Alex Kerai '19
Hobart Senior Speech
May 19, 2019
Good morning. Thank you for being here with us today. It’s an incredible occasion that is indicative of the work we have done to make it this far. Looking out on this crowd of graduates, it is important to recognize how integral this community of scholars, athletes, artists, innovators, problem-solvers, and leaders is to the world we are already beginning to shape for the better. How we are working to contribute something lasting and meaningful.
Four years ago we all climbed these same steps to begin our journey, uncertain of what might lie ahead. In the time since, a lot has changed: there's a different President shaking our hand outside Coxe; a new performing arts center for final curtain calls; and a space downtown to create that brilliant idea to change the world. Throughout all of this, there has been one constant: the support of our community in all of our endeavors. Without this group here - in front of us on our graduation day - would all of what we have accomplished been possible?
The French author Antoine de Saint-Exupery is believed to have written in 1948: “If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” That quote has always resonated with me as a sailor who yearns for the water. But he is also saying that in order to do anything well we need support - we need a community.
That is all of you.
For the past four years, Hobart and William Smith has been that community for most of us. It is a place where we can attempt things - we can try, and succeed or fail - knowing that there is a community behind us. Faculty, staff, administrators, and our fellow students have been that community - Our team. Our support system.
But after this ceremony, we step out from our support system - this place on Seneca Lake that has been our home - and enter a bigger world. That could mean graduate school or a job, serving or teaching - chasing your passions. Either way, we’re leaving.
If this place has taught us anything, it that’s we all bring our own unique perspectives to this world and we will take them with us into our broader communities after graduation. By continuing to absorb different kinds of information - from classes and people, textbooks and newspapers - we can foster tools which help us to make a difference. A few dedicated people can change the world, but a community of informed, active citizens can shape it for the better.
Staying informed in our community - taking action and contributing our perspectives - can take on a variety of meanings, depending on who you are. You might write op-eds in your local paper about difficulties in your community, complete DNA research for police departments, run marathons for equality, or tie music to how we think psychologically... This is the liberal arts coming alive, and in each way you are helping your community: no matter how big or small, decisions matter and knowledge matters.
When I think back on my time at HWS, it’s defined by this community that welcomed me with open arms before I was officially a student. I’ve thought back a lot these last few weeks on the beginning of my time in Geneva. There were people here who I thought seemed so cool. Their interests fascinated me and, since then, their work and that of many more people has influenced mine. Ever since stepping on this campus for Orientation, I’ve wanted to do something that mattered. The goal has always been to make a difference to just one person, like people I met on day one who have continued to make a difference for me. That path has been made of long nights in the Gearan Center theatre tightening cues or the Herald office editing “this week’s edition” until the wee hours. There are the days on the Quad playing frisbee before carrying boats down to a blowing Southerly on Seneca Lake. And then the mornings in class or the library listening to discussions on covalent bonds or Java script with the hope that I might understand something new.
These moments, these long hours, these grueling sessions of editing and breaking and fixing again - all of this has shaped us. These are the things that bring us the most joy, but often they are the things that make us feel alone and incomplete. It has taken me four years to realize, as I will continue to do for years to come, that it is all of these things - the good and bad, the high and low - that strengthen our community. With struggle, with failure, and with success, we cement our connection. We are forever part of this community. Our time has mattered - it means something. And isn’t that all we can ever ask for: to be remembered for our time here?
Around this time last year, I helped the Herald launch its podcast: The Seneca Scene. For our first guest, we had on our News Editor Quinn Cullum - who gave the senior speech last year. I had worked with Quinn that whole semester on a range of really difficult and interesting pieces for the Herald and decided that we would ask at the end what she wanted her legacy to be. In the twenty-six episodes since, we have asked every guest who has come on the show. Most stumble for a bit as they try to figure out what to say, and every time it becomes the best part of the episode. It is the truest and most real version of that person. In that moment they can see backwards and forwards. Just like we can right now.
So, I want to ask you - the Classes of 2019 - what do you want your legacy to be? How do you want to leave this place that we have called home for four years? How do you want to be remembered by this community that has backed you at HWS? I know my answer... I can’t wait to hear yours.