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A Culture of Care
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Student Commencement Address 2012

Caitlyn Kirby

Caitlyn Kirby, president of the Class of 2012, delivered the student speech at Smith College’s 134th commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 20.

Good morning ladies, gentlemen, and everyone in between. I’d like to begin by welcoming

  • the staff, who have helped us with our everyday issues, needs and problems; from helping us find lost shoes to organizing our days when we feel overwhelmed;
  • the faculty who have gently, and not so gently, pushed and guided us to where we need to be — waiting anxiously for our diplomas.
  • the administration who have worked with us in times of trouble, and have done their best to listen to us, even if they didn’t do exactly what we asked of them;

Most importantly, I’d like to welcome (and thank!) our families.

  • Some of us used our families as motivators — trying to prove our abilities to them, which in turn, proved our abilities to ourselves.
  • Most of us had our families as financial backers — investing in our dreams.
  • Others were lucky enough to have our families as confidants and cheerleaders —
  • coaching us through crises,
  • reading draft after draft of papers (many last-minute)
  • answering 2 a.m. tear-ridden phone calls with love and support — Mom, Dad, and wonderful siblings, I’m talking about you.

Thank you all for helping us get here.

The Class of 2012 is a special class — change is something that we know so well. During our time at Smith, we found our voices and learned how to use them to initiate change.

  • Whether speaking up during a discussion in class,
  • protesting silently (and not so silently) against institutional and cultural inequity,
  • using a t-shirt campaign to garner support from and for other students,
  • drafting a list of demands to the institution,
  • wearing wristbands as a symbol of solidarity — a visible marker of the students at Smith coming together to support each other, and to bring attention to the need for change on campus....we found our voices.

And I hope that we carry these new-found voices out into the world, creating change in all corners of the globe.

As Smith alums we will be called upon to help create change in the larger world. It is easy to be scared of change, and worry about what might befall us, but Teddy Roosevelt said it best when he said, “It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.” We must remember that there is pride in the attempt — even if we fail in the end.

To aid other students in attempting to achieve their goals, the Senior Class is donating $2,012 to the Organizations and Developing Leaders Fund, with the stipulation that it be provided to students wishing to embark on an educational pursuit abroad. We hope to encourage global engagement, especially as Smith College continues its international mission.

Poet and author Diane Ackerman said, “I don’t want to get to the end of my life and find that I have just lived the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well.”

So many Smithies in our graduating class have lived the width of their time at Smith:

  • one is using her voice through slam poetry to help protect the environment and the earth
  • another broke the Smith record for weight throw, tossing for more than 47 feet!
  • a transfer student took full advantage of her short time here at Smith, landed a Praxis internship at a laboratory, and impressed her employers so much, that they offered her a part-time job while she finished school.

And so many others are continuing to live the width of their lives after Smith:

  • During her terms as Student Government Association vice president, and sustainability chair, an Ada Comstock Scholar and January grad worked tirelessly to cut down on idling campus police cruisers, had Food Day proclaimed by Northampton’s mayor, and lobbied for sustainable farming. Now she is working at the University of Vermont launching the first national match savings program for limited resource farmers.
  • A government major won a campus elevator pitch competition and also won the Spirit Award for entrepreneurs from the Grinspoon Foundation. She was funded by Smith to construct a prototype, and after graduation she will begin producing her product — a new type of high-heel shoe.
  • A math major has been accepted into Harvard Business School in their 2+2 program. She’ll work for two years as a business analyst at Capitol One, followed by two years at Harvard.

For those of us waiting for plans to take shape, you can always consider some of the possibilities on the Senior Class bucket list such as

  • visiting the Sophia Smith Collection and asking to hold the Oscar statue
  • exploring the literary papers of Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf in the Mortimer Rare Book Room
  • and if those options are too tame for you, taking a dip in Paradise Pond (clothing optional)

Wherever your path takes you, go out, change the world, and let’s remember to live the entire width of our lives. Thank you.