From Sharp Shard to Beautiful Treasure

Jeffrey Rubel, Class Speaker

So, before I begin, I wanna take a quick pic of the Class of 2017. Let’s go viral––like bigger than Ellen at the Oscars! So, smile!

This photo is also for a Facebook album I’ve been assembling over the past four years. It’s called “Adventures in the Purple Valley.” I know, a pretty cheesy title.

In my album, I have photos from big moments: The Mountain Days. And the Homecomings. And, most importantly, the Add-Drop Periods … #Your32.

But there are other photographs not in my album: The unglamorous pictures of our ordinary routines at Williams, of––what some call––the daily grind.

These are the photos I want to talk about.

So, I asked all of you about them.

Your daily photos include: telling stories with friends, crammed into your hallway in West; walking to snack bar, wrapped in a scarf, in the dead of winter; sitting in a professor’s office in Hollander, discussing your essay.

But, sometimes, these routines grind us down.

I know. I’ve been there. There’s the week, my sophomore spring, that I had so much homework I ate every meal in twenty minutes, alone in upstairs Paresky.

We’ve all had those times we’ve felt consumed by the grind. Then, we’re left wondering, what’s it all even for?

In my hand, I have a jar of sea glass.

When broken glass first falls into the ocean, it has sharp edges. But it’s in the sea––a world of waves, of currents, and of sediment transport.

And these forces polish the glass, taking it from broken fragment to smoothed section.

But there’s no specific moment when this transformation happens.

And this is how our lives work. The forces that polish us are always acting.

For us, these forces are our everyday routines: eating and talking; practicing and playing; reading and thinking.

Now, day in day out, it’s much easier to not stop and not recognize these routines.

So often, they exhaust us: paper after paper; practice after practice; coffee after coffee … after coffee … after coffee.

But, here at our not-so-sun-dappled Commencement, we can stop.

And we can recognize how the continual flow of these routines has endlessly and ceaselessly shaped us.

Our routines define us because we often choose them. They’re decisions about how we’ll spend our time––about what we value. They reflect our choices and reveal our commitments. They’re how we express ourselves every day.

And, further, routines are how we accomplish what matters to us. Because grand achievements are built on everyday moments. Just ask anyone who’s done a thesis, or won a championship, or is graduating Williams today.

This – This is the power of the ordinary.

And, perhaps, this is why it’s called the daily grind. Because it’s grinding our sea glass’s sharp edges, polishing them.

The ordinary is how we create the extraordinary. And it’s our Williams routines that have shaped us into the extraordinary graduates we are today.

Because our routines are constant, and our lives are carried on the currents of our commitments.

And even though today we’re leaving our little bay in the Berkshires, we’ll always be in the ocean––where we’ll be endlessly sculpted and ceaselessly polished.

We are all sea glass, on continual journeys from sharp shards to beautiful treasures.

Thank you, and congratulations.

[Thank you to the following people who have provided invaluable editorial advice on this speech: Rick Spalding, Rhon Manigault-Bryant, Shawn Rosenheim, Matt Rubel, Tom Costley, Rachel Berenblat, Jim Shepard, Melissa Rubel, Grace Flaherty, Katie Swoap, Chelsea Thomeer, Michael Rubel, Johanna Wassermann, Sam Swire, Deanna Segall, Lucy Putnam, Hannah Benson, Malcolm Moutenot, and Melanie Subbiah.]