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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Loser's Lament

Above, seniors participate in the annual toast at the annual Last Great Reception.

Trinity has stopped booking spring commencement speakers. The truth is, our student speakers are so good, and their messages so personal, that there is no need for anyone else. The ceremony lasts long enough as it is. A committee of seniors, staff members, and a professor audition students and the seniors on the committee select the finalist.

This works for us. Students are empowered here to do a lot: Our conduct board is uniquely an all-student board. We offer self-governed living communities and allow juniors and seniors great autonomy in halls specifically for them. Students serve on all university committees and even represent at Board of Trustee meetings. For commencement, about 30 seniors are asked to consider being on the speaker selection committee. From that, a committee is set. An all-call is made to invite students to audition.

In 2010, Brendan McNamara gave a fun speech in which he recalled mud fights and punctuated his theme with a reference to the Road Less Travelled, with his own interpretation: "Screw the road."

There were 11 students who auditioned. I asked the losers to send me their speeches because they were all really fantastic. It seems a horrible waste for ten students to write speeches that no one would ever hear. While these refections are pertinent to the Class of 2010, they contain terrific wisdom for the Class of 2014. So with their permission, I share some highlights:

"We are not quitters, and this is not a trait that I take lightly, or for granted. There was a time when I was ready to quit. I filled out the forms to withdraw from Trinity and planned to transfer to another school. I had my fair share of rough times and I doubted my ability to continue – a sentiment that I suspect I am not alone in feeling at one time or another. How many times did we get frustrated at our work load, almost crumble under the pressure of the myriad commitments we took on, feel like we were at our wit’s end? How many times did we want to just give up and quit? How many people do we know that did? But we didn’t. We persevered."

"...But after the initial joy of being independent and free went away, I realized how awful college actually was. The methods that worked to get you through 12 years of education did not work anymore. We had to work harder than we had ever worked before. We had messy roommates, loud hallmates, and we were convinced that professors schemed together to assign all of our midterms within a 48 hour time period. We were forced to live on campus for three years, subjected to eating Mabee food, and despite paying $40,000 a year, we were handed toilet paper rougher than sandpaper."

"Trinity is a haven for cultivating relationships - with friends, professors, administrators, musical directors, coaches, grounds workers, boyfriends, girlfriends, and even with the Trinity cats."

"I started to think about what made my Trinity experience. And then I realized it same thing that makes all of our Trinity experiences - people."

"You just never know and the beauty of college is that it prepares you for that unknown. I came into Trinity wanting to be a doctor since age six. Had this been one of many other schools, you known what I would have done? Taken the courses I needed, graduated, and got on with my life, without ever stepping out the world of science. I’d be a one-sided individual without anything to hold me together besides what Id learned for the MCAT. Trinity changed that for me. I’m graduating as a premed frat biochemist with a passion for drama. And there’s no way I could’ve known."

"When you reflect upon the memories that Trinity University has given you, that you and all those around you have helped to create, look harder. Look past the tower that you climbed as a first-year, and realize how much farther into San Antonio you can see, the community that has revealed itself to you beyond the Trinity bubble. Feel past the chill of Miller Fountain on your 19th birthday, and realize how many people have filled you with warmth since that day, relationships predicated upon introductions to fellow innocent strangers at Trinity 360. Hear past the chorus of hand bells in December of 2006, as they delicately place their chimes amongst the yuletide voices in Laurie Auditorium, and realize how many words you have heard, how many songs have been song, how the clarity of sound is deafening now that you know what those words mean. Smell past the mud caked on your knees from your first IM game, your first tumble up Cardiac Hill, your first (and last) mud fight in the Quad on a rainy day, and realize how many rains have fallen since then and the freshness you feel when the sun hits your weathered cheeks, how the smell fills you with life and a renewed purpose everyday. Go past all of these things, and realize that there is something more than what you have seen, something more than what you have felt, something more than what you have heard, something more than what you have smelt, something more than what you have tasted."

But the speech that struck me most focused on risk-taking and involvement which is where all of the above begins. It called out those who missed out on the experiences that were there for the taking, but never taken.

Probably it wasn't chosen because those who sleep-walked through their experience would have felt like they wasted their time here. If they were listening. My hope for the Class of 2014 is that they are listening. Before those students know it, they will be graduating. And I hope it doesn't pass them by without their full involvement. If so, it will be the loser's lament.

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