Commencement

Last Sunday, I finished my time at Olin. I had the privilege of giving a Greeting on behalf of the Class of 2009 at our Commencement ceremony. I auditioned for the part back in March, and was chosen by the Commencement Steering Committee from a field of maybe 8 seniors hoping to have the community's ear for 5 minutes. This was the closest thing to an on stage performance I've had since last fall: I was jonesing to get up in front of a crowd again. A few sessions of brainstorming, writing and revisions yielded a speech that I believed in and was excited to share with all my classmates, professors, family... and the entire Olin community. Knowing that the dazzling wit and comedic fortitude of Mark Chang was following me, I took the liberty of hitting some serious notes in my remarks. I had a few requests for the text of the speech, so it is posted here, as close to as-delivered as I can recall. To get a little closer to the real experience, I believe that a video recording of the entire Commencement ceremony will be available for download at Olin's podcast page. There's also a short Speaker Highlights video on the Olin homepage. Check the Commencement website for updates and more info. Enjoy.

 

< Begin speech text>

 

 

 

On behalf of the Class of 2009, welcome to the fourth commencement of Olin College! It is fantastic to see us all gathered here, everyone who contributed to the successful Olin career of the Class of 2009. I think it is not just the students who will agree that life at Olin is something of a whirlwind. In our day to day frenzy of building, thinking, learning, and growing, it is hard to picture coming out of it. It is not hard to have ideas about what to do next: Those ideas are startlingly plentiful. But rather, it is hard to imagine Olin being over. It is tough to fathom what it will truly feel like to be done, and to have left Olin College. It wasn't until very recently that I even considered the notion of Olin being a past tense activity. It took a certain trigger to make it happen. What triggered the idea that finishing Olin was real was this class ring.

Here is a tangible, constant embodiment of Seniority. The class ring is a badge of honor, sparkling with the grim determination of many all-nighters. Its engraved band connects exploration to confusion to enlightenment, four years thick. This annular herald of graduation is a sign that you have finished, you have achieved the task set for yourself by coming to Olin. The ring represents a monumental doing. And when I first slid it on my finger, I had not thought of my action-packed life here at Olin as something that could be so quaintly summarized in shiny titanium, and placed neatly on my hand.

Yet here it is, finished: 4 years of smelting, forming, milling, and polishing, and suddenly the ring exists, my Olin life exists, as a concise and complete thing. The making and the living are in the past. Now the things I have been so focused on doing are just a part of the whole of me. These four years of transforming experience will soon be four of many, and instead of living and breathing Olin, I will be referring to it, remembering it, and drawing on it as a resource for the future. It will now be a means to other ends. As totally as I was immersed in the making, the finishing leaves me free. I move on adorned only by a tiny symbol of a huge endeavor.

The ring's power as a symbol certainly has limits. It certainly cannot express everything that went into earning it. The real result of Olin is me standing before you, it is this outstanding Class of 2009 about to Commence its post-Olin reality. I sometimes dream of days in the future when I will meet Olin alumni on the bus, and recognize them by their silver-blue ring. Then I realize how foolish this is when I know the first 7 classes of Olin graduates and can probably recognize them much more directly. But there is power in the accomplishment we have shared, we graduates.

Being at Olin binds us together in a way that few things do. The experience we have shared here is unique and intense. We came to a school asking not only that we excel in classes, but also that we critique and recreate them as we go. This is no small task: it is a special challenge with special reward to take a course that has never been offered before. What's more, we have never had the hollow simplicity of ignoring the broader context of our work. Also not an easy prospect. And we have seen that the problems worth solving are complex, they need multiple perspectives to understand, and you probably don't have all the information you need when you begin. We have tackled these challenges and persevered: Bravo to us for making it through.

The Class of 2009 remembers the days when we barely knew where ICB Calculus stopped and Physics began. We were here when UOCD Design Reviews meant 30 Domino's pizza boxes in the hallway of the AC at 2 am. We were here before our degrees were accredited, when belief in Olin was internal motivation without so much external approval. This was never about prestige for us.

We came here for the risk and the thrill, knowing that the risk was inherent to a deed worth doing. I deeply hope that Olin stays risky. I hope that the people here keep pushing past what others think is possible or comfortable. For a school of 300 in a world of 7 billion, to stay risky is the only way to stay relevant.

Now, when I look out from the O and think on the uncertainty and risk in the world today, part of me says, "Perfect." Who better to adapt to newness than us? The world is changing. I think we have been learning to evolve quickly for years now, and the Class of 2009 has gotten good at it. But we are no passive adapters, we graduates. Openness to change is not enough; instigating change is even more critical. I believe in this class, I believe that we will take the risk to drive hard for great changes.

To conclude I want to say thank you to the Class of 2009. You set the bar high with your excellence, but you picked it up when any of us knocked it down. I am still blown away by your talents, your tenacity, and your compassion. This is a rare and powerful group of people and I am honored to be a part of it.

And thank you Olin, with all your supportive and demanding people, for pushing our class past comfort and into greatness. Even if we lose our symbols of graduation and drop our class rings down the drain, we will still have this shared achievement of completing Olin in 2009. May all of you stay risky, and go far. Good luck, everyone.

< End speech text>

As for me, I'm writing from North Carolina on the first leg of a cross country road trip. The next 6 weeks will see me here in Asheville, NC, over to Los Angeles and up into the Sierra Nevada, then up the west coast, hopping from San Francisco to Portland to Seattle. After scoping out these potential future homes and getting a feel for the people and action going on there, I'll be back in Maine to see family as I move into job search endgame. Armed with exposure to new places and refreshed by carefree vacation with friends, I aim to know more about what, and where, to dive in to next. Another post or two may appear as my travels allow.

Cheers,

Bennett

Posted in: Commencement Blogs