Gavin Flood '20
Hobart senior speech
June 6, 2021
Good morning. Members of the Classes of 2020, the Board of Trustees, President Jacobsen, our distinguished faculty advisors and mentors, staff, and guests: welcome, and thank you for being here this morning. A special thanks to those who worked hard to ensure that we would be able to celebrate together today; you serve as an example of the strength of the HWS community.
I am honored to speak today on behalf of my peers. It has been especially exciting to reunite with all of you this weekend after our fifteen-month hiatus from Geneva.
Here we are, a year after our scheduled graduation. Masked up, some of us vaccinated, many of us experiencing different emotions, all of us relishing today’s celebrations and grateful to be together to rejoice in our accomplishments. After the year we have all experienced (pause), one filled with tremendous loss, social and political reckoning, and profound hope, we are gathered here to celebrate each other on a day we have looked forward to since our arrival to campus in August of 2016.
I remember my arrival to campus that August. I participated in the Pre-Orientation Adventure Program, POAP! This was a big leap-of-faith for me. If you know me, you know I rarely walk across campus without a freshly ironed collared shirt and khakis. So, to show up to my first day on my new college campus in a t-shirt ready to camp with strangers for a week was certainly unprecedented. I shook President Gearan’s hand on these steps wearing this t-shirt, not comprehending its pun until well-after introducing myself. Looking back, strapping on my hiking boots, forgoing showers among other nervous first years, and wearing this t-shirt were some of the best decisions of my college career.
One of the aspects of Hobart and William Smith that drew me to enroll was the ability to be involved in so many activities beyond my coursework. I will always cherish my involvement in the performing arts at HWS. I met my now best friend and campus busybody Gianna Gonzalez by joining Chorale, who ended up dragging me to other campus events, from karaoke at the Cellar Pub to indoor cycling in the Field House. We all know and have borne witness to Gianna’s tenacious enthusiasm for HWS, something that may have only been matched by my student trustee sticker campaign. From being an Admissions tour guide to writing some of you up for having tapestries in your residence hall rooms as an RA, I was able to interact with a variety of people across our community. Only the liberal arts could allow you to be a political science, education, and French student by day and a singer and amateur indoor cycler by night.
What I did not expect about coming to HWS was the profound shift in my academic trajectory. I watched way too much Grey’s Anatomy in high school and pictured myself as the next Dr. Derek Shepard. That was until I took Introductory Biology my first year, during which I realized that the life sciences looked way better on television than they did in the classroom. And, there was no such thing as a blond “McDreamy.” Thanks to the liberal arts, I was enrolled in a political science course and an education course concurrently with my biology class that year. Now five years later, I will become a history teacher to middle and high school students this fall. Had I gone to another institution where I was bound to an area of study from the time I applied as a high school senior, I would have been an unhappy and probably a pretty bad doctor. I imagine many of you had similar epiphanies, which were often inspired by the passions of our professors, whose deep knowledge and love for their subject were impossible to ignore. These aspects of change, flexibility, and understanding are what defined our time at Hobart and William Smith. The liberal arts were more than just admissions buzzwords.
Our national political landscape changed in 2016, an election that, for many of us, was our first. I remember the halls of JPR, which served as sites of political debate, fury, and celebration. We have seen immense change on our own campus since 2016. New spaces constructed like the Poole Family Sports Dome, the LGBTQ+ Resource Center, the Bozzuto Center for Entrepreneurship, and a renovated Saga. Downtown has changed: we said “goodbye” to businesses like the FLounge and FLX Live, and welcomed new establishments that richly defined our time in Geneva, like Twisted Rail and the Finger Lakes Welcome Center. We saw the increased visibility of the faculty and staff email LISTSERV, one that became active thanks to the “Reply All” function and the theft of Professor Robertson’s candy bowl from her office in Demarest Hall. Arguably most visible today, we saw the evolution of leadership at HWS; after four presidents, thank you to President Jacobsen for being here to celebrate with us as our longest-serving president in recent years and our first woman president.
So, friends, we are the classes of change, uncertainty, and flexibility. We have changed as humans, learners, and citizens under the comfort and support of the HWS community. We have witnessed change on our campus, in the Geneva community, in our country, and in our world. Yet, having grown and lived with you for almost a quarter of my life, one thing remains certain to me: to use the words of the decade: we are the classes of resilience and strength. Undoubtedly, we will continue to experience uncertainty throughout our lives. If there have been any benefits from the past pandemic year and the previous four years together, it is the buildup of strength and courage amidst these changes that will carry us through. Thanks to our collective growth over our time at Hobart and William Smith, I know we will continue. So, Classes of 2020, I encourage you to strap on your hiking boots and forgo a shower here and there, because we all need a bit of change. And who knows what that change will bring. What I do know is that we are all prepared to take it on. Be proud of the change you have overcome and the strength you possess to tackle life’s future changes. I will always be proud of us. Congratulations and thank you.