Senior Class Speaker Sam Wasko restores order
I love the speeches of graduation: the appreciation, the stories, the quotes, the heartfelt wishes, the charge to do one’s best and then the grand ‘sending-forth’ – it’s all very exciting. I am honored to contribute. Of course, within the five minutes allotted to me, I will have to cut straight to my favorite speech components: a couple quotes, a simile, and gratitude.
To begin – these quotes, for reasons you will soon understand, have probably never been uttered on Warren Wilson Campus before. The first comes from the late American jurist and law professor, Paul Freund:
“At commencement you wear your square-shaped mortarboards. My hope is that from time to time you will let your minds be bold, and wear sombreros.”
This quote is clearly geared towards Harvard grads. Every day at Wilson is sombrero day. Or a funky fedora day. Or a I-don’t-even-know-what-that-person-is-wearing day. And who can forget let’s-wear-a-foxtail-day?! It’s wonderful. According Paul Freund’s hat standard, bold minds are in great proliferation here. My fellow Wilson grads – my hope is that every now and then – just as a cross-cultural experience to see what it feels like – we take a break from sombrero day to wear a normal hat. We could even call it Mundane Mondays. I believe this gesture will help us better understand our Harvard colleagues.
Continuing on with the theme of cross-cultural understanding, let’s see what President Theodore Roosevelt had to say to the graduates of his era:
“A man who has never gone to school may steal from a freight car; but if he has a university education, he may steal the whole railroad.”
Yes. It is true. With our degrees, we are now capable of monumental white-collar crime. I guess Roosevelt is trying to illustrate the full spectrum of our potential: not only can we rise like glorious, well educated, philanthropic beacons of hope – we also have the choice to seize our privilege by the silver gilded handle and go forth to monopolize in ways that our less educated peers can hardly begin to fathom! By George, if you’re really a Theodore graduate at heart, expand your sphere of imminent domain and build an empire! But we are Wilson grads. I suppose most of us knew we were on a unique path before we even got here. Things like the work program, community service, widely encouraged critical thinking, community bike shops, spontaneous live music, Community Meetings, Community Governance, Maoist professors, continual talk of ‘wellness’, sidewalk chalk, and daily yoga sessions… these all tend to raise red-flags for traditional imperialists looking to become barons of industry. The word community comes up too much. It’s suspicious. As a consequence, we don’t get many students intent upon domination. We are hard workers, creative intellectuals, and caring community members. We have lived and will continue to live with these values.
Which brings us to the Wilson simile. We know what Wilson is, but what is Wilson like? When pressed for an answer, I would say “Warren Wilson College is like middle-earth without Lord Sauron”. This is because:
– We have people who think they’re fairies.
– We have enough beards on campus to form a dwarven kingdom.
– We have quaint rolling hills, forests, and short people as well as superb pastoral scenery.
– We have ‘Outdoor Programs’, which is basically a ‘quest’ department.
– Enya can be heard on occasion.
– Some of the cast is going into the west.
– And we have blacksmiths. That’s right – blacksmiths. We have door hinges forged in the fires of blacksmith crew. Not many colleges can say that.
Of course, no simile is perfect and Warren Wilson College, of all places, defies concise summary. It’s fun to try, though, and I invite every one of you to come up with your own simile or metaphor in the days ahead.
The last component of this speech is by far the most important – giving thanks to those who have made our education possible (which includes our fellow students). I am humbled by the incredible energy, effort, and integrity that has gone into our time here. Walking through these halls of learning and fields of wisdom, we have been supported by a vast and dedicated community of staff, faculty, family, and friends. Together, we have worked to build habits we believe in: interconnecting disciplines, thinking critically, communicating openly, reflecting, playing, planning for the future, and manifesting our beliefs through work and service. Thank you, all of you, for supporting these values and practices.
My fellow graduates: may we continue to honor ourselves and our community by living lives rich with intention, integrity, and good works.
…And, to all of middle earth, may it be an evening star shines on you.