If I Could Have Addressed Wheaton College’s Class of 2012 on Graduation Day, This is What I Might Have Said
[Tomorrow it will be a week since graduation and I’ve had a generous time to reflect. During Senior Week, a conversation came up with some friends and the idea of giving a speech to our class came up. This morning, on an early bus ride from Providence to New York, I began to write and write and write. If given the opportunity to address my class during graduation, here is what I might have said.]
Look around you. We are surrounded. Our celebrations are both loud in the shouts and cheers we hear and make; and quiet, fluttering deep inside our chests. Look around you. We are surrounded. Wrapped in looks of pride, and in support and encouragement embodied by the people that have mattered and the people that stand with us today, all around this beautiful sunken green that is our Dimple. Look around you. We are laced in sunlight, bright with hope, laced in promise.
Take a real second right now, to inhale, exhale and remain in this moment.
You have done it. We have done it. We are graduating!
How beautiful it is to see each of our journeys celebrated here today, together. Each of us has had a distinct narrative that led us, dragged us, danced us or even tormented us to this day. Some of our journeys have been tear-stricken, some more sleep deprived, some more intoxicated, and for others still, quite surprisingly calm.
We all have different stories, and represent different paths taken at this college, each one beautiful and rather incomparable to the other. But one thing I am sure is true, none of us have simply sailed through. We have all received our own share of difficulties, faced our own roadblocks, pushed our own limits. None of us arrived as first year students with complete confidence and faith in the four years that lay ahead of us. It has certainly not been all fun and games, nothing in life ever is or should be. We each have had our losses, our failures, our missteps and our heartaches. None of us today are left unchanged, but each of us are stronger, brighter, more eloquent or more persuasive versions of ourselves. Some of us are here fully content, while others of us find ourselves craving for more time. Some of us cannot wait to depart, while some of us still sit in our seats in denial. However, despite our successes, our accomplishments and our awards, none of us, none of us sitting in the dimple today, with beads of nervous, and excited sweat forming underneath our dark robes, none of us can say that we have done it alone.
So thank you, to all those that surround us, in body and spirit, cheering us on and standing with us to the end – family, friends, professors, faculty, staff and peers. You may have only known us in passing, held the door open for us one time in Balfour, met us once at a party, cleaned our toilets for us, served us at the dining hall, watched us arrive late to your class every Monday, cheered at our games, applauded at our performances, or read our essay in your class. Or, you may have reviewed our application to Wheaton, sorted our mail for us, listened to us rant over the phone, held us when we cried, brought food to our dorm room when we were sick, referred us to sources for our theses, sat with us at lunch every Thursday, drove us to the train station when we missed the Gatra, granted us our summer fellowships or spent hours and hours with us in your office going over class material. Thank you for keeping the value of community alive, for preserving beautiful traditions and for making Wheaton the home it has been for us. Thank you, thank you, thank you, the class of 2012 thanks all of you. The love that converges here is simply overwhelming.
Dear class, as we graduate today, walk across this stage, receive our diplomas, say our goodbyes, pack up our cars and drive away- start also to collect your stories, if you haven’t yet begun. Collect your stories, maybe not all at once and not right away, because this all takes time. But when you finally find the time, and most definitely make time if you must– sit down, pause, breathe (we all know how little of this we have done in the past couple of weeks), sit down, pause, breathe and consider all the treasures you have found, the masterpieces you have made and all the wild flowers that have found their way into your life’s garden. Your treasures are the people you have met, loved or cared for, and the people who have met you, loved or cared for you. Your masterpieces- the essays you wrote, the problem sets you solved, the songs you arranged or the games you won as a team. The wildflowers – the unlikely friendships, the unexpected study partners, the spur of the moment adventures, the unanticipated favor from a friend, the unforeseen A+, and all the small but serendipitous surprises.
Gather these stories, your stories, and for a little bit of time, just hold them.
Consider your treasures, your masterpieces, your wildflowers. Consider all the light you have let into your life and all the light you yourself have shared – in simple moments, in stupid jokes you’ll soon forget, in the stumble home from Sporties, in the hours you’ve spent talking and not eating in Chase, in the sunny afternoons on Chapel Field, in late night snacks at the Loft, in the class discussion sharing your ideals, or the snowy nights sledding down the dimple. Regret nothing of our four years, because regrets are dead weight. Count it all as experience.
