Commencement 2023


Irini Konstantinou '23
William Smith senior speech
May 21, 2023

I am filled with so much gratitude to be here and wish to express the love and pride I have for my peers on this special day. This is a group of truly amazing people and I thank you all for being such generous and inspiring classmates. I could not imagine growing anywhere else, planted alongside any other people.

When I started my first year at HWS, I thought I had it all planned out. On the map of my life, I had every route accounted for. I knew which direction I would be going and when; I even blocked out what I thought would be the only twists and turns along the way. It wasn’t long before I quickly realized that I did not, in fact, know where the next four years would take me.

I’m sure none of us could have planned for what March of 2020 would bring. Our class had a unique experience with the pandemic because we were stifled just as we had taken flight. While the road we walk on our first year of college is inevitably uncertain, being sent home—just as we had gotten some air under our wings—felt particularly discouraging, to say the least. Our worlds, and the maps of our worlds, were turned upside-down.

By the fall of 2021, we were trudging through Zoom classes and navigating the detour of pandemic-brought isolation. I remember coming out the other side of sophomore year feeling hopeful, like everything that was derailed after leaving in the middle of our first year was finally back on track again. Although my way through college still seemed unclear, I found guidance and support through the connections I was starting to make. Between peers, faculty, and staff that became close friends and mentors, I no longer felt like I was tackling the journey solo. Sophomore year was about reconnecting—it was about appreciating the people who helped me get on a path heading in a new direction.

Back on the map by junior year, there was already talk about next steps and graduation in the air. As I started planning for senior year, I realized I wasn’t sure about the path ahead. I knew where I was: the “YOU ARE HERE” pin in the map of my life was confidently placed at HWS. But I didn’t know where I stood with myself, who I wanted to be, what was “the right thing to do.” I no longer wanted a map—I wanted the way.

But I realize now that finding your way through college is less about the direction one goes in and more about the connections they make. The people I have met at HWS have been my maps, my guides. When I was unsure of myself, it was the people around me who rooted me, who took my hand and made sure I didn’t move alone. If you are wary of your next steps from here, of the rest of your life, even of what tomorrow will bring, be certain in this: the identity that we’ve co-produced as the Classes of 2023.

We’ve formed this connection through joy and celebration, but also through hardship and trial. When we were sent home our first year, I felt, as many of us did, that I had just started getting close to people—like I finally found my place on campus. In the month leading up to graduation, a familiar feeling of time slipping away came back to me. I had friends I was starting to reconnect with, and ones who I didn’t want to part ways with. I know leaving is a part of growth. But I can’t help wishing for more time to stay with the amazing people here, with the friends I am grateful to say I have known and loved. These last four years and this moment right now are a culmination of the part of us that we’ve constructed as students of HWS, and soon, alumni.

After leaving today, I take with me a new map of my life: one that is marked by the people I have met at HWS who have been compasses over the last four years here.

When asked what makes this school great, my answer will always be the people here. You all, my peers, are the very foundation of our school. Your tenacity, kindness, empathy, and strength are the pillars on which our institution stands. HWS is made of students who encourage one another to work harder at being better thinkers, scholars, friends, people.

In the future, if you ever feel like you are losing your way, remember the people you met at Hobart and William Smith Colleges who were your maps through dark and light times.

Remember who we are: Herons and Statesmen. We are sunrise-chasers and Seneca Lake-lovers. We are the people of Pulteney Street and Shirley from Saga fans. We are inquisitive learners, scholars, the new writers of our fields. We are travelers, teachers, leaders and listeners. We are multifaceted and unique and at the end of the day, we are better people from the time we’ve spent here because of the people we’ve connected with. Look at the people we have become. We began students and strangers. Now we leave as life-long learners and friends.

The paths of our lives are interwoven with the journeys we have shared at this place. We are all part of this class, of this community that every one of us helped to shape. We are HWS.

Ground yourself in this moment right now and put a pin down:


Thank you.