Hi : )
I know, it’s been a while. But, I’m back. And better. Or so I hope.
So I’m graduating from the Honors College of UIC, and this college holds a convocation during which one student will give a five-minute speech or so. Students of the HC were allowed to submit proposals for what they would say. This is what I submitted. My speech was not chosen. But, I wrote it with the intention of sharing my words (indeed, such is usually the intention when I write). So, share it I shall. Please, do share your thoughts. I have been without them for too long : ) .
Good afternoon, everyone. It is an honor to have to the opportunity to speak to you on this occasion, and I hope to honor you in turn with what I have to share. I take my task to be both to present the essence of these undergraduate years and offer a way of thinking about our relationship to the endless, enigmatic, and quite frankly, terrifying, future. But, I have five minutes. I guess I could try to cram as many elegant, abstract metaphors as possible into the time I’ve been allotted. But, metaphors tend to please the ear more than they do the mind. And, well, I’m going to try to cater to the latter. I’m going to try to be real.
It is important to recognize that you have earned a right to the chair upon which you sit. To graduate from a respected four-year institution and the Honor’s College of the same is indeed an accomplishment. Know that; remember that. But, of course, a degree doesn’t mean much on its own. An undergraduate degree is not an uncommon asset among individuals in today’s market. And, depending on the extent to which your undergraduate career is regarded as a “successful” one by future employers, admissions committees, etc., you may encounter corresponding degrees of professional or academic success as you proceed forward in life.
It is important to recognize that this conception of ‘success’ is a narrow one. It is a manifestly unjust systemic pressure that undermines self-worth. What people typically call ‘success’ is but one possible interpretation of the word that has, within a doggedly capitalist and fundamentally white male supremacist state, turned into the standard. A standard that is far from the truth.
What’s your GPA? How many hours have you volunteered? How many leadership positions have you held? How many official publications do you possess? Education, when framed as merely a commodity to be consumed, prepares one be a complacent consumer for the rest of one’s days. Education, when framed as but a means to an end, makes the above questions seem like the most important ones. I don’t particularly care how you answer those questions, and I don’t think you should either. Rather, I hope that you have learned about who you are. I hope that you have come to a better understanding of what makes you happy and how you wish to share this happiness with others. I hope that you have taken this time to grow, to develop the habit of continually challenging yourself to be truer to that same self. Society is something we constructed, and together, we maintain it. Worry not about your place in the future. Rather, consider thoughtfully what it is you have found in these last few years, for once you find yourself, you can never truly be lost. In taking seriously the project to understand and love yourself, you secure a claim to a more meaningful success. The kind of success that is the result of doing one’s best to be one’s best, of trying to live a life worth living.
Know that; remember that.
Thank you, and I wish you all the best in your future endeavors.