Dear class, my soul is richer for having met all of you. And if jobs are sparse, if the economy forsakes us, and if we are drowning in debt,… When all our old things rot and mold, …And if the world comes to an end this year, as so many people have anticipated, untouched still will be the memories we have made, the lessons we have learned and the value of this experience at college with each other.
That they may have life and have it abundantly, are the words on our library facade, borrowed from Jesus. Four years ago, we walked into Wheaton and perhaps thought that this abundant life would take place here, on our campus, in the hallways of Everett, the classrooms of Meneely, the offices in Knapton, the dances in Balfour, the stage in Weber Theater, or the games in Haas. Yes, there has certainly been abundant life here. But for many, most or perhaps all of us, the abundant life truly begins today. The four years on this campus have made that possible.
Today we graduate- one of the very few milestones our class will ever share as one. We are here for but a brief moment, to share joy together, before once again departing. Life will take us different places, once again we will live out stories unique to each of us. Some of us will drive a short way home, others will fly for hours. Some of us will move away, and some of us will stay. Some of us begin work and “real life” on Monday, others of us will be unemployed and only begin to look for work on Tuesday. Some of us will quickly pursue our dreams, finding promptly the path or paths which lead us there. Others of us will take our time to wander, and slowly discover our hearts desires, moving at our own patient pace. Still, others of us will continue to choose winding roads, courageous free falls, never ending marathons, and mind-boggling labyrinths every step of the way.
One thing remains true, however, as true as it was in our lives at Wheaton – we will never be able to do it alone. There is freedom in realizing that all our success has not been garnered simply by our own merit, our own hard work, or our own perseverance, although each of these things are instrumental.
Learn from the people who are here with us today. Recall the many ways, both simple and grand, that they have supported us and encouraged us – our parents, our mentors, our friends. Thank them, and seek to do what they have done for us, for someone else.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn once said “Own only what you can always carry with you. Know languages, know countries, know people. Let your memory be your travel bag.”
Dear class, as we leave and as we live, be generous with the things that cost nothing in common currency, like kind words, respect, or patience. Most especially, be generous with our joy. We will find ourselves repaid in full, if not right away, without a doubt in the days, years or decades to follow. Let us surround ourselves with people who inspire us. As we leave and as we live, travel light, and with the kind of wealth no one can take away from you or steal. Leave behind us a trail of gratitude and of service. Hold on to our stories, to our experiences, to those conversations, to those moments, to those memories. They are worth it. These four years have been worth it. And there is only so much more to come- greater, brighter, more challenging, more awe-inspiring things. Congratulations Class of 2012!! You are beautiful!
I graduated on Saturday. How exactly do I walk away from four incredible, inspiring, intense years at Wheaton College?
Now that the celebrations have come to a close and the departures have been made, I finally have time to watch the dust settle on another chapter of my life. I haven’t quite left yet and I haven’t quite made sense of it all, so allow me to slowly try.
Today, as I return to the simple happiness that is blogging, let me tell you about commencement, the 19th of May, 2012. In a pensive, solitary, but confused type of mood, I rose early. I encouraged my body and mind to awake slowly, by painting my graduation cap in bright colors and a passage of Rabindranath Tagore’s poetry:
My soul is alight with your infinitude of stars. Your world has broken upon me like a flood. The flowers of your garden blossom in my body. The joy of life that is everywhere burns like an incense in my heart. And the breath of all things plays on my life as on a pipe of reeds.
Upon making my way to the Everett Courtyard, where all the graduates were lining up and gathering – I was everywhere and nowhere – in the moment, but lost in that gathering of incredible moments. I didn’t know whether to push my tears out or hold them back. In the end they just danced on the edge. (And on the edge they frustratingly remain.)
But oh, if only you could see what I could see. The best part about graduation was seeing familiar faces look back at me with so much story. These gazes I will always remember, with intense gratitude. I’ve always thought that graduation was more for the people that helped you get through all the years that preceded it. Everyone tells the graduate, “It’s your day! Congratulations!” But I find that it is less for me, and more for the people who get to watch the ceremony take place, more for the people who were instrumental in making possible the multitude of moments that led up to graduation. Certainly the ceremony is important, and it is a beautiful feeling to hear your name called as you walk across stage (barefoot in my experience) to get a hug from your College President and hold in your humble hands a College Degree. However, I watched the faces of others and in them I found the significance of graduation.
