Thank you Grand Marshall Wiltenburg, Chancellor Wrighton, Board of Trustees, and distinguished guests.
And thank you to everyone here today. To parents, to family, to friends, to loved ones … thank you for supporting us, encouraging us and getting us to today.
And to the Class of 2015 – we made it! Congratulations!
Today, during our final moments as undergraduate students of Washington University, I feel compelled to think back to our beginning.
As freshmen, WashU was as exciting as it was daunting. There was so much to experience, so much to do and see and try in the next four years. But we had questions. As freshman, there were so many decisions to make. What classes should I take and what should I major in? Where should I eat and what clubs should I join? Who should my friends be, and where should we live? Should I study for this exam or go to this party? Sometimes we’d ask, am I smart enough to even go here?
But more than anything, our freshman year was consumed with uncertainty. None of us were quite sure what the next four years would bring. For many of us, freshman year was the first time we faced such uncertainty by ourselves. Of course we had parents and mentors and friends guiding us along the way, but earning the title of “college student” was built upon confronting this uncertainty, this ambiguity of the future, for ourselves.
I remember looking at the seniors and saying, ‘they’re so wise, they’re so experienced and mature, they have everything figured out.’ I remember thinking, ‘They know how college works. They know who they are, what they stand for, where they’re going.’ As underclassmen, we looked at the seniors and thought to ourselves, ‘They have their “stuff” together’ … and we asked: How would we ever achieve that? How would we ever get to that point?
But now, on graduation day, it may not feel like we embody those senior attributes. After all those classes, after countless hours of studying, after case competitions and labs, changing relationships and various leadership positions, job interviews and graduate applications – we may not feel full of wisdom at all. We may not have everything figured out. We may still be wondering how college works, who we are or what we stand for, and while many of us may have jobs or grad school planned for the future … we may have no idea where we’re headed.
Today, as we wear our cap and gown and celebrate this immense milestone, the air of uncertainty we all felt freshman year still lingers, and sometimes, it may feel stronger now than it did then. We’re not sure what’s next, where post-grad life will take us … the challenges we’ll face, the decisions we’ll have to make … as graduating students we have more questions than ever before.
But somehow, I’m not really nervous and anxious in the same way we were freshman year. Because of everything our education gave us — from problem solving to teamwork to being a good friend and global citizen — despite all of it, perhaps our education gave us something less obvious. Perhaps it gave us something less tangible, but more valuable.
It gave us the ability to deal with uncertainty, to cope when we aren’t sure, to make changes when things don’t go according to plan, to answer questions we don’t know the answer to … to make tough choices and address the ambiguity, for ourselves. Everything at WashU gave us the tools necessary to venture off into an uncertain, constantly changing world – to figure things out little by little, to become more and more wise everyday, even if we’re never sure where we’re headed.
But WashU didn’t just give us the ability, it gave us an appreciation. It taught us that not knowing is the best adventure of them all. Our time here was consumed with uncertainty — like the uncertainty of whether we’d pass a class, or the uncertainty of whether we’d be able to go out this weekend because of the three papers, two exams, group project and lab report we had … like the uncertainty of how long the line will be at the Village or at Seoul Taco … the uncertainty of whether the “move” is actually “the move”… whether the WILD artist is going to be any good … if we’ll get into Ibby’s without a reservation … if a speech you deliver in public will go over well … the uncertainty we faced freshman year of who we’d be today, on graduation day … Even though our college experience was consumed with so many uncertainties — both serious and humorous … because of them, we all ended up here – smarter and successful. There’s something to really appreciate about all this uncertainty.
As graduates of Washington University, I hope we’ll embrace the uncertainty. I hope we’ll never settle or become too comfortable … because being uncertain means that we’ll continue to explore new things, meet new people, and go new places. As graduates and as adults, let’s embrace the uncertainty ahead of us. Let’s be OK with not having everything planned out. Let’s be OK with not knowing what comes next. Let’s be OK with all unknowns ahead of us. Because it’s exciting. It will empower us to make an impact wherever we go.
We are all headed different places. Friends and relationships we’ve cherished for the past four years may become separated by state lines, time zones, or even entire continents. Our busy lives may hinder us from keeping in touch, remembering to call every now and then, and staying up to date with the latest Instagram post. But it’s important to remember that we’ll be facing all the uncertainties of post-grad life together, no matter where we are … and that the community we found here, remains intact, despite our physical divide.
In a way, we’re back where we started … freshmen all over again, faced with a future that’s as exciting as it is daunting. Except this time, we are freshmen in life. For many of us, it’ll be the start of something that has no clear end-date. And while it’s scary and overwhelming, we’re ready for it. Because everything at WashU — the classes and the exams, the friendships and the mentors, the mistakes and the milestones … they taught us that if we’re certain of one thing, it’s to never fear the uncertainty.
So here’s to the future. To the incredible things we’ll all do. To careers, and grad school, and alumni reunions. Here’s to us, the Class of 2015 … and here’s to our uncertain yet fulfilling lives. Congratulations.