Have you ever looked through an old planner or date-book? Now I know not everyone is as compulsive about writing things down as I am, but bear with me. If your planner is anything like mine, it’s covered in barely comprehensible scribbles. Yet, each page contains a brief glimpse of what it meant to be you on a given day. A triple underlined section in bright red ink proclaims that your Geo lab is due now! Big birthday party yesterday, you have a group meeting at the pub at 5:00, Lacrosse game on the turf (but only if you get that lab done), and a four hour rehearsal to top it all off.
The facts go on and on in an endless parade of appointments, dates, and events. Scanning the pages it’s easy to worry about your life. Can your whole college experience really be distilled down to these micro units of quickly jotted obligations? Of course you have your friends, and you can reminisce about plenty of fun-filled weekend adventures and late-night cram sessions, but what about the rest of it? Did you do nothing but run from one engagement to the next, checking them off as you went?
I would venture to say that the answer for all of us here today is a resounding ‘no.’ On second glance that page in the book can be seen for what it truly is: an outline- a shadowy, sketchy representation of what it meant to be here for four years. The carefully printed, minute by minute color-coded schedule you adhered to religiously as a first-year desperately trying to find your classes, gives way to the more casually maintained, but infinitely more diverse itinerary of your senior year. The ink that is smudged because it was left out in the rain while you labored for hours on a cold and wet Day of Service also reminds you of how good it felt to be dry and warm that night. You can still feel the shaky hand that wrote “No Class” on September 11, 2001. A smile comes to your face as you remember each birthday party or event you tried to cram into your first-year dorm room. You inadvertently touch your throat as you recall how sore it was from shouting at all those sporting events, and you affectionately regard the paint that spilled over onto your planner page from your art project which took almost as many all nighters to complete as your thirty page seminar paper.
I couldn’t possibly attempt to mention the range of experiences that would populate all of your planners: the rehearsals, the workouts and games, the meetings with a favorite professor, and those meetings with the professor that scared you to death. No, there’s far too much diversity of talent, passion, and love here for that. Rather I would urge you to look back on your personal record of your four years here, however you have kept it. For some of us that may mean digging out old pictures, for others it’s sorting through a shoe box of newspaper clippings. For, those of you who laughed when I asked about looking through a date book because you’ve never had one, it may mean probing the existential planner of your memory.
Whatever form it takes, these shadows often become static records: fond, or occasionally not so fond, reminders of everything we had to or chose to do. I know that I am sometimes hard pressed to even remember the names from some of the big group snapshots I took first-year, let alone what all of the cryptic reminders about rehearsal times and locations that I’ve written myself mean. So, before the details start to slip from our minds, I would urge you now, as we are about to leave this place, to really take stock of what you’ve done. The sheer number of classes, meetings and lectures we’ve attended is mind boggling. The papers that we’ve written could probably be used to open a new wing of the library, the countries in which we’ve studied constitute our own special kind of United Nations, and the service that we’ve done has literally changed lives.
So rather than let our personal accounts fade and yellow as our memories become less and less sharply etched in our consciousness, appreciate them as the dynamic and life-infused examples that they are of how we have shaped Hobart and William Smith and how it has shaped us. Because, really, the magnitude of what we’ve done here—all of the obligations and recreations—should give us enormous amount of faith in our capacity to effect meaningful change in whatever endeavors we pursue. And if you’re still worried about your ability to breath life into those old scribblings a decade or even a year from now, just keep in touch with your friends, both those who’ve been by your side for all of your four years and those you met in your last months or weeks here, because only they will be able to help you interpret all of the hidden meanings, inside jokes and deep significances that you’ve jotted down and let the moments support and encourage you in all that you do.
William Smith Senior Speech Heather Harris '04
Commencement, May 16, 2004