I looked each of them in the eye, smiled and could not explain how thankful I was for all that they had given to me. The blessings of the past four years have completely blown me away. It was incredible to walk to my assigned seat, just the second row from the front and see my mom there, next to other parents and supporters, smiling with uncontainable joy, waiting to take a photo of me. I gave her a hug as she exclaimed, “I feel like you’re in kindergarten again!”
It’s these moments I will remember – friends, parents of friends, professors, staff – looking back at me and mirroring the pride and joy I held so graciously in my heart.I will remember all those eyes, all those smiles. I will remember the heat of the sun, blessing us with its heat, its light. I will remember the cool, gentle grass underneath my bare feet as I walked toward the blue stage for my Wheaton diploma and back around all the seated seniors. I will remember and I will treasure, the way the people who have loved me, have looked back at me.
There is a joy of release in the exhale, knowing you’ve finally made it to the end. I find I am breathing again.
I’ve always loved to write, always loved to perform. Last semester, things fell into place and I finally made time to join iSpeak, Wheaton’s spoken word group. I’ve actually wanted to be a part of the group since I first stepped onto campus- before I even really understood what spoken word was to begin with!
Aside from small class presentations, it’s been a while since I got up in front of a crowd to speak. I get up to dance very often, but to speak? Not all that much anymore. It’s interesting to consider what people know or don’t know about me, in the different places that I’ve lived in. At Wheaton, nobody knows that I was really into theater while I was growing up and even did school competitions for poetry recitation, declamations and monologues. Nobody in Costa Rica probably knew that either. The same way that very few people from home expect me to be majoring in Art. They always think I’m majoring in Dance, or English, or Journalism even. They never think of art.
Fast forward to almost six years from my last theater-ish performance, and here I am finally writing my 0wn stuff. I’m finally stepping up and just going for it.
I first began this poem last spring break, about a year ago now. I was staying with my friend Rachel for a couple of days in Boston and was enjoying a nice solitary dinner at Panera Bread –Nothing beats their broccoli cheddar soup!!! I had never written any spoken word before, but had always wanted to. So in my big red sketchbook, I began to write, scribbling all these lines that began to just roll off my pen. I didn’t touch the poem until I was home for winter break, although I never forgot it, always thinking that there could be something really special about that piece. So I took home the big red sketchbook in December, almost leaving it behind when I was packing up to return in January! Good thing I decided to flip through the book before I flew out – I found my unfinished poem between pen doodles.
So I continued working on the piece. When I returned to Wheaton for the spring, I felt its weight heavy on my heart – anxious to be shared with people. Weeks and weeks later, I began to finally share it with some friends – looking for feedback, for help with the writing and help with the speaking. I was shy, but really excited. Then came the chance to finally share it with more people, more friends. And I was bursting, just bursting to share a side of me that I feel few people at college are familiar with.
This is a piece dedicated to my older brother, Kuya Lawrence, and the inspiring work he does to seek justice for Filipino women and children who have been abused, trafficked and abandoned. I love you, Kuya!
Here’s one of my first attempts at being a spoken word artist. Performed at iSpeak’s spring showcase, “In Living Color,” March 2, 2012.
I kind of want to write about Valentine’s Day. I know it was over a week ago already, and I know it can be an annoying holiday that only further promotes consumerism and all things cute or tacky, depending on your personal taste. But I had fun this time!
My mom wrote to me in an email about how my dad had sent roses to her at work, a day before Valentine’s Day! This warmed my heart so sweetly, I told all my friends about it. After all these many, many years, Valentine’s Day for my parents is still special. I was reminded how much simple gestures like that can pick up a tired spirit or brighten a discouraged soul. So I made it a point to celebrate February 14th with a couple simple, but most certainly heartfelt gestures of appreciation.
