Kelly Craig '16
May 15, 2016
Good morning. It is my honor and privilege to address you today as a representative of the William Smith Class of 2016. As an English major at HWS, I have written countless essays, but the most important one by far has been my honors thesis on sense of place in literature. Today as we sit on the quad, an iconic location that forms our sense of HWS, I would like to invite you to think with me about this place and the way that it has shaped you.
My first steps on this campus were on ground that is now covered by our beautiful new Performing Arts Center. I was tired from traveling, and I knew nothing about what this place had to offer. It was a chilly April morning, and arriving from the 85 degree spring temperatures in my hometown of Las Vegas, I wondered why all the people I saw walking around were wearing shorts. In my warmest winter coat, I took my first steps onto the quad, right there, between Demarest and Medberry, and I knew with a certainty that I had never experienced before that this was the place where I wanted to spend the next four years. In that first visit I spoke to no one, I left after only forty-five minutes, and I was sold. HWS makes a good first impression.
The remarkable thing about HWS is not what you learn by looking around – it is the way that HWS gives you the tools to look inward toward yourself and outward toward the world. In the steps that I took after those first ones, I learned, to put it simply, how to be. I learned how to be a critical thinker in my English courses; I learned how to be a contributor to a group in the colleges’ chorale; I learned how to be an advocate for the magic of the writing process through the writing colleagues program; and I learned how to be the girl who wears shorts on chilly April mornings. I learned how to be a scholar, a friend, a daughter, a writer, and a teacher. I learned how to be together, and I learned how to be alone. Walking around this campus taught me to look inward, and I formed my identity.
Other steps I’ve taken have led me away from campus. In the spring of my junior year, I studied abroad in Bath, England. If there is anything I have learned from coming to Geneva all the way from Las Vegas, or from my study of sense of place, it is that there is no better way to appreciate a place than by leaving it. In Bath I spent a lot of my free time taking walks. I would leave my apartment at the city’s center, set my sights on one of the hills surrounding the city, and walk the winding streets and open fields until I reached the top. I was always met with a beautiful view that included, across the way, the top of another hill that I wanted to climb. Climbing hills for me became not an exercise in finishing something, but a way for me to see the next goal, the next accomplishment.
This idea that the top of a hill is not an ending but a way to see what knowledge and opportunity are on the next hill, I realize now, came to me from HWS. In my academic inquiry, every new concept has allowed me to see something that I couldn’t see before. Getting to the top of an intellectual hill is not finite – it is what allows me to see the next place I would like to explore. After teaching me to look inward, HWS taught me to look out, to stand at the top of a hill and see what I could contribute to the world. As we look out today from the top of our hard-earned undergraduate hill, I encourage you not to look down, but across – to see what academic insights, what creative works, what service opportunities, and what career skills are at the top of the hill that your time and effort at HWS now allows you to see.
As much as HWS has taught me to look inward to find myself and to look outward to see what I can contribute to the world, an important thing to remember today is to look around. In the past few weeks, as the weather has turned from frozen to sunny, I have been amazed at the way that HWS as a place in and of itself is still offering me new things. Even in my senior spring, I have made new friends, produced new work, and connected deeply with new members of the HWS community. I have taken new steps, and I have experienced countless moments full of richness, beauty, and life.
In the final steps I take around this place, I am seeing that HWS is a place whose value stands independently of its vital function as a platform to see yourself and to see the world. Wherever your steps have taken you and will take you after this, HWS is a place that we are all lucky to have been. It is a place that will stay with each of us as we take steps across the country and across the world. Classes of 2016, as you go out, please join me in climbing hills. Climb all the hills you see, and remember the truly unique place that allowed you to get to the top of the first one. Thank you.