A March to the Sea

Brian E. Benitez, Class Speaker

It took me four years to miss the sea. Being from Florida, I took the sea for granted, even hating it for a while. But I recently realized that one of my favorite things on this planet is the beach at night.

This past week my friends and I took a 2AM stroll to the beach at Hilton Head where we were greeted by an incredible view. The sea was at low-tide, and the coastline extended for miles. Only the specks of white at the waves’ crests were visible. We ran down the sand dune and barreled into the sea—well, everyone except me. I stood on the beach absolutely overcome with emotion. The black abyss absorbed my field of vision. The onyx nothingness penetrated me. I felt small. I stood on the compacted sand, wind tousling my hair, salt licking my face and all I could do was clutch my head and laugh. It was a kind of desperate, nervous laughter.

And then I cried.

Through my tears, I slowly walked to the water’s edge and I muttered a phrase over and over again: “A march to the sea, a march to my death.” A little morbid for Hilton Head, I know, but bear with me. I have absolutely NO idea where that came from. Why on earth was I thinking about my death when I looked at the sea? Why was the sea, of all things, making me cry? I realized then that what I saw as death was not death as such, but this feeling of being outside myself. I lost my body. I wagered it to the sea when I walked up to her, and lost it as she enveloped and consumed me. The sea’s sublimity pushed me outside myself, and my being—my soul—dissolved into the salt water around me and became just as opaque. And this anxiety of not knowing where my body ended and where the world began overwhelmed me. To say it was terrifying is an understatement.

And yet, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge it was also a moment of ecstasy. The entire week I was saddled with the anxiety that comes before massive and imminent life change. I felt on the brink of a kind of death—the end of an era. So, to feel the water around me, to be part of something bigger than myself and for it to feel good was so incredibly comforting. By briefly forfeiting my body to the sea I gained clarity.

Today, we are all at the sea’s edge. She calls us into her and of course we’re afraid. We’re afraid of not being in control, of things going wrong, of losing the connections that we’ve spent four years making. We’re on the precipice of the rest of our lives and that naturally makes us feel nervous. But if the sea has taught me anything, it’s that plunging into that which overwhelms you feels good because you become one with something much bigger than yourself. Such is the case with us—Williams alums that will go out into the world and change it for the better. So, go, my friends. March to the sea, but not towards your death. March towards your life. And don’t look back. Thank you.