Ross McMullan '16
Remarks at Commencement - May 22, 2016
I cannot and will not say that the past 4 years have been the best years of my life.
I do not believe that any of us should regard these past four years as the best years of our lives simply because I believe that it places a limit on our future. Okay, maybe as an opening statement it was a bit severe, but I couldn’t be more serious. Look, I get it, these years, we were given the freedom to taste a bit of whatever we wanted. We grew and we laughed and we worked and we cried. And, it was awesome. Tell me this, though, you don’t think that one day, holding your child while she sleeps won’t be just a little bit better? There is a whole world out there for us. The only limits are the limits that we believe. If we are to consider these years the best of our lives, it will be because this experience led us to that very realization.
Anyway, the idea that these are the best years of my life was placed in me by my coaches who were probably just trying to motivate my teammates and me into giving everything that we had. Irrespective of the intended meaning, I plan on using the lessons that I have learned here to springboard me into the rest of my life. One of those lessons, I have already found to be more useful than the others.
Be comfortable being uncomfortable.
We are about to leave our beautiful home here at St. Lawrence and step into a world that is very big and very much unknown. What is not unknown though, is that there will be challenge, and that there will be discomfort. To better understand what I mean about living comfortably in that discomfort, let me give you a quick story.
My mom has a friend whose favorite thing to do is compete in ultra-marathons. He is an endurance athlete. Now, as someone who is decently interested in sports and physical training, I fully appreciate how incredibly committed endurance athletes are to their craft. Their talent is in their knowledge of the limits of their bodies and then their minds ability to disregard those limits longer than any other athlete. As impressive as that is, there is a large part of me and I’m sure most of you out there, that thinks… have these people completely lost their minds? Are they not absolutely insane? I mean who would willingly sign up and pay to run 100 miles all in succession?
The Leadville series in Leadville, Colorado, is an event where the athletes mountain bike 100 miles through mountainous terrain at 11,000 feet on one Sunday, and then run another 100 miles through similar terrain, again at 11,000 feet, on the following Sunday. And they do this not just at their own pace, but at a pace that will hopefully let them finish with the fastest possible time. It’s insane. When my mom asked her friend why he does such things, he gave her two answers, neither of which did I expect.
First, he said that if you think a perfectly cooked steak tastes good now, just try and think of how it tastes after suffering through a 100 mile race. Second, he said that the feeling of sitting down on the toilet after such a race is a feeling he has yet to match. I mean he does have a point. You can imagine how it might feel. You’ve just pushed yourself physically and mentally past any limits you may have thought you had. After the waves of elation that must crash over you upon crossing the finish line eventually wear off, your mind returns to your body. Your feet hurt; you can’t see straight, you can’t feel your legs, or really any part of your body. Suddenly, you have the overwhelming urge to go to the bathroom as you have been holding everything in for, at least, the final 30 miles because you knew you were making good time. Your eyes dart around the scene of the finish as you try and locate the nearest port-a-potty. In this distance, you entire everything locks on to one and it’s all that you see. Bursting open the door you drop your shorts faster than you ever have dropped them before and just, “Ahhhhhhh.” What a beautiful moment.
The simplest of satisfactions when contrasted with stretches of intense adversity can be the most memorable and rewarding experiences. Endurance athletes embrace pain because they believe there will be an end to that pain, and that at that end, will be the most joyous of moments. They know that they don’t have to hold on forever, but that they just need to hold on for long enough. That is why they continue to run. They are comfortable being uncomfortable. They know the satisfaction that most certainly lies ahead.
Now, the majority of us are not looking to be endurance athletes, and we may never know how good a steak can actually taste. But, I’m okay with that. One, because I think that steak already tastes good enough for me, and two, because I have different things that I want. While at St. Lawrence, I have found relationships. I have discovered passions. I have grown up, or at least, towards the man, that I now know has the determination to hold on to his dreams, not forever, but just long enough, until they become whatever they were always going to be.
This place has encouraged me to doubt whether or not these are the best years of my life because it has shown me that the relationships we have found and the passions that we have discovered do not end on this day. The choice between whether we regard the inception or the culmination of those things as the greatest parts of them is an insignificant one, one that we may make at the end of lives. But, I’m here to tell you that this is just the beginning. This place has made us accept that the there are things in this world that are beautiful, and it has forced us to be ready for the challenges that will make us fight for that beauty. St. Lawrence has taught us to welcome that fight. It has taught us to be comfortable being uncomfortable.
Before I finish, I want to say thank you. I want to say thank you to my peers and the professors who pushed us. There is a common thread of ferocity in all of you and it has been an inspiration to witness. I want to say thank you to the parents who probably at one point thought that their own graduation was the one that meant the most to them. Even if we may never show it, you are the most important people in our lives. I want to say thank you to President Fox and the trustees who continue to make all of this possible. This is a wonderful place, and we are so grateful that you have allowed us to make our mark. Finally, I want to thank all of you for giving me the opportunity to have this experience. I hope that my words add even the smallest bit of value to at least one person’s day, because there are so many people here today that have added value to me.
Although I know that you have already been welcomed, I would like welcome you again, slightly differently. Welcome, class of 2016, to discomfort. Welcome to tomorrow. Tomorrow is going to present challenge. Know that you are ready. Embrace it. Crave it. Get to know adversity so well, that you need it. Be comfortable being uncomfortable. I promise, it will be worth it.