Stacey Baird, president of the Class of 2006, delivered the student speech at Smith College’s 128th commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 21.
I am honored this morning to speak on behalf of the Class of 2006, and would like to extend a warm welcome to all of my classmates, to our family and friends, our staff, our distinguished faculty and honored guests. I would like to dedicate this speech to our classmate Maggie Worthen who is not able to be with us today. She is in our thoughts and prayers, and as we show with our blue ribbons, she will be with each of us as we receive our diplomas this morning.
I’ve always had trouble imagining what this day would be like. The reality of it didn’t begin to set in until I had to collect my thoughts for this speech, which is particularly special for me because I get to deliver it on the steps of Wilson House, where I have lived for four years.
As I began reflecting on my years at Smith, my first thoughts were of the mundane: how many turkey sandwiches I’ve eaten from Chapin Grab n’Go, or how so many of us have given and received sage advice on the Daily Jolt.
Then I thought back to my senior year of high school. The world has changed so much in four years. Many of us were the first high school graduates of the post-9/11 world. When the United States went to war with Afghanistan, many of us couldn’t imagine what a modern war would be like. At Smith, we discussed the Iraq war in classes before it even happened. As these wars continued, south-east Asia was struck by a deadly tsunami, an iconic pope died, and just before the beginning of our senior year, Hurricane Katrina wrecked a city and a whole coast. Meanwhile, many of us campaigned and voted in our first presidential election, while here in Massachusetts, same-sex couples married for the first time.
As events and realities around the world impinge more on our lives, the “Smith Bubble” has become smaller than ever. When we all came together in 2002, the only thing many of us had in common was that we wanted to get the kind of education that Smith College offers. Now look at us, ready to enter the world together as Smith graduates.
While growing up, I often heard the saying “great minds think alike” -- and I believed it. I was proud when I found myself thinking like someone I respected, like my parents, or a teacher, or Mr. Rogers.
But what I learned at Smith -- from you, from the diverse faculty and staff, and even from its mismatched buildings -- is that I was wrong: great minds don’t think alike. Great minds think in many different ways. Where else but Smith could I spend a Thursday evening debating politics or religion while eating vegan cutlets over candlelight with people from opposite ends of the world.
We are a diverse group of students, and we have learned a great deal from each other; about the possibilities of another point of view, and that sometimes determination doesn’t make you right. This college has given us what we need to grow and learn, in and out of the classroom.
Like us, Smith has changed a great deal in the last four years. We opened the Brown Fine Arts Center and the new Campus Center. We changed the SGA Constitution and the dining system. But the things that make Smith great are enduring. It still has an environment that pushes us to question what we believe and to learn from one another. In two recent examples, we’ve pushed for campus-wide clean energy, and have divested from Sudan because of its ongoing genocide. We definitely have not had the “normal” college experience, and that has been for the better.
Our Smith experience has provided great preparation for the world. We know that change will happen at least as quickly in the next four years as it has in the last. But as we leave here, we will join the ranks of strong leaders from Smith who make their mark on the world, and who make it a better place. We’ve been given the power to change the things around us that we don’t like. This is Smith’s proudest tradition.
Today, we are starting a new life and we will always remember this day. It is, after all, the first time every one of us has gathered together at the same time in one place -- and it will likely be the last. Keep this in mind as you look at the people around you, receive your diplomas, swap them around, pack up with your families, and leave Smith for very the first time as alumnae.
Whenever I imagined this day, when I would finally leave Northampton as a Smith graduate, I remembered a famous poem, “The Whitsun Weddings,” by Philip Larkin. As he rides a train toward London, and as newly married women get on at each stop, he imagines how greatly each of them has changed. While most of us are not ready to be married, each of us will leave Smith changed for the better. As we do, let’s always remember what it is, here, that we have in common.
Philip Larkin says it this way:
The last confetti and advice were thrown,
And, as we moved, each face seemed to define
Just what it saw departing…
Fathers had never known success so huge and wholly farcical;
The women shared the secret like a happy funeral…
Free at last… none thought of the others they would
Never meet or how their lives would contain all this hour…
As we raced across bright knots of rail,
Walls of blackened moss came close, and it was nearly
Done, this frail, traveling coincidence;
And what it held stood ready to be loosed with all
The power that being changed can give. We slowed again,
And as the tightened brakes took hold, there swelled
A sense of falling, like an arrow-shower
Sent out of sight, somewhere becoming rain.
Congratulations Class of 2006!
I now have the honor of presenting President Christ with a gift from the Class of 2006.
The Class of 2006 would like to present the college with an endowed fund called the Smith Fund for Organizations and Developing Leaders, which will be administered by the Student Activities Office. The Senior Class Cabinet raised $2,000 as its first contribution. We envision that this fund will enable alumnae, or any member of the Smith College community, to directly support student organizations and leadership development, and that class cabinets and organization and house leaders will be able to apply for these funds. The senior class hopes the Smith Fund for Organizations and Developing Leaders will play an instrumental role in the lives of Smith students for years to come. With gratitude, we ask that you accept this gift on behalf of all the members of the senior class. Thank you.