Ladies and gentlemen, let me start off by admitting something: I am accident prone. On my first day of class, while hurrying to my first-year seminar, I fell down the hill. Fearlessly, I continued on to my first-year seminar with the entire left side of my body soaked with mud and blood. Yes, I was ready for class, but a wide-eyed Pat Collins advised me to go back up the hill, change, and come back. Needless to say, I give great first impressions. I thought, “This is the last possible way I wanted to start my college career—with a great fall and a shocked professor.”
After you’re a certified accident specialist, such as myself, you begin to think of them differently—you genuinely understand the phrase “happy accidents.” While working on a lyric essay about accidents for my honors project, I became fascinated with seeing accidents as starting points—then tracing the paths that followed them. In his poem “Garbage,” A.R. Ammons writes, “I say to my writing students, prize your flaws, defects, behold your accidents, engage your negative criticisms—these are the materials of your ongoing.”
...And “go on” is exactly what William Smith women do in the face of an accident. You could effectively call this “accident exploitation.” In the Oxford English Dictionary, “exploit” is defined as “Advantage, progress, speed, success; furtherance ... to make speed, to meet with success.” We don’t let the world happen to us—we happen to the world.
We’ve taken these chance meetings with professors at dinners or events on campus seriously. When they say, “You should stop by and chat some time,” we take them up on this offer. For me, it was a writers dinner at DeLancey House, where Deborah Tall complimented my shoes adorned with cat faces. This “happy accident” turned into a three-year journey of writing and mentorship with Deborah, including the beginnings of my honors project.
We’ve stumbled upon pictures of faraway lands in issues of the Aleph from the Global Education office and made vows to experience those places for ourselves. For anyone who has studied abroad, I’m sure you can recall your most interesting travel stories. After misplacing your Lonely Planet “Student Abroad Survival Guide,” you found yourself beyond lost, more than terrified in a foreign land—but purely by accident, you ended up with an incredible story to tell friends and family when you return. But then again, maybe you shouldn’t tell your Mom—it’s most likely much too frightening.
Those of us who are now seniors find ourselves ready—or almost ready—to take that next step to a place where only more happy accidents can happen. Trust me, accidents will happen—and sometimes our accidents end up being the experiences that matter most. Take those risks—get embarrassed—and laugh about it. For myself, it only takes a couple days to get over a fall or a stumble. Like that fall during first-year, covered in mud and blood, I knew as I do now—that more are certainly on the way.
You have taken whatever accidents that have been thrown your way and turned them into something beautiful—honors projects stemming from great curiosity and drive, ground-breaking research in the lab, game-winning plays on the field or stunning paintings that are exhibited in Houghton House. As long as each of us expects the unexpected, we’ll make something out of it—we’ll make our families, our friends, and our family at William Smith proud. We’re brave. Go on, let’s dare the world to throw us an earthquake.
The legacy we would like to leave this year’s upcoming senior class is to not only think about and celebrate the women who have been recognized here today, but to also think about the awards that were not given today and truly need recognition:
- to the person who spent the most number of hours in a Sodhexo uniform
- to the woman who has engaged in the most arguments with relatives about the new “progressive ideas” that they feed these kids at liberal arts institutions
- to the student who spent most hours in the all-night study lounge...because you had to wait till 9 p.m. the night before Rimmerman’s 25 pager was due
- to the woman who wasn’t afraid to sneak coffee past the library circ desk
- to the person that walked the most number of friends to the counseling center
- to the woman who refused to write the paper that they knew the professor wanted but instead wrote the one they knew they needed to write
- to the women who didn’t feel ashamed to do the “walk of shame”
- to the student who thought a million times “What am I doing here?” but listened to her gut and stuck it out anyway
- to the women whose alarms never seemed to work, but went to class everyday regardless of the condition of their hair.
- and finally, to those girls who fall down the hill—each and every one of you.
Moving Up Day 2007, Jamie Agnello '07
April 27, 2007