I was asked by my department to be the class speaker for our recognition ceremony last month. Here is a copy of the speech I