I spent the early afternoon doing a little crafting in my room with magazines and an episode of Gossip Girl. I came up with a couple Valentine’s Day “cards” for my suitemates and my dancers and taped them up on mirrors with handmade paper flowers. (I was honestly quite proud of my little art projects!)
Will you be my Valentine? Amy had asked me before the day came around. The answer was quite predictably, Yes, please!
So we decided to make a day out of it.
Before Dance Company rehearsal and after I had spent a good hour painting in my studio, she and I had a quick little “date” (literally about fifteen minutes) in our newly cleaned and organized Dance Co closet. For many many years, that little room was hopelessly filled with boxes, piles and racks of random costumes, thrown recklessly about the place. It was a bottomless pit of odd, quirky, horrendous, tacky, ridiculous, funky and vintage costumes for the stage. It isn’t a very big room, but after our epic spring cleaning session with the company and Cheryl, we can now fit all the company inside – standing of course. Anyway, Amy brought cafeteria food, and I some festive drinks for sipping. In the odd coziness of the fluorescent lit closet, we exchanged our heart day gifts.
We both made each other little cards – mine with a funny Valentine note that is now the title of this entry, and hers with concentric hearts and a sweet note on the back. She told me she knew that I would outdo her with the crafting (I made her paper flowers too) and thus decorated a shirt for me, haha.
The day ended with good energy, as the TRYBE practice from 8 to midnight doubled as a dress-up night with fun crazy things from the closet. What better way than to end the day dancing with your friends! Here I am all funkily gypsified.
And here are some mid-rehearsal photo booth shots that you might enjoy:
I’m going to make sure more days of the year are as sweet and meaningful as this one was. 🙂
It’s often late at night when I get in the mood to scrub the bathroom clean. Even after a long day of dance rehearsal and drawing in my studio, any sense of exhaustion temporarily leaves as I decide to pull out a pair of gloves from underneath the sink. [This may be too much information, but strangely, I also seem to be most efficient when I get to cleaning without a shirt on – the suitemates are never around or awake to see.]
The whole process is rewarding-ly therapeautic.
Tonight was one of those nights. After an incredibly long day, I arrived home so ready to go to sleep, but I could not help but begin to scrub away! And how satisfying is the feeling of a clean toilet, clean shower and clean sink! Not satisfying ,though, was the awful bloody booboo I got from setting up the vacuum cleaner. I’ve got quite the photo of it, but it looks way worse than it actually is because I was letting it bleed. So I’m just going to keep that one to myself. What I will share though, is what all the dance rehearsals have been doing to my poor knees!! Eeep!
This is all going to pay off because TRYBE’s huge annual gala coming up in just two weeks! So much of my life has been dedicated to all things Trybe since I arrived. This is me not complaining. 🙂
Despite the long days spent in dance rehearsal [all my nights and weekends are spent in practice], I am also having a wonderful time in my classes this semester, the few that I have. The semester looks incredibly promising! I’ll be sure to write more about them soon, but I will say for now that my life in the classroom these days is full of art and poetry. I couldn’t ask for anything lovelier.
I’ve started up my painting work and have been re-setting up my little studio space that I had last semester. Here’s my most recent work, a life-sized painting I’ve just started working on. Hours and hours and hours more to go, but I am so excited!
I’m trying my very best to keep myself occupied in order not to succomb to this growing desire for a nap. So far, so good. This morning I woke up bright and early. Well, it wasn’t quite that bright out, but it was definitely early.
Trying to keep up with the short but pretty regular running excursions that I’ve been doing, I had decided that a nice morning run would be good to jump start my first day back. Dance doesn’t start until tomorrow and all the sleeping in cramped airplane seats had definitely tightened up my muscles. (I had been so glad to finally be horizontal on my familiar bed at Wheaton last night!)
I put in lots of time to layer up – I had a couple of sweatshirts on and legwarmers underneath my sweatpants. I even put a hat on! I was ready to go! A morning run, what a great idea!
I stepped out of Keefe and groaned. It was snowinggg. It didn’t seem like all that much, so I decided to go on anyway, not planning to be out for too long. I started to jog, sticking to the road’s shoulder, rather than the sidewalks steadily slicking up with snow. Four minutes in and I was realizing how cold it was. The layers were almost useless. I had broken a sweat already, but the winter air and the snow flying into my face was telling me to go back inside. Where was all the real air!?!? And who is sucking it all in?! I suddenly missed the Philippine heat (I almost never miss the heat!) because the cold left my breath short and my chest tight. I turned around, not so reluctantly, mad that the snow was already ruining my plans.
