Anna Swartz ’13 delivered the following remarks during the Senior Class Welcome on May 26:
Right before I left for Wesleyan for the first time, Ruth, my ninety-year-old neighbor warned me “Make the most of it, college is the best time of your life.” I took her advice to heart, it seemed smart to trust a woman who had done so much living, and I arrived at Wesleyan filled with the loftiest dreams, the highest expectations, ready for my life to be changed.
What I didn’t realize at the time is that college isn’t just about what Wesleyan could give to me, it wasn’t just about showing up and getting the full, packaged collegiate experience, I had to do the changing too. So I opened myself up, along with my classmates, and Wesleyan delivered.
This school took us to the sepia-soaked worlds of Hollywood classics, to the energetic drum circles of West Africa, the desolate moors of the Brontës and the cinderblock hallways of Cheshire Correctional Institute, where the students there looked at us and said “We are Wesleyan too.” We read the Romantics and the Modernists, we saw Judith Butler and Antonin Scalia, we woke up early to hike Mount Higby, and stayed late after class to talk to our professors.
And that doesn’t mean there weren’t times when we thought we would never finish that paper, or when we made each other cry or no one in our house would do the dishes. But there were more times when we made each other laugh, when we went out to lunch with our advisors, and lay in the sun on Foss.
I want to remind you of something that then-Senator Barack Obama said to the class of 2008 at Wesleyan’s commencement five years ago, in the middle of an historic campaign. He said, “We are a people whose destiny has never been written for us, but by us.” Just as I arrived at Wesleyan expecting to receive something and instead discovered I had to make it myself, so too will we go out into the world not to find out what will happen to us, but to see what we can make happen for each other.
I am incredibly lucky to have, sitting in front of me now, the very people who have shaped this time for me, and I’d like to use this opportunity to speak for a moment to my classmates and friends, my collaborators and partners, the wonderful class to whom this day is dedicated.
You have given me so much during our time together at this school; you have let me into your lives, and shared with me your amazing gifts, your skill with a paintbrush, your unfailing sense of humor, your ease with language, your ability to know just how to comfort the people you love. I can’t count the number of times I have come into a room here to see it filled with your smiles and your easy laughs, your warmth and your compassion. And I know I am not alone in feeling that these friendships are the most valuable things we’ll carry with us when we leave this place.
I have felt so loved by you, so supported and cared for, I only hope I have given you at least some of what you have given me. And I hope too that saying thank you today can be some recognition of these four years of laying awake together, of sharing our secrets and listening to each other’s stories. Many thanks are also owed to our families, and to our professors.
My neighbor Ruth, who gave me that piece of advice four years ago, passed away this Spring, after almost a century of watching the world change around her. The change comes year to year as much as it comes decade to decade. Not a single one of us is the same person we were when we first arrived at Wesleyan. Time moves inescapably onward, towards tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. I’ve heard that we won’t be young forever.
But I’m not sure I quite believe Ruth’s warning that this day means the best four years of our lives have ended. It’s true that we’re only granted a short time in the world. But if we’ve learned anything at Wesleyan it’s that we have a real and pressing responsibility to take that time and do something with it to make things better in the world; to treat people with respect for the inherent value that they all, unequivocally, share, to speak up against injustice and cruelty wherever we see it perpetrated. And, though I’m sure we will all do this in different ways, we have to take our Wesleyan education, our fire for thinking critically and questioning, and direct it outwards. We will step forward into the communities that will look to us for offering our ideas for change.
Passivity is not the Wesleyan way. The class of 2013 has never been a group of young people to sit blithely by and let things happen. We have shaped these four years. And now, as we set out for new places, new communities and experiences, it is our responsibility to hold our Wesleyan education before us, to take what we learned inside our classrooms and out, and lead the way for others. It is we who are the bringers of change, and the makers of the future.
Thank you and congratulations to the CLass of 2013. You deserve it!