Convocation

Caitlin Lasher

Caitlin Lasher '19
William Smith Student Address
August 27, 2018

So there I was-- less than one hundred miles from the Russian border, on an eastbound train in Poland, heading the opposite way from where I needed to go. With no language skills in Russian or Polish, limited cash, no visa, and ten percent battery, I knew that I was going to have to figure this out on my own. Unlike Taken, there would be no rescue mission for this American girl who managed to get herself into trouble in a foreign country. Unsurprisingly, this certainly was not my first encounter with uncomfortable and challenging situations− in fact, within the last three months, I had caused a scene at a French border, missed numerous trains and flights, got food poisoning in Dublin, and had a run-in with the Dutch version of the mafia.

And so there I was in Poland, with no money, no phone, and no government rescue team, and yet I had felt as relaxed and in control as I had ever been. It was not just because of the street smarts I had gotten from the past few months of international travel, but it was also the skills I had learned and the people I have met while home at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. It has been the professors who have pushed me to question what I thought I had known about the world and encouraged me to think beyond institutional and physical borders. It has been the classes that have challenged my own conventional academic bubble, and have helped me to navigate a difficult and often puzzling world. It has been my peers who have pushed me to be a better student, a better leader, and a better friend.
Over the course of your next four years, you will be challenged and pushed in a way that you have not before. However, though you will walk away with a degree and similar skills as your peers, your experience here at the Colleges will be as unique as you all are. You will all have your respective successes, losses, and moments in between. You will all experience your time here differently, and will make an impact on the history of the Colleges in a way that only you can.

Most importantly, you will have your own versions of Poland. You will have challenges that you will face, and ultimately, only you can conquer these problems with the lessons you have learned here. Take comfort in knowing that the thousands of alumni and alumnae who have come before you have had their own versions of Poland too. From taking that difficult seminar course, to opening an investment firm, to serving in the Peace Corps, to protesting injustices, to being the first woman to receive a medical degree.

You will be thrown into difficult situations while on and off campus, and only you can be the one to push through them. You will encounter Polands of all sizes, situations and severities. Just know that you are not alone when you encounter these seemingly impossible situations. Here at Hobart and William Smith, though you may deal with issues individually, you will have a community here of people who will support you in any endeavor or situation you face. The next four years ahead of you will be filled with your own version of Polands, and I am confident that you will handle them with honor, dignity, and grace. To the Classes of Hobart and William Smith 2022, I am excited to see what Polands you all overcome, and how you will shape the Colleges as the next generation of leaders. Thank you.

Preparing Students to Lead Lives of Consequence.