A parting word to the Class of 2008

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April 25, 2008

3:47 AM

For my final column, I’d like to share my proposed Commencement speech for the Class of 2008. Please, read it aloud and with gravitas:

We have all gathered here today to celebrate the work and strength of the 2008 graduating class of the College of William and Mary. Among friends, relatives and loved ones, we feel the complete support of community and the collective desire for all graduates to succeed beyond these walls. However, we too often fixate on the future. When I graduated from high school, I was approached by a classmate’s mother who pulled me aside after the ceremony and said, “Charlotte, I expect you to do great things.” It was the most crippling experience; my future suddenly loomed — waiting, expecting. Here was a practical stranger burdening me with a quest.

The graduates here are fulfilling, if not exceeding, many expectations placed on by from friends, family and themselves.

For this, I extend my deepest congratulations. But from here, the expectations are varied and perhaps nebulous. Who will praise our accomplishments? Who will mourn our failures? Whose expectations do we live up to? Who will judge whether our acts are truly great?

Expectations are only worth striving for if their attainment is uncertain. The possibility of failure is inherent in the goals we set and is necessary for the pride we may take in our successes. But how does one reconcile the fear of failure with the will to succeed?

How can we switch gears from class rubrics and syllabi to the uncertainty of everyday life? Our constant expectation for the future is paralyzing.

However, losing expectation is not the same as losing hope. I have hope for us all, though expectations for none. Hope is not rigid or finite, but resilient, elastic and unbounded. We cannot possibly expect all that we hope for and that is the beauty of it. Nothing would have made me happier, standing in front of that classmate’s mother, than if she had said “Charlotte, I hope you do great things.” I hope we all do great things — and I hope that doesn’t make anyone anxious.

Take some time to reflect on your most prized moments; think about the unexpected relationships, the unforeseen adventures, the surprising twists. How boring it all would have been if we had expected each triumph and anticipated every loss. Worse still is the thought of passing up an unpredictable opportunity for the safety of the expected. Watching students pass the Crim Dell, each hopes to find a banner hung in their honor, or perhaps, revealing a secret admirer. But if those hopes were expectations, imagine how the scenic beauty would be lost knowing each glance was met with disappointment. Without expectation, we have the power to eliminate disillusionment.

While many graduation speakers might praise their peers as future doctors, lawyers, or teachers, I cannot bestow any more unsolicited holy grails. Instead, I want to let you all know, graduates and loved ones alike, that the College has prepared us to live full and successful lives, regardless of whether there’s an end goal in sight. I promise, under the first collegiate Honor Code and thousands of witnesses, that we will all be just fine.

As students of the College and members of the Tribe, we are intelligent, curious, big-hearted, considerate and strong. I could not have hoped for anything more.

Throughout our time here, we have lived and worked among the best and brightest, an honor sometimes as disheartening as it is pursued. Trapped in constant self-evaluation, our expectations of success are skewed. We are a community of achievers, students who have always gone above and beyond the expectations of their most demanding selves. It is with great relief that I remind you, and myself, that this is not true for everywhere else, most especially the real world.

Against the temptations to talk about our capacity to effect change or make history, I wish to praise friendship, community and fellowship without mention of the fruits of these interactions.

Commencement is a celebration of our journey at the College. As the graduates passed from the Wren Building today, encouraged by friends and family, nothing could have been more clear. The walk across campus is a testament to the value of the process, and is an integral part of the College tradition. As we prepare to leave this great institution, we must learn to create our own private commencements to reflect on our personal journeys along the way.

And so, with complete disregard for your accomplishments, I leave you all who have achieved so much. There are many other people who will tell you how important your goals and dreams are and who will tell you to do great things.

I expect you to feel honored by their faith and praise, but I also expect you to reject their burdens in favor of limitless hope.

Charlotte Savino is a Confusion Corner columnist. She will miss her dearly beloved fans.

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