Joshua Krugman ’14, Megan Cash ’14, and Prince Carter ’14 delivered “Senior Voices” speeches on May 24 in Memorial Chapel. Below is the text of Krugman’s and Cash’s speeches; Carter’s was unavailable at the time of publication.
When I got to Wesleyan I thought I could get everything I needed out of the world on my own and by my own effort if I worked hard enough. I enrolled in six classes. Every day after class I would go to the practice rooms to play the piano. Then I would walk back to my single in Butt B to study for the afternoon. In the evening I gave myself exactly an hour to run, stretch, and shower, and an hour for dinner. Then I’d come back and pick up where I’d left off studying. At the end of the night I would write a poem or edit an existing one until I liked how it did what it wanted. This routine was exhausting and exhilarating. I was learning a lot. My grades were flawless. I was lonely. If someone from a class expressed interest in talking with me I would suggest we meet for dinner: that was the only place for improvisatory talking and relationship in my schedule. A few nights a week, dionysian revelers passed below my window scattering to or from the courtyard known as the Butthole. I watched their jubilant transits with a mixture of distain and longing.
One Sunday morning midway through freshpeople fall I was meeting with a discussion group from my Philosophy class on Justice and Reason with Joe Rouse. We were talking about the “prudent shopkeeper” from Emmanuel Kant’s Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals, who may be honest and fair to her customers either out of ethical conviction or out of self-interested concern for the future of her shop—or, more likely, an indeterminable mixture of ethics and self-interest. To an observer, and even to the shopkeeper herself, it is impossible to know how much she acts from genuine reverence for ethics or from self-interest. We entertained the question: does one ever act only out of moral feeling? Does the pleasure one gets from satisfying moral feeling count as self-interest? We were really trying to figure it out. Near the end of our discussion, Steve, one of the people in our group, got up apologetically, explaining that he was going to cook food with Middletown Food Not Bombs, an anarchist group in town that puts on a free community meal every Sunday on the sidewalk on the North end of Main Street. The meal is made out of food that’s blemished or past its date in the supermarket, that hasn’t sold at restaurants, or that isn’t pretty enough but is still delicious at local farms. Steve invited us to come with him, today or another Sunday, but in the context of all this talk of morals the invitation sounded like a challenge.
The next Sunday I took up what I thought his challenge was, and went to cook with Food Not Bombs. I was put to work immediately. I sorted through blotched and sometimes mushy pears for a baked fruit crisp. Then it was chopping the woody ends off ever-so slightly limp asparagus and arranging it on trays for roasting. How should I flavor it? “The spices are in the tall cabinet. Follow your heart!” was the instruction. I didn’t know what anarchism was then, but everyone seemed to be enjoying each other’s company. Dan at the soup pot would taste it every few minutes and whoop with pleasure. Abe upon opening the oven to check the roasting potato rounds hummed enthusiastically at the smell. McLaine added celery powder to a stir-fry with gleefully enigmatic flourishes. Mica sang phrases from a gospel song as she prepared a basket of unused vegetables that were in excellent condition to give away.
I’m gonna sit at the welcome table,
Oh I’m gonna sit at the welcome table one of these days…
It was only later, in my room in Butt B attempting to catch up on my lost hours of study, that I remembered the Kantian challenge that had spurred me to go to Food Not Bombs in the first place. While I was there cooking with all those people I instantly admired, the individualistic language of ethical imperatives couldn’t have been further from my mind. Altogether accidentally, I had entered a community of work.
It wasn’t til a Saturday morning that spring that I finally made good on another invitation from acquaintances. I walked all the way down Long Lane past all the maple trees and the shuttered brick outbuildings of the defunct Long Lane School to the Long Lane Farm for their weekly community work day. When I walked through the open gate a woman named Charlotte introduced herself and said, “Do you want to rake a bed? Do you know how we rake our beds here at Long Lane?” I didn’t know what a bed was, and the only rakes I knew were for leaves, not soil. But she taught be how, and after she taught me, I set to work. When the next person arrived, she sent him me so that I could show him what she’d showed me. This struck me. Who was I to be teaching anyone, having just picked up a rake for the first time ten minutes ago? But by that simple act of asking me to teach a newcomer what I had just learned, Charlotte brought me into a community of shared knowledge and responsibility. It made me feel like a wholer person. I told the newcomer he should show the next person who arrived how to rake.
At first, my attitude of efficiency and goal-orientedness followed me in my work with Food Not Bombs and Long Lane Farm. I always had to have a knife in my hand in the kitchen or a spade or rake at the farm: I could never be idle. I would not hang around the water spigot ethologizing the squirrels, or discussing the use of Ivan Illich by the Zapatistas. When invited to parties or potlucks at houses of people who worked at the Farm or Food Not Bombs I would habitually demure, retreating to my cell in Butt B to pick up with my routine.
Sometime at the beginning of my junior year a new awareness dawned on me. I realized then that I had always thought of my highest responsibility in this work being for the project, and its results in all their specificity—the unburned pot of rice, the most productive planting of arugula with the best yield, whereas now I saw my highest responsibility as being to the people in the communities around the Farm and Food Not Bombs—how we nourished one another other with food, with work, with talk. The work at Food Not Bombs and Long Lane Farm was not for the sake of some successful outcome or goal met but for the sake of people. I saw that the most delicious meal or the most vigorous carrots didn’t mean much if we didn’t bother to understand and appreciate each other, if we didn’t all love to eat and work together. For the first time I began to understand community.
Recently some friends of mine and I planted a mulberry tree in the CFA courtyard in a ritual with singing and dancing, at the end of a class on Dance as Culture, with Nicole Stanton. During the ritual I was surprised to experience the presence of the big trees reaching and swaying over and behind me, the spreading grass around my feet, the cold smooth dirt on my hands as I filled in the soil around the new sapling, the body of the new sapling, and the circle of people rocking and stomping in song around me. Just yesterday, walking through the CFA, I saw the mulberry sapling far off and walked to it. I stood for ten minutes or so singing to it softly,
How art thou mulberry?
How art thou mulberry?…
marveling at the young tender sprouts of leaves and the green flowers already swelling and transforming into the beginnings of fruit. I know I should say something humorous here to subtly assure you that I’m aware how kooky this sounds. But whatever you think about the ditty I made up to talk to the young mulberry tree, the fact is that by spending time there with that tree a few times, and figuring out how to, I’ve discovered a bond of mutual attention and accountability between us, or maybe that there is a space of mutually created accountability and meaning that includes us both. This is the larger community of others we can recognize, nourish, and honor: the trees, the waters, the grasses, the soils, the winds.
Octavio Paz, the Mexican poet and intellectual, says that the path to the utopia is the utopia. We don’t need to worry about whether, in the end, we’ll successfully create the world we dream of: if we are going about making that world all along, then we are living in it all along. I’m becoming more and more convinced that the path to the utopia is to create and to nourish communities of human beings and others that support each other in open accountability, generosity, reciprocity, and mutual recognition. Long Lane Farm feeds local families, deer, students, bacteria, and others, and so creates and nourishes their relationships with each other, their ability to create a community together. It is to Wesleyan’s credit that it has created the space for such a project happen. Such work and such community are also possible in the real world, where we are supposedly going in two days. The kinds of production, agricultural and otherwise, that only aim to serve the interests of infinitesimally few human beings while exploiting and poisoning the rest have a powerful air of normality, necessity, and inevitability. But the secret is that the many oppressions capitalism organizes wither every moment when we create communities of eating, working, residing, healing, learning, and dancing that meet each one where they are, are sufficient to the becoming of each, and reflect the becoming of the others. The many oppressions capitalism organizes wither every moment when we make relationships of care and justice amongst ourselves in spite of the bureaucracies of business, government, and education that tempt us to think only of ourselves and our achievements. We are always living in the world that we’re creating, and no matter what anyone tells us we can choose what kind of people we want to be, what kind of work we want to do, what kind of world we create with our everyday work and our relationships. As we do this, so much depends that we learn to depend on each other.
Just this month, I remembered how much I loved making documentary films at the tail end of high school, how I had visions of interviewing people and capturing those fleeting moments. I would jump on my bicycle and ride everywhere in town looking for a great story, and if I couldn’t find one, I would make one, cast a couple of actors, and film it with my IPod. Coming to Wesleyan, a school renowned for film analysis, I felt intimidated showing my short films with wobbly IPod camerawork and awkward editing, my lengthy screenplays with monologue after monologue and scant stage directions, but I was eventually able to figure out how to steady the camera, how to edit a brief documentary for this year’s movie festival, and how to write in a format people will actually listen to. It’s a mystery to me why we move away from previous passions and pick up others instead- I’ve noticed that many friends, from national chess players to state champion swing dancers, gradually drifted away from their passions and skills in high school after they got to Wesleyan, perhaps out of an urge to recreate themselves for college or a yearning to try something new. For me, carving out a niche meant remembering where I started, and perhaps I was right at the beginning.
If you saw me freshman year, power walking between biology classes, queen of the masochists, on my desperate quest for medical school, you would understand the capacity of people to live accidentally and through a life of tunnel vision. Somehow my one-track-minded medical school goal served as an automatic excuse for cutting life-changing conversations short, for turning down adventures and dropping classes on which I could have unleashed my full creative potential and heaven forbid tweaked my life plan. From an early age I frequently mapped out my life, stayed up until two in the morning as a twelve year old debating whether or not I should be a psychology professor later in life before retiring. I used to believe that a life of completely masochistic sacrifice was valid as long as I was helping people, until I asked myself, “How much can I help people if I’m completely miserable? Is there a balance here?” I remember the day in my room when I told myself, “You know, Megan, you don’t have to go to medical school,” and felt my shoulders mysteriously drop as if I had been carrying a heavy invisible backpack and finally put it down, finally stopped playing “school.”
The fear that accompanied having so many choices at Wesleyan woke me up to where I was blindly headed before: a life lived on autopilot. New worlds were opening up to me when I opened up to learning. I learned to search for the universal value in every class: art history gave me a mastery over analyzing any image and rationally articulating my intuitions about it, playwriting helped me fill in my previously scant stage directions from the skits and plays I wrote in high school, philosophy and film drove me to start a blog on how Nietzsche’s writings can help you declutter your house (or at least I wrote that one post for that blog), and then I took Introduction to Buddhism, the class that finally broke my self-destructive masochism streak. Jan Willis’ class empowered me to finally stare uncertainty in the face and learn to embrace it, for up to that point, I had searched for tracks, tracks to follow in thinking, in life, and in learning.
True learning is painful when you find your own fears and sorrows explained to you by books, previously your sources of refuge, advice, and hope for dealing with the pain of the world. I recall the day it dawned on me that the low-income students I had been analyzing in my sociology class were actually me and my friends, the unsettling shift from, “low-income students” to “as a low-income student” in class discussions, reading statistics about the chances of first-generation college students graduating from college- eleven percent at the time- and fixating on this until I felt myself alienated and felt myself blocking out what I was learning in order to protect myself emotionally and psychologically. I’ve learned that true learning inspires more questions than answers to the world’s problems- each class builds on the previous one until the gaps in knowledge from the first class dwindle- so I took a statistics class, and realized statistics is a much more human activity than I first realized. Stereotype threat and the dropout rates that haunted me started to lose their power over me when I realized that not all circumstances are the same- some people drop out because they max out their student loan amounts, some people drop out because they don’t feel connected to their peers or they need time to experience the world first, and some people drop out because the structured, critically objective learning that takes place here isn’t what they need. I realized that learning deeply and vulnerably means respecting the complexity of the world and the nuances of human life, but this cannot be completely understood through the sometimes suffocating lens of hyper-rationality and objective logic- you have to find a way to feel the past, to feel what humans have created and what they have tried and how they have failed.
I wonder about the length of college, for after four years, I’ve felt I’ve done the best I could to learn as much as I could from Wesleyan, although I feel we all have our regrets about what we have not tried- I wish I had gotten more involved in dancing and in farming. I used to constantly map out my schedule of classes, switching back and forth between “Data Analysis,” or “Descriptive Astronomy,” but these odd rituals never truly helped me find peace with regret and scarcity, either scarcity of time to try every class or time to be the “ideal” engaged “Wesleyan student:” we cannot try everything in life. But on a serious note, I’ve understood where this anxiety to plan comes from: a desire to restrict uncertainty. We’ve all felt the full gust of uncertainty, the excitement and panic and nostalgia that hits at odd moments of solitude in Pi Café or during our last physics lecture, our last poetry reading, or our last job shift, or last TA session or last Usdan dinner. As we’ve lurched toward this constructed deadline of graduation and all of the strange societal expectations about it, we are entering a time where we can construct our own days. We can continue on narrow career tracks if we wish, for some of us do know exactly what we want to do, but for many of us, especially with the potential upcoming technological innovations, the path won’t be linear. I can make documentary films about holistic health and medical discoveries. We have a choice in how we forge alliances, whether we choose humanity and empathy or money or both, and we have more power than we realize. We can choose to notice how theories of discrimination play out in our daily lives and choose to confront people on an honest and compassionate human level about how they are hurting us or others. We can treat each other with respect and the empathy we deserve, the empathy that helps us move forward.
Where do our dreams come from? Are they given to us, or do we make them, incorporating our experiences into a vision we have for ourselves day by day? We have felt the fluctuations of four years, and we owe it to ourselves to pay attention to how we are changing and what is happening around us. We can honor the potential in ourselves and the wisdom we glean from the spirits of others, whether they wake up early in the morning to volunteer or head to practice, stop to lend an ear to a friend at any time of day, or stay up all night poring over a project. I believe that many of us can and will carve out our own dreams, whether that involves growing a startup that increases employment opportunities in sub-Saharan Africa, becoming an accomplished songwriter and playwright, or being a socially-conscious anarchist farmer. We can choose to resist repressing parts of ourselves in the assumption that we must specialize in the “Real World,” or that there is even a “Real World” completely separate from the struggles and triumphs we have encountered before. All of the great people who have ever lived were once human, once doubting, going off course and once changing directions. We must stay open- to opportunities, to change and self-reflection, and to each other. Thank you, class of 2014.