May 20, 2012
by Pamela Vogel, 2012 senior class president
Hello family members, educators, colleagues and friends. Thank you all for being a part of this beautiful ceremony today, and for indulging us seniors as we reminisce and cry like we're the first ones in the world to ever graduate. We truly could not have done this without you, so know that your presence means so much to at least one person sitting before you today.
I'm just going to be honest here – I never thought this day would come. I've spent the last year or two listening to everyone make jokes about the end of the world in 2012. And then this past fall, a hurricane hit as we all moved into our senior housing, and suddenly anything was a possibility – in more ways than one. We moved from house to house that night through the rain, wearing ponchos and summer clothes and clutching our warm beers. We had the best and most glamorous year of our lives ahead of us that night, and then, maybe, nothing. Later last semester, we had a freak snowstorm on Halloween, and it didn't snow again until after Spring Break. This is actually happening!, I remember shouting into the snow that night in October. I remember that little thought, just barely tickling the back of my mind: how beautiful would it be to never know what life is like after Vassar. Anything's fair game if the world is ending, after all.
And now here I am, and the world has not ended, and I am supposed to be giving a speech and all I can talk about is the weather. But a huge part of my world – of our world – is ending today. Because when you grow up somewhere, it becomes your home. And when you have a home you love this much, it becomes your entire world. Vassar has been home to so very many people before us, and will be to so many after us. And it's been the same kind of home, harboring the same kinds of people, not in shape or size but in spirit, for 151 years.
Back in the summer, I found myself alone on this campus in the sweltering heat, newly in possession of a key to the senior class storage closet. I felt like I had been propelled there by a universe of purpose — I was armed with Sharpies and bags and the will to feel better about this year, to feel okay about leaving. I found six pink pool noodles, nine Disney Princess megaphones, three hula hoops (two broken), a mostly full bottle of Jose Cuervo (thanks 2011), and my confidence in the future. Some of the photographs of students in the old yearbooks there could’ve easily been taken last week. In 1985, they turned the library lights off to warn students of its closing, they went to the Mug, hated the DC, and wore terrible sweaters. They had independent majors and were so pretentious it made me roll my eyes. And they knew each other’s business all the time, always. Some things really never change. As I looked through the pages, I was so overcome with that stomach-knot of intense camaraderie that hits me from time to time. I feel it when I stand on the Quad, the only one there in the quiet dead of winter or the withering heat of July. I stop and stare at Rocky or Main, or the twisted trees at the center of the sidewalks and just feel so at home that it scares me to think of ever leaving. The beauty of Vassar is that it’s the kind of home you can carry on your back like a snail; you can take it with you when you go. It multiplies and grows bigger with each new class, so there's always plenty to take away, plenty to go around. It multiplies. That spirit means there’s always another person doing the same thing you’re doing — sifting through old paperwork and finishing off forgotten bottles left by our predecessors, walking along Sunset Lake in the dark and laughing so loudly it echoes across the water and back to another group of friends doing the very same thing, taking turns shushing other students halfheartedly in the 24 hour space when they sneeze too loudly, knowing that everyone can appreciate some absurdity in the throes of finals. As long as that “we’re all in this together” spirit persists, I know I’ll be okay. I know we’ll be okay. I think we’ll be even more than that.
We've been treading on hallowed ground during our time here. When our feet touched the floor of the College Center every day as we ran to the Kiosk before class, they were sharing the same space as the courageous students who took over Main Building in 1969. The first time we walked down the main drag of campus, past Lathrop and Strong, we could have been greeted by the ghost of the flamboyant Jackie St. James in a floor-length ball-gown, occupying the same memories as an early Ford carrying FDR and Eleanor past the Library and the Chapel. When we let our hands trail up the railings in Joss or Raymond, we were touching the same worn wooden surface that was touched by hands that have since changed the world. We can take those memories, that courage, that class, that originality – we can take all of that with us when we go. Stuff it into our little shells as we pack up our books and shoes into boxes. Tonight, maybe tomorrow morning, we'll pack up a whole life as well – and what we've learned from the lives of others.
But the most important thing I know I'll take with me is the love I felt at certain moments. You all know the ones – when you're standing on the couch of someone you once maybe had a class with and it's 2 in the morning, and there's a song playing that you've already heard eight times that day but it still feels brand-new; the moment when you look around and realize you just want to point to every single other person in that room and shout, “I love you! I love you! I love YOU!”; the moment when you're walking to class and you're really dragging and you see someone who was in your fellow group and you tell them as casually and nicely as possible that their fly is down because you will always take care of each other; the moment when you decide not to remind your friend about the time they friended everyone in our class before Orientation or made a website for their freshman year elections campaign; the moment when you're walking to the library and your friend stops because there are two strangers playing Frisbee and they're not wearing coats and they're going to catch a cold so she needs to tell them to bundle up. You can take those moments with you when you go. Take it all with you when you go. I will.
Knowing I can tuck those moments away with my dishes and winter coat is how I know that today is not the end of the world. This is the beginning of a new world, made from the pieces of our memories here and the grass on the Founder's Day hill and all of those deer and the creaky hallways of New England and the plays you're glad you went to and the class that made you realize you could have a real job that you loved someday and chili and the worn velvet on the pews of the Chapel and the times at 4am when you've never felt more alive. This is the beginning of a world we can build from those parts, from what we've been given here. So take it all with you when you go, please. Take it with you, because you never know when you may need to build something beautiful.
I love you all. Congratulations.