Since then, I’ve had a very productive day! (And I also have refused to leave the building because of the snow, although I may soon have to because of my hungerrr.) Last night when I started to unpack, I looked around my room and realized that I’d have to clean up and organize before I could get empty out my suitcases. It wasn’t a complete mess, but I had left in a quite a rush last December and put no time into tidying up. It was almost a complete mess. So this morning, after a cold trek to breakfast and back, I went full force on my little room! This is probably the cleanest and tidiest it is going to be all semester. Well, hopefully not, I guess. I re-folded and re-sorted all my clothes and shoes, cleaned out my desk drawers, sorted out piles of papers into recycling, hung up all my accessories, vacuumed my carpet (that thing is never going to be glitter-free), did some laundry, and put on some fresh sheets on my bed. (Photographs soon. Maybe.) Believe me, it was quite the operation.
Now I sit at my desk, warm in a nice vintage find, from my sister’s closet and straight from the 80’s. (I am loving the patterns!)
On my flight out of Manila, I was served little mango cubes with my meal. This serving topped off my week-long strategic mango consumption effort. In the last week I was home, I tried to squeeze in as much good company and good mangoes as I could – always the juicy, ripe, filipino mango that never fails. I had it with my pancakes, in my crepes, in my yogurt, in my frozen yogurt, in my mango bravo (a yummy frozen kind of cake!), in my juice… It seemed just right to have it as dessert on my flight. I brought enough stock of dried mangoes and mangorinds to keep me alive on this end! Nothing compared to the real thing though. On the flight, I reflected on my last holiday break that was drawing to a close. In just a few days, I begin my final semester of undergraduate study at Wheaton College…buuut more on that later!
As we landed in Narita, the first thing I thought was, Oh, Winter. The trees that lined the fence of the airport were blackened, damp in the rain, and stripped by the season. I had forgotten that Winter looked like this. Here I am, back in its short days and its blackened, white nights. This morning, on my stiff walk back from my failed run, I thought, I forgot Winter felt like this.
For now, it is dark again outside and I can hear Sarah in the shower, newly returned to me after a stressful, eventful journey back. She takes the prize for this set of flights – almost deported and hours and hours late! Ha!
I arrived at Wheaton last night, after yet another 24-hour travel adventure. I got a lot of sleep on the trip, but also my share of exercise! My uncomfortably short layover in snowy Chicago supplied my cardio work out for the day, as well as fulfilled the stress quota for the trip. I only had one hour between the estimated time of landing and boarding. (Although we had previously been 20 minutes late, the plane had made up this time in the air! Thankfully!)We were landing at 2:35 and my next flight boarded at 3:30, leaving the ground at 4:05. This being my first port of entry into the US, getting everything sorted out could take a lot of time. As the plane touched down, I was already praying hard for a miraculously speedy process. In order not to completely lose it, I decided against looking at a clock or finding out what time it was, I would just have to push hard all the way till I made it onto my next flight. I did not want to miss it! I was going to have to work hard against my usual travel luck.
The flight attendant on the speaker welcomed us to Chicago and told us it was 2:30 pm. While waiting for the passengers in front of me to file out of the plane, I did some calculations. If I could get through the immigration in twenty minutes, claim baggage/get through customs/re-check baggage in another twenty; the final twenty of the minutes of the hour could be split between getting out of the plane and getting myself rechecked into the airport terminal. And if I still needed more time, I hoped the boarding time would serve as a little buffer. I power walked with my bulky backpack and large shoulder bag from the plane to the immigration line, leaving behind many excessively calm travelers in no hurry. It was no use trying the moving walkways because they were full of slow pokes that had a lot of time on their hands. I, on the other hand, was trying to speed through. I’ve never had to trek so far to the immigration area! When I finally made it there, my throat dry from shallow breathing in the cold, I was glad I had decided not to throw out that half a bottle of water that I had in my bag, and thankful for the special section they had for visitors with connecting flights! Ordinarily, I could spend at least half an hour just waiting in line! I had a couple people pass me by in line, thanks to this new and annoying system of student having to fill in extra information onto our I-90 cards. Of course my hands were shaking as I hurriedly filled it out. I soon made it through.
At the baggage claim area, I tapped my foot impatiently, as I looked hard for my bags. Where were they?? No matter how fast you get through immigration, if your bags aren’t out yet, you’re still stuck. I tried to coax them out faster onto the conveyor belt and hoped that they would arrive soon. I’d rather they arrive late then be lost somewhere, because processing that takes even more time and after having seen a whole plane-full of luggage go by! A couple more waves of bags arrived, then I finally saw the familiar dark bags with bright pink ribbons and quickly hauled them over to customs. Once through the inspector, all my bags got put through a scanner before I exited into a large hectic room. There, I was approached by one of the airport employees with a huge barcode scanner. He was scanning luggage and letting passengers know what gate and terminal they had to proceed to. He scanned mine, then said something that I ended up having to repeat in my own head, just to sort out his accent – Your gate is C9, Terminal 1. Still distracted by my own busy head (translating the accent, estimating the time and trying to cheer myself forward), I followed the rest of the travelers handing off their bags to the muscle men putting them on more conveyer belts. I tried to stay encouraged by reasoning that if my flight had left already, he would’ve known and would’ve told me. My baggage wouldn’t have anywhere to go! But then again, you never know. For once I was hoping the flight would be delayed!
I let myself look at the blue screens full of flight information. On Time, it told me brightly, next to my flight number to Boston. At least it didn’t say, Now Boarding! So I kept moving. I found myself a little disoriented when I stepped out onto a new lobby, with people walking in all directions, but I soon found the escalators leading to the inter-terminal train stop. The train arrived a couple minutes after I walked onto the platform and two stops later, I arrived at Terminal 1. More walking, more hustling! I then had to go through, guess whaaat, more security checks! I was basically getting re-checked into the airport. I stood still with my hands above my head and elbows bent, in between those airport scanners that show the officers everything. Afterwards, I walked over to the female officer on duty, waiting to get the clear from the officer on the other side of her earpiece. As I tried to wait patiently, I thought to myself, I’msocloseI’msoclose! Aaaand of course, just to keep me on my toes, I got an extra check. The officer had to pat down my back pockets and the front of my shirt. She had me show her the old necklace I had tucked into my shirt, one I got from Kuya Law over a decade ago. Then she took one of those small pieces of paper, wiped the palm of my hand with it a couple of times and put it into a machine to get it checked. They usually do this to my bags, not me! Oh well. Something new every time. Once I was cleared, another officer asked to look into my handbag. Ah, powder! he said, looking at the bottle, then letting me go on my way.
A nearby screen told me that my plane had arrived late. I hoped I wasn’t reading wrong!
You would think that by now, I would maybe, possibly, potentially, perhaps be very close to my boarding gate. Ah, no! Such is life! There is lots of walking, lots of hustling to be done! From Concourse B, I had to make my way to Concourse C. Between these two was a nice looong walkway; long but happily and colorfully lit by neon tubes overhead and glowing walls. Maybe I was imagining them? Anyway, I was glad for the encouraging lights and the many moving walkways that this time that were not full of slow and annoying walkers. I walked up the escalators too, squeezing by some very pleasant people. Walk, walk, walk.
Found some proof online. I wasn’t hallucinating!:
C 17, C 15, C 13….Then, finally, my gate was in sight! AAAHH!!! How thankful I was to see a large crowd of people still gathered around it! Boarding hadn’t even started. I did not reward myself with a seat just yet, but proceeded to the nearby restroom in relief. I wasn’t going to miss my flight! It wasn’t until I joined the rest of the crowd that I allowed myself to ask a nice lady for the time. It was five minutes to four! Whew! That was way too close. Thank God for the delay!
We boarded shortly and I finally let myself have a seat. While we waited for everyone to get on the plane, I watched the snow gather on my window. Even after our plane had closed its cabin doors, we ended up waiting. We waited a long time. The plane had to be sprayed with some chemicals to keep the snow off, ice had to be melted as we pulled out of our gate and onto the runway, and who know what else – I was dozing off already!