Quinn Cullum '18
William Smith Senior Speech
May 13, 2018
Happy Mother’s Day! As we celebrate the accomplishments of the Classes of 2018 today, it is also important to acknowledge not only the mothers, but the many women in our lives, be it mentors, advisors, or peers, who have aided in making us all who we are today. William Smith is an institution that has always upheld the work and voices of women, beginning first with the American suffragettes who advocated for its founding. It is quite fitting, then, that the celebration of the William Smith commencement fall on Mother’s Day: a day intended to recognize the contributions made by women everywhere to the lives of their loved ones.
While today’s ceremony is intended to be a celebration of our accomplishments, I cannot help but reflect upon many of my conversations with my peers this year and the unease that has accompanied the topic of graduation. Even with the majority of us having jobs or graduate school plans, leaving this place, a place that we have come to know as our home, feels like some sort of unwelcome encouragement: We know it is time for the next chapter in our lives, however, we would not mind a few more conversations with our favorite professors or a few more nights downtown with our friends.
For me, this change feels about as risky as my arrival at HWS. On August 27, 2014, I boarded a plane from Minnesota to New York and, for the first time in my life, I boarded that plane on a one-way ticket. I arrived for our first year orientation without so much as a single acquaintance on campus. This lack of familiarity forced me to do things like approach strangers on the Quad for directions. I distinctly remember one instance in which I asked another student for directions to Stern Hall and when they told me it was next to Smith Hall, I thanked them and walked away before realizing that I also had no idea where Smith Hall was. Navigating the dining hall brought about all sorts of awkward groupings of first year students and my first year seminar seemed to be the only setting in which I felt totally comfortable amongst a group of equally clueless newbies. Going to school thousands of miles from home was challenging, but it also encouraged me to dig deep and grow in my independence as I demanded more from HWS. I sought out faculty mentors, a diversity of courses, and community engagement. No progress can be made from standing still, and that became my new pursuit at HWS: I wanted to have the courage to take risks and see where they took me.
The greatest thing to experience in the midst all of my uncertainty following my arrival on campus was the welcoming nature of the HWS community. When I would ask upperclass students questions, they would not only answer them, but would also encourage me to accompany them to activities, parties, and meetings on campus. True to liberal arts form, this place had me doing everything from attending an honors dance and biology performance about the HIV infection of a host T-cell to walking downtown in subzero temperatures to watch the inaugural season of William Smith ice hockey. To my surprise, the liberal arts philosophy was more than just admissions jargon: I was learning too.
Spending time taking these risks and exploring these opportunities was not unique to just my college experience. I think it is a fixture in the HWS experience. The Classes of 2018’s completion of the eight academic goals had everyone out of their comfort zone at one time or another. But I think that being uncomfortable is what makes experiences the most memorable. We come out of them with new perspectives, open-mindedness, and usually a funny story or two. No matter how this institution has supported us, challenged us, upset us, or celebrated us, the simple fact is that we have shaped this school as much as it has shaped us. Every semester, we continued to choose this place and each other.
Every single student graduating today has completed a senior capstone, seminar, or significant research project relevant to their studies. We all leave with our degrees and our faculty mentors, but we have also contributed to theatrical productions, athletic conference championships, represented HWS across the globe while studying abroad, and completed competitive internship programs. We have enjoyed the mentorship that we have received from faculty members, but we also worked to mentor our peers in lower class years.
All of those contributions are meaningful. What I will cherish most are the memories specific to the HWS experience. We all saw the opening of the Gearan Center for the Performing Arts and survived record-setting blizzards during our first year. We bonded over our confusion with Peoplesoft during course registration and we also bonded while sprinting to catch the last shuttle back to campus on Saturday night. We felt like a part of the community when the Saga employees knew our names before looking at our IDs. Making it into “This Week in Photos” made us feel like a local celebrity. We laughed together as we shared time on the docks and said “lives of consequence” to congratulate each other for even the most minimal accomplishment.
The Classes of 2018 embody so much of what it means work hard to better the world around you. When a massive snow storm hit, the editors of the Herald strapped on their snowshoes to deliver the newspapers. On International Women’s Day, so many of us marched downtown that we stopped traffic. Our student bands competed at FLX Live’s Battle of the Bands and organized student showcases at Lake Drum Brewing. Our class gift to the colleges, a scholarship for an incoming student, was a cause that brought us together as we broke fundraising records. As a class, we have not only enjoyed our time here, but we have exemplified grit as we have worked to better this place for those who will come after us.
It will be difficult to leave HWS and all of the experiences and friendships that we have shared here, but I do not worry about the Classes of 2018. We will be fine. We always have been. If these past four years have shown us anything, it is that we are a group of young people who speak out, advocate, and demand more. As we move forward and out into the world, we will continue to work hard and contribute wherever we are. I am proud to graduate amongst a group of young people who are unable to sit by idly and watch the world pass us by. Classes of 2018, we may feel uncertain about what is to come, but we are ready.