Reed Holden '08 Remarks to Graduates

May 18, 2008

Good morning everyone, especially to my fellow classmates:

When I was younger, the year 2008 sounded too futuristic to ever approach, like it was something out of a science fiction movie. But here it is. And here we are, the class of 2008, ready to plunge head-first into our next adventure.

As a tour-guide for the admissions office this year, I received many questions about what I would be doing after graduation. Some parents wanted to hear that I was going to Med School or Law School, hoping that their sons or daughters would be able to obtain such an achievement by attending St. Lawrence. And they could, they absolutely could. But for me, unemployed and slightly unsure, the best answer that I could give them was that “I want to move out West and experience another part of the country for awhile. I want to be absolutely sure of what I want to do before I invest the time and money into grad school.” Some parents take this answer better than others, and some tell me they wish that they had done that after they had graduated. Some fabricate statistics and scornfully inform me that I'm part of the 3% that doesn't have a job---which, by the way, I didn't believe for a second. But the point is this: whatever it is that we, the class of 2008, are doing next year, we have all been well prepared by what we have learned here.

We have learned that time passes by more quickly as you get older. Perhaps this lesson is one that some of us are just learning today, sitting where we were nearly four years ago during Freshman Orientation. How fast this time has gone. What can this lesson teach us? It can teach us to make the most of every moment, to enjoy and appreciate whatever stage of life we are in—it won't be coming around ever again.

We have learned what it's like to call a new place home. We have learned how the sunset turns ODY a rosy shade of pink, how the chapel bells ring at 5 o'clock every day. We have learned how to navigate the back-roads of the North Country, and how to navigate the shortest route through campus on cold days. We have learned when Sergi's closes and when the pub opens. Each dorm room in which we have lived in holds stories, and each special spot on campus holds memories. And as all of us find new places to live, whether they are down the road or across the globe, we will know what it means to learn the intricacies of these places. We will get acquainted with them, and pretty soon they will become dear friends of ours, just as St. Lawrence did.

We have also learned how to learn. Through taking a wide array of classes, we have learned how to adapt to different discourses, citation styles, expectations, and concepts. We might not remember all the information on the exams that we took just two weeks ago, but we have learned, and will remember, how to make sense of complex ideas, how to argue a point, how to articulate our beliefs, and how to tackle new information head-on.

We have learned to look at things from many different angles. I have had classes in different departments that look at the same topics, but from different perspectives. Because of the academic freedoms and possibilities that we have been granted, all of us now have a certain privilege. It's the privilege of being able to interpret all of the experiences that the world has in store for us by examining them through a variety of lenses. We will be able to absorb more meaning and make more connections in our lives because of what we have learned here at St. Lawrence.

So here we are, ready for the world and well prepared for it. But there is one thing to be cautious of. As we get our diplomas today, let us not think that we have all the answers. Let us not be too smug in our preparedness or what we have learned. Because when this happens, we stop asking questions. And when we stop asking questions, we stop learning. Ken Kesey, an American writer and icon of the counter-culture movement in the 60's, introduced me to this idea. He writes that “The answer is never the answer. What's really interesting is the mystery. If you seek the mystery instead of the answer, you'll always be seeking. I've never seen anybody really find the answer -- they think they have, so they stop thinking. But the job is to seek mystery, evoke mystery, plant a garden in which strange plants grow and mysteries bloom. The need for mystery is greater than the need for an answer.” Let us never stop thinking, never stop learning. Embrace mystery, and let your questions be born from it.

Another question that parents love to ask when I am giving tours is “what is one thing you would change about the school, and why?” The answer that I give them is this: that I wouldn't change anything about the school; rather, I would change how I have interacted with it. St. Lawrence offers so many opportunities for exploration and growth, and I wish that I had taken advantage of these even more than I did. But I'm going to take that regret and turn it into a lesson learned, that in order to fully extract everything from a new place you can't hold back: you have to throw yourself into it with vigor and excitement. Let it swallow you. Enjoy being there in that particular time and space. Ask questions. Begin to love this new place. Begin to call it home…and ask more questions.

Good luck and best wishes to all of us, the St. Lawrence class of 2008!