for those of you who thought I was rambling and a bit too wordy, I apologize –I was just stalling so that this kid in the first row could finish his final Methods paper (look watch); you got about ten minutes buddy, god speed, we’re all rooting for you!
As I was saying, moments are incredible. And moments so strikingly contradictory as this and our moment of arrival four years ago are rare and should be treasured.
Some moments are an end, some are a beginning, and some, like our two moments I talked about today, simultaneously and beautifully coexist in both of these spheres.
I would like to end my remarks with a small personal message to the graduating seniors. In the years to come, when I see you in Washington, D.C., New York, Chicago, London, Rome, Athens, Berlin, Copenhagen, Geneva, Tokyo, Capetown, Bogota, Buenos Aires, anywhere, no matter –I’ll buy you a beer. Congratulations Class of 2014, Cheers, we did it.