Ben Burds '11, Remarks at Commencement

May 22, 2011

St. Lawrence 2011 Seniors, HOW WE DOING THIS MORNING?!?

My DEAR friends and family, I want to personally welcome you to our home away from home – On behalf of the GREAT St. Lawrence class of 2011, I want to extend my gratitude to our parents, faculty, staff, and the board of trustees for all of your diligent commitment to St. Lawrence University, and the community that it embodies.

Now, I’d like to shift my attention to my dear classmates.. Guys, I’m going to guide you through a familiar journey on the emotional rollercoaster of the chaotic Dana dining hall experience. Many elements of life for me at St. Lawrence can be symbolized by a busy trip to Dana. So, let me begin… “Joe Rothrock – happy birthday my man! …Pasta Sauta night?!?! Let’s do it!” But let’s be smart about this… the hour is later than we thought. It’s Dana prime time already, and you know the football team is just getting done with practice and is going to eat through everything at the grill. You might as well take your chances with the vegan options since the pasta line is so long that you’ll end up being late for your TA Lab, dance practice, or your Thelmo meeting. So guys, I’m in Dana,.. and suddenly, I panic… between you and me, I had to sneak into Dana after realizing my meal plan money ran out three weeks earlier than it should, again. I was trying to keep my head down, but I accidentally locked eyes with the Dana worker 10 yards out, right over the fruit counter. Remaining calm, I continue shifting.., weaving, and then dodging my way through Dana on my way to the chocolate pudding. What a rush! – There are people everywhere you want to see and talk to! ..or perhaps a person or two you’re trying desperately to avoid. Guys, life is about networking, but when we’ve just rolled out of bed without tying your slippers, Sunday morning brunch is no place to practice your networking etiquette. We can’t help but wonder to ourselves… is this anything like life in the “real world”?

St. Lawrence has taught me a great deal about how to have many successes through college, do many things “right”, or “correctly”. However, the diplomas we’re about to receive don’t exclusively reflect what we’ve learned in the classrooms. Our class GPA tells us that we’ve earned a collective average of 2,3,or4.whatever. While that may reflect some of our abilities to do a paper, however successfully, in the final hours before the deadline, it neglects to show so much more.

At the end of 4 years of hard work, the big question remains: what does this diploma represent? I’d like to suggest the top three things that it means to me:

First, This simple, 9 by 12 piece of paper represents 4 years of growing up, maturing, falling in love, adapting to a new culture. But it also represents hardships, loss, failures, and learning through, and from, endless mistakes. 20% of things in life that happen to us can’t be controlled. However, we’ve been spending the last 4 years, intently learning, how to react to these inevitabilities of life, which makes up our remaining 80%

Second, The diploma doesn’t only say that I have a greater understanding of the world within my academic concentration or that I’m competently able to complete the required work load of a full time job. It proves more: It proves that I am competent enough to progress through life with a keen sense of insight. It proves that my experiences through St. Lawrence have given me that insight.  

Third, This diploma is representing our achievements to date. This is a milestone, and not something that marks the end of “the best years of your life”. However, just as we proceeded through Dana, let’s be smart about this. We’ve learned to work through the lines in Dana, to negotiate with people, to know what we want. This is what we’ve learned here, and this is where we sit. Let’s use what we’ve learned about the world and what we’ve learned about ourselves to continue to pursue our personal achievements. It may be different for different people, whether your next diploma is a job contract, a wedding band, an Olympic medal, or a birth certificate. The hour is later then we thought, but the opportunity for achievements begins now.

Congratulations class of 2011 – Thank you!