Aaron O'Brien

Aaron O'Brien '14
Commencement Speech
May 18, 2014

Wow a lot of people…are out here…hello…

Some of you know me as a friend, a son, the co-author of Fifty Shades of Grey, a student, but I would like to speak to you all today as a peer.

A quick announcement directed to my family, if this does not go well, similar to that joke…I need you guys to bring it home, tears, laughter, whatever you feel is appropriate.

Salutations - President Gearan, Provost, Members of the Board of Trustees, Deans, distinguished guests, family and friends.

I speak for all of us when thanking the professors. For without you we wouldn't be the hard working, cognizant, critical thinking human beings you see here today. We would not have experienced the sounds of the birds at 4 a.m., the dizzying nausea after consuming your tenth redbull, and furious internal battle not to press “watch next episode” on Netflix before you start your work. We appreciate it - a special thank you to professor Monson for that.

I also would like to thank the buildings and grounds and the Sodexo staff that has helped make this place a home away from home.

I would also like to thank all of the friends and family, whose support, love and check books has afforded many of us the opportunity to sit here today; we could not have done it without you. A special thanks to Lisa Barrett for being our mother at KA and making 600 South Main St. a safe heaven, and looking the other way when I fill the cream puffs with mustard.

And finally my fellow students…

While writing this speech, I had no clue as to what I was going speak about. What can I say to my peers at this profound moment - we are all scared, exhilerated, numb.

I know that I cannot offer anything concrete or inspirational on how to land that great job and find wealth and stability. But what I realized I could offer is something that has been very useful to me. A mindset that has helped me get through the ups and downs I have experienced during my four years here at Hobart.

This may seem simplistict, but it is easiest for me to explain what I have come to understand through the game of Rock, Paper, Scissors.

You all may be familiar with this as a childhood game but I have found it offers something a little more meaningful than deciding who gets the last bagel bite.

I will start off with Paper.

Paper can be any external measurement - GPAs, awards or even the degrees being handed out today. Paper has its value - it can symbolize recognition, important moments, pay the bills and can also help you get a job. But most of these forms of paper do not reveal the depth of learning, resiliency or persistence a student might have demonstrated. In other words it does not tell us much about the human being behind the grade. For most of my time here at Hobart I was bogged down in numbers. Stressing about my GPA, building my resume, and securing a summer internship. When receiving a grade, I took it at face value. It was all too easy for me to encapsulate whatever effort I put into my schoolwork, in a number or letter that appeared on the top of the paper.  However, as the saying goes these measures are "paper thin." For losing a job, being in debt, failing a test all can be measured in paper, however the resiliency, self acceptance and determination it takes to try again is something that paper will never be able to accurately quantify. These external validations are also fleeting and subject to change. GPAs can compare and rank you, but it is not you. Which is important because life has scissors.

There will be moments in life where things are going to go bad, these are the scissors. At the end of the day, the tide will steal away your best sand castle and the scissors will cut paper to shreds. This was most apparent to me during a difficult time in my sophomore year here at Hobart. It was then my father presented me with a quote that I will never forget. He said "Aaron, there are three guarantees in life, you die, you pay your taxes and you lose your socks." I originally thought to myself my father might be losing it… However with age, and experience with both success and failure, I realized what he was talking about. These three guarantees he offered are concrete examples of the scissors we will all face at some point in our lives. No matter how high our GPAs are or how hard we work, we will all face some sort of set back, there is no escaping it. Yet, The blank canvas upon which all things return after they are cut away by the scissors, is nothing if not another opportunity to create other sand castles and to try again and to dig deeper, knowing this time all too well how far the water crawls up the shore. Or in my case gives you the clarity to realize your roommate had been hording your socks for the past two semesters…Steve, I hope my Hanes classics have been treating you well…

Whatever challenge you face, coping with life's scissors depends on what you make of it. It all boils down to what kind of person we want to be, how you measure a successful life and how we cope with the unpredictable obstacles that we are bound to face.

Which brings me to my next point, Rock.

I propose that rock is self-knowledge, figuring out who you are, what brings meaning to your life, what matters to you, and what works best for you. I found one of my earliest  teachers of the importance of self-knowledge through my great Aunt Sylvia, who suffers from Alzheimer's disease. Although she does not know me anymore, she greets me with love and warmth saying, "We do the best we are." I experience this as an expression of her self-knowledge and acceptance. To me, it expresses what she uses to navigate the scissors that dealt such a heavy blow to her life. And I can tell you one other thing I have seen in her face. She's happy. I have learned to let my strivings for self- knowledge/awareness be a process that guides me through the pitfalls I have encountered and I will trust that this process will continue to aid me with the scissors that I have yet to face. What I have learned is that no matter if I am facing success or failure, to live through it, with compassion for myself and others - with humor and self-awareness - understanding the tides of life, so at the end of the day I can say, "I did the best that I am."

By highlighting the importance of self-knowledge, I am not talking about the self involvement or narcicissim from which many critics of our generation profess we suffer - quite the opposite in fact. A by-product of self-knowledge and acceptance is the ability to give of oneself and to be more open to others – the humility to know when to reach out and ask for help. Compassion, courage, acceptance, tolerance, stewardship - these are the values that our human condition and this planet we live on sorely needs. More specifically, I believe this world would benefit from people who pursue the rocks of character and self-understanding as primary, rather than measurements of success and happiness in the stacks of paper that we crave. I would like to remind you in the game rock, paper, scissors, the only way rock is defeated is by being covered by paper.

So here we are… We came to this campus nervously approaching our OMs, marching to the promise of the moment that our moms would stop crying and our fathers would stop taking pictures.

We have triumphed in the face of all-nighters, forced triples, the religious consumption of trash plates and the naivety of saying, “I'll think I'll have one more master blaster.” We stand, or sit here now, draped in the least breathable material known to humans, awaiting heatstroke and the life that we will create outside of this campus.

I know the potential of this graduating class; I have seen it and experienced it. In the classrooms, on the weekends, or on the Quad. I would hope this class would take the tools, experiences and the spirit of community that we have learned at HWS and apply these skills to the world at large and to those communities in which we settle. I know this class can make a difference.

If there is any message I would like to convey to you all this morning, something to take with you on whatever path you take in this life, it is this. Whenever life places you in a game of rock paper, scissors, always remember your rock.

CONGRATUALTIONS CLASS OF 2014! I wish you all the best!