The unheard Commencement speech
About a month ago I decided I wanted to be the student speaker at Commencement. I sat down at my desk, read through other students’ speeches on Google, looked up the proper form for a speech and attempted to be a little witty. More than anything I labored over how to relate to a class of 5,000 others, the vast majority of whom I had never met, whose experiences at UMass may have been vastly different than my own.
How could I possibly encapsulate a college experience with 5,000 variations while still remaining personal and genuine, without relying on the old clichés, and all in four minutes or less?
While my speech wasn’t chosen (and does contain a few inevitable platitudes), I still feel that I was able to craft something worth sharing. And so, my fellow soon-to-be alumni, I leave you with a personal graduation message.
Holiday parties are prime occasions for instilling fear into graduating seniors’ hearts. A time of hope and light, of New Year’s resolutions and toasts to the future, holiday parties provide our relatives with just the perfect moment – since we’ve only got four months of school left and we should be thinking about this anyway (thanks Mom and Dad) – to drop the bomb that has and will echo for generations: “So, what are your plans for after graduation?”
We choke a little on a forced smile and rub our hands together and start to say, “Well, I -” when our uncle, chewing on some sophisticated, ‘it’s-an-acquired-taste’ appetizer, butts in: “Ready for the real world?”
And there. He’s said it.
The name of our arch enemy and our most mysterious ally, the thing that for four years we have tried to prepare for, that we have feared and hoped for, the impending situation acknowledged only between friends in moments of whispered desperation or breathless expectation: the real world.
But I say to you now, four months later and on this, our graduation day: we are experiencing a kind of temporal bottleneck of our shared knowledge, achievements and incredible potential stopped up only by that nagging cork, ‘the real world.’ Why not pop that cork and flow forth our sparkling and bubbling ideas, the fruits of our hours spent on research in Du Bois and Morrill, in clubs, athletics and student leadership, on building relationships with our professors, mentors and each other, ideas that will one day shape human experience.
Because we have been given a world mired in economic and political strife, marred by war and the pursuit of peace, and maybe even a little scarred by lesser evils like ‘YOLO’ or ‘Gangnam Style.’
Yes, we have been left the ‘real’ world: real messed up.
And so it is our destiny to go out into that world, to fulfill ourselves, to reach our full potential, and in doing so make that real world a part of us. In short, real awesome.
We are compelled by the duty inherent in our education to go out and improve on what came before, to serve a greater good so that for those sitting here in 2023, ‘the real world,’ might be a little less daunting.
And that means leaving this place not fearlessly, no never fearlessly, but boldly, and with the knowledge that our footsteps echo with the boom of 5,000 others. We, the Class of 2013, will step out together into that real world because “We were, we are, UMass.” And no longer simply UMass, but a mass, a fellowship, a sodality of young adults equipped, inspired and ready to tackle that immense task which has been left to us: the real world.
Melissa Mahoney was the editor of the Collegian’s Opinion/Editorial section and is a graduating senior. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.