Congratulations to you, all of my fellow Dean’s List honorees. It is really an honor to meet and converse with some of brightest and most gifted minds this campus has to offer. As a fellow student, I know that such performance requires steadfast dedication and sacrifice. It means night after night of trudging through the Epic of Gilgamesh or the theoretical work of Marx, Kant, Gramsci, Focault, or Friedman. It means evenings spent eating dinner in a practice room in the music building, or foraging for a decent study space in the library or Thompson. We defeat distraction and challenge ourselves to achieve. Despite the obstacles, personal and ideological, we have excelled. Congratulations.
As I near the end of my journey here at Puget Sound, I often stop to reflect on the reasons I chose to come here. While I knew about Puget Sound’s reputation of excellence, that isn’t necessarily the reason I chose to come. To be honest, it’s kind of a funny story.
It’s important that I preface this by explaining that I come from a household of activists and free thinkers. I felt, that at the ripe old age of eighteen, I should be allowed to explore and decide, with minimal input, where I would be attending school. My mother agreed to let me make my choice. So, after months of deliberation, I was torn between Puget Sound, Middlebury, and NYU. It all came down to campus visits during my spring break. Before my first flight took off, I promised myself I would really find the right fit, both academically and culturally. In case I couldn’t however, this child of the Berkeley revolutions had another plan. I promised myself that if I couldn’t choose, I would pick the school where I heard a specific Jimi Hendrix song. This would be a sign from the universe that I had found my place.
In my eighteen-year-old mind, this logic was full-proof. However, after a week of school tours and admissions brochures, I hadn’t heard the song. Puget Sound had swiftly taken the lead, but I wondered if I would ever really know. Then it happened. As I gathered my things and prepared to leave Oppenheimer on my final day of visits, I heard the opening chords to Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing.” It was the song and sign that I had been waiting for.
Aside from a fun anecdote, my reasons to come here were really not as significant when compared with the reasons I decided to stay. As an eighteen-year-old student of color, I was unaware of the difficulty I would experience adjusting to the norms of our campus community. While I struggled to find my place here, academics became my refuge.
In the Communication Department, I found a faithful band of dedicated humanists, who taught me to understand the way speech, media, and culture exist not as byproducts of a society, but as the active sites of cultural maintenance and production. With the guidance of these scholars, we transversed theoretical frameworks, exigencies, and hegemonic structures to develop strategies to help us better understand human communication and its social functions. Whether it was the hours spent reading microfiched senate addresses from the nineteenth century, or the lively sense of competition that developed between my fellow “COMMRADES,” my academic experience within my major brought a richness to my life, I never thought possible.
I found similar communities in the English and African American Studies Departments. A minor in English allowed me to explore the complexities of human nature, while my minor in AFAM allowed me to examine the complexities of power structures and better myself. In these fields, I matured as a student, a thinker, and a global citizen. I came to recognize the limitations of each respective discipline, the gaps in literature that signified the absence of voices, the problems that occur when we ignore intersectionality and topic interdisciplinarity.
Through these academic pursuits, I came to recognize the importance of student diligence. You see, too often, we conceptualize the relationship between educational institutions and students as a one-directional exchange. However, in order for student, institutional, and societal development to occur, we, as students must challenge ourselves to contribute to our own educational processes. We must push ourselves to understand the complexities of our world, not merely for a grade, but for the betterment and beautification of our society. We must make advancements in our fields: composing complex symphonies that challenge the canon to make room for new sounds, filling gaps in disciplinary conversations with our ideas, perspectives, and research, creating art that explicates the realities of a modern society—we must, because we are the fresh eyes that make new discoveries. We are the idealists that remind our weary professors why they love what they do. We are the future philosophers, activists, artists, scientists, trailblazers, trendsetters, and mavericks of the rising generation.
A great education theorist, George Counts once said: “Education as a force…must bridge the gap between school and society and play some part in the fashioning of those great common purposes which should bind the two together…If the schools are to be really effective, they must become centers for the building and not merely for the contemplation of our civilization.” Herein, we find ourselves. We as active and dedicated participants in our education, help turn the institution from a “center of contemplation” to a center of society-building. Through our commitment to academic excellence, we propel our university and ourselves, to the heights of academic and civic deliberation and progress.