Commencement 2022


Caleb Austin '22
Commencement 2022
May 22, 2022

We have been through a revolutionary four years. In normal times, I imagine commencement would be a deeply emotional reflection on all the experiences we had together and the first step into the daunting unknown of our future, our first step into the real world, our first step into our long adult lives - the chasm that rests just beyond this very commencement; we are now sitting at that threshold. For us though - for our bicentennial class - we have been through so much. And so, we not only face the usual heartbreak of our predecessors, but the baggage of a truly unique four years.

We were sent home in our sophomore year just as many of us began growing familiar to this campus; just as many of us started making our deepest friendships and, for some, we had our first real experiences with love. It was just when we could begin calling this place home, that we were uprooted and disconnected from everyone and everything we held dear. And during that long, hot, lonely summer many of us participated in the largest protests in our millennium - and we entered into one of the most contentious, frightening, and consequential presidential elections in our nation’s history - with ramifications not just for us, but for the world. And while all this was going on, so many of us dealt with the unspeakable effects of personal loss. Whether it is the loss of family and friends to a global pandemic, to radical political differences, or to the depths of isolation; we all had a unique personal struggle to get here today.

I recall sitting alone amid the height of the pandemic - when we all struggled to find something to occupy our minds. I stumbled across the Turkish poet, Nazim Hikmet; he knew about isolation and hardship more than most. He was imprisoned by his country, a land he loved with all his heart, then he was exiled to faraway lands to die alone without ever seeing it again. He understood the extreme loss, longing, and desperation we all felt so prominently these last two years. And yet he always found a way to cherish the love and memories of his home, and he never forgot to imagine a better and more hopeful future. When we were in the depths of some of the darkest moments in modern American history, I held onto these words of his, and the hope they promised:

“The best sea has yet to be crossed.
The best child has yet to be born.
Our best days have yet to be lived;
And the best word I want to say to you
Is the word I have not yet said.”

As we leave the days of COVID and isolation behind us, and we’ve already begun readjusting to a remarkably different world; Nazim Hikmet was right - there is always a better future ahead of us so long as we merely remember to imagine one. And as we now leave this place behind us, things might appear scary. I, for one, am terrified of the uncertainty that lies ahead - and the question of “where will I go next?” consumes more and more of my every day. As we go out into the world, we need to remember our potential and we need to always remember to imagine a better future ahead. We must never forget to hope.

Our experiences as the class of 2022 will forever be chiseled into the marble halls of history. Our generation will define centuries to come from the experiences we’ve had over the last four years. From the experiences of a truly unique moment in modern history. It is our experiences that will pave the way for future generations just as much as, if not more than, our education normally would. And as we depart here today, and say our last goodbyes, carry these words of Nazim Hikmet with you:

“We open doors,
close doors,
pass through doors,
and reach at the end of our only journey
no city,
no harbor—
the train derails,
the ship sinks
the plane crashes.
The map is drawn on ice.
But if I could
begin this journey all over again,
I would.”

Thank you.