Rutendo Chabikwa '17
Remarks to Graduates, May 21, 2017
Remember how we have all been writing two numbers – 1 and 7 - after our names for the past four years – it all comes down to this moment, an ending that is ironically yet very aptly called a beginning – commencement.
And as I stand here before you class of 2017, I know nothing about this new beginning we are embarking on, but let me remind you, as I have been reminding myself in preparation for today, of a new beginning we have all experienced, and from the look of things – didn’t do too badly. This speech will not be about how everything was easy – because it wasn’t, how we all found home the moment we arrived here, because it wasn’t easy for all of us – we remember the good times but the real lessons come from the challenges we overcame. So bear with me as I celebrate our resilient spirit, our openness to new beginnings, and our final success with a few reminders of some moments which I believe we can carry with us wherever our respective journeys take us. I mean after all, new beginnings are but a short moment in our lives. For new beginnings always turn into normal.
Remember move in day, the day when some of us came with huge truckloads of possessions, others in smaller cars, and some of us had only two suitcases to our names and had been here a week earlier.
Remember how differently we all began this adventure, some of us confident because generations before us had graced this land, and others feeling inferior because for the first time, or yet again, we were reminded of how different we are.
Today too, we begin all from different places. Others with solid plans, others without, some wishing they had a plan, some wishing they had a different plan. But like we made it work between move in trucks and two suitcases, this new beginning is one that will show us that what we have is enough and what we do not have we do not need (Unless you are from a warmer continent then you really need to purchase a huge coat for those North Country winters).
Remember how we made friends, some that became family, some that did not make it with us all the way – physically and metaphorically. Remember how we probably wanted to fit in, some of us tried to understand what was cool and was not, and some us tried to speak in English with our mother tongues still holding tightly to our lips.
Remember those awkward interactions when we did not really know what to say or what to ask. When we said or asked the most embarrassing of things such as – I know a girl from Kenya you from Zambia right? Or you from Connecticut, is that a city or a state?
Today those interactions have built relationships, many of which will be the constant we carry with us into this new beginning. May we remember that in the same way we found friends and family here at St. Lawrence, there are friends and family to be found wherever we end up.
During those long cold winters when I yearned to return to warmer more familiar places, when the burden of being different, looking different, owning different, sounding different; felt too heavy – I learned that I was not alone. For among us, are those who too were learning to understand communities like our own, who outside the intellectually challenging classes carried the weight of how to financially provide for being here. I learned then that when it comes to struggle, I was not alone, that whatever load I carried on this new journey, there was always a community of people who had survived and where surviving battles of their own – and in them I found home.
In them I learned that new beginnings eventually lead to new homes. Home in the advice from caring professors, home in the late-night debates on global issues with friends, home in standing in solidarity with friends whose actions were shaping and will continue to shape the world we live in, home in the screams of fellow students seeing snow for the first time, home in the dean’s office who was always ready with a box of Kleenex for our tears, home in the chaplains who for some reason always managed to convince us that somehow we will be alright – new beginnings eventually create new homes.
Remember those classes we took, the all-nighters we pulled. The times our professors challenged us to see beyond our privilege. From the time confronted questions of gender and sexuality, privilege and systematic oppression, to the time we had open talks about the fear of our class mates towards the political climate of this country, to the time Mike Brown was shot, or Eric Garner couldn’t breathe, or Sandra Bland’s name was forgotten - how we confronted the ways we saw the world and opened conversations, we saw the perspective of those who are not like us – we began to see why they too, perhaps, couldn’t breathe.
Wherever we go we will meet different people, may we remember how we supported our classmates here, may that support, that self-critique not end here - but continue with us into this new beginning.
Remember that one grade that made you change your major? Or that one class or exam that taught you a thing or two about failure? Or that one professor who convinced you to take a major or a class you had never considered but you are a better person as a result?
We are bound to meet similar challenges, our paths may change, our career choices shift, our plans and hopes fail. But if anything is certain, we have done well with such unforeseen changes before – and we have an expensive piece of paper to show for it.
So continue to make memories, continue to learn, to fail, to make mistakes, to start awkward conversations, to see the world from a different perspective, to question what we know, to find home in new people, new experiences, - and above all – may we remember those who ended this chapter with us and continue to hold them dear.
To students of color, the LGBTQ community, International students and anyone whose four years where not smooth sailing because of being ‘Different’ – Thank you. Thank you for teaching me what resilience is.
To those who stood up against injustice even when it did not affect them: Thank you. Thank you for making space for everyone on this campus.
To the faculty who challenged us and guided us in and out of the classroom: Thank you. Thank you for bringing out the best in us.
To staff members and anyone else who made our stay here easier. Thank you – we appreciate you very much.
So: Class of 2017 - One word to jump start our new beginnings – Remember. Remember the lessons we learned here: to find our voice and use it to stand up for something we love. To challenge ideas and come up with new ones. To use our genius in every circumstance – not just those last moment assignments. To take opportunities and make the most of them. Because in the end, what are new beginnings but the creation of a new home and family.