I have three minutes. Unless, of course, I go rogue, chain myself to the podium, feed the key to a squirrel and refuse to leave. Instead, I want to be very clear about what I will and won’t do with the three minutes I have today. I’m going to stand here, as the second woman in the history of Williams College to be elected class speaker, honored and grateful my classmates voted for me. I know they’re expecting some jokes, so I’m going to make a few of those. I’m going to wave to my mom and dad. And I’m going to speak my truth: the truth of a 22 year old exhilarated, exhausted, and (look at watch), very-soon-to-be college graduate.
This truth, this individualized expression of my past, present and future, will be mine, and I will not claim it is yours. Although I was voted to speak on behalf of the class, it would be inaccurate and irresponsible for me to stand here and pretend I can represent each and every one of you and your experience at Williams College.
I didn’t always feel this way. I was tempted to try and write a speech that would encompass the entirety of our past four years. (For the record, I was also tempted to spend these three minutes teaching you all how to fold your convocation programs into origami cows so…many thanks to my editors.)
Because I was chosen to represent my peers, I assumed my role was to deliver a speech that was a reflection of our shared experience, one that you would all nod along to as I somehow summarized each and every voice in three minutes.
This task seemed as overwhelming and impossible as any assignment I’ve had in college, so I did what I know how to do: I sat down to write a paper. I analyzed, I synthesized, I reorganized (my room, not the speech). I did my research, I took notes, and, well, I watched all the movies in the category “Foreign Food Dramas featuring a Strong Female Lead” because Netflix told me to.
I wanted a theme; I wanted a thesis statement for our time at Williams. But I was using old tools for a new task and what I got was a trivial list of our superficial connections—something about the sun setting on the Berkshires and long, tortured nights within Sawyer Library’s doomed walls and a very weird biological tangent that included the phrase “our common blood, guts, double helices, and all that jazz.”
I was laboring (and procrastinating) over the premise that in speaking to you, I should speak for you. That’s impossible. What I can say, what any of us can say, is what we know. My individual experiences inform my own perspective, as yours do for you. It’s our responsibility then to learn more, to learn as much as we can, so that when times like these come, we can say more—not in mere word count, but “more” in the sense of an informed empathy, a respect and a curiosity for the truths we have not yet heard.
So I’ll end here with my truth: My name is Julia. I am 5 foot 4 and a third. I am 22 years old. I have been told that 22 is rather young and there will be a day, probably more than one, when I change my mind and shift my course and today will feel like a distant memory of a time when I was just becoming everything I will be. But I feel old and right now this seems like a really big deal, so let’s go with that. I feel old and I feel scared.
From what I’ve learned and heard and seen, a lot of you do too. We’re scared to leave, we’re sacred to start, and we’re scared to fail, even though failure might be exactly what we need right now: leap and the net will appear just in time for you to take a selfie with it.
So far I’m old, I’m scared and I have this sinking suspicion that half of my clothes have fallen behind my school-issued dresser drawers. So things are going great! All I can do in this moment is blatantly appropriate a quote the movie Mean Girls, written by my best friend to be Tina Fey: We just have a lot of feelings. And in a few minutes we won’t even go here. But we did, and we will always share that truth. What you can say is what you know. Learn more; expand your truth with conviction and compassion.