Good evening to the distinguished Class of 2023, parents, grandparents, guardians, siblings, faculty and the entire WashU community. And can I get a quick shout out from my Giraffes. Lee Beau where are you at?
I am unbelievably happy and lucky to be here speaking with you all today. This moment is so surreal. I feel as if I should be down there with all of you, tired from having moved in over the past few hours, stressed about all the questions my parents asked me that I didn’t have the answers to and worried about if I could handle the challenge of this school.
There’s no way that three years have passed so quickly. Yet here I am, and there you are. Class of 2023, congrats! You’ve made it! All your hard work over the past years has paid off. You’ve made it in to one of the most elite schools in the country and, dare I say, the world. And now, now … you have to work more. And probably harder than before. Unfortunately, the grind doesn’t stop.
However, you’re also going to have some amazing experiences. The people you will encounter on this campus and in this city will open your mind more than you ever thought possible. I believe the people at this university are its greatest resource. Yes, we have a multibillion-dollar endowment, world-renowned professors and state-of-the-art facilities. But the people at this school and in this city are something else. Talk to everyone you can. Don’t worry, this is the Midwest; people are nice here and will say hi back.
However, I challenge you to go further and truly embody one of the lessons imparted by this university: to know people by their name and story. This causes you to reach the point of fully understanding a person so that you appreciate what it’s like to be in their shoes while remaining in your own.
The only way to truly succeed in this school is with the help and knowledge of those around you. As the African proverb goes, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Inspire one another and push each other to greater heights. That is how you will all become the best possible versions of yourselves.
Take it from someone that was down there three years ago, awkward and nervous of what was to come, and who’s now up here, honestly still nervous of what’s to come (my friends might argue I’m still awkward, but whatever). Without these friends, there’s no way I would be the person I am today.
When I was a first-year, everyone called me Chewy. It was a nickname I had gotten back in high school. And though I didn’t really like it, I hated having to coach people on how to say Chibueze. Near the end of the year, I got into a situation where I told a group of my friends that I wasn’t really a fan of the nickname, but I wasn’t sure it was worth the change at that point.
One of my friends, Kyle, implored me to not let anyone call me Chewy anymore. He told me that I deserved to be called the name I wanted to be called. So I started correcting people. And though I was nervous about it, after a while people were saying ‘Chibueze’ when they saw me. Whenever someone did call me Chewy and I didn’t feel like correcting them, the friends I had around me made it a point to make sure that person knew my name was Chibueze (many of whom are actually in this room right now, so shout out to you all).
Though I laugh at this whole experience now, it truly transformed my outlook on this university. The people here built me up to be more than I could have imagined, as I tried to do the same for them. And if you allow them to — because it is a choice — I have no doubt they’ll do the same for you.
To the parents and guardians out there, your children are in good hands. They are in the best hands possible: their own. You all have done an amazing job raising these young adults and instilling them with the values that have allowed them to get to this stage. You should first and foremost be proud of what you have been able to accomplish.
Second, trust that your brilliant children will work on themselves over the next four years and come out of this institution as the person that they were always meant to be. But don’t worry, WashU will still love, educate and care for your children. While I’m sure they could probably take care of themselves, a little support never hurts. We’ll do our best to make sure they eat enough, sleep enough and (hopefully, no promises) call home enough.
As someone that, if I’m being honest, wasn’t ready to take care of himself three years ago, and probably is only kind of ready now, I definitely appreciated all that help. However, I promise that when you all gather like this in Brookings four years from now, you’ll be incredibly happy with the growth you’ve seen in your child. Parents, we got you.
Lastly, to the Class of 2023, if you are anything like I was three years ago, you’ve sat through this whole event paying minimal attention, wondering when you could leave and finally get some sleep after an absolutely exhausting day.
But if you’ve heard nothing else, hear this. Once you leave here tonight, you’ll be given a coin with our university’s motto, ‘per veritatem vis,’ strength through truth. Each of you has a duty to yourself to find your personal truth and grow in it. To realize the beauty and magnificence of it.
The greatest lie I heard coming into college was that these were going to be the best four years of my life. The truth is you are going to have plenty more amazing years (and this might just be denial because I’m a senior, but let’s hope not).
These are, however, the freest four years you’ll ever have. So, do everything you can with them. I can think of no better time for you to realize your personal truth. And if you so wish, share it with this WashU and St. Louis community. We need it; we long for it. Your truth will change this university, this city, for the better. Your truth is the strength this university wants and desires in order for it to become a home and sanctum to all that walk its grounds.
Class of 2023, I’m so excited for your next four years here. Good luck, good night, welcome to WashU; now go get some sleep!
Senior Chibueze Agwu is a philosophy-neuroscience-psychology major in Arts & Sciences and a residential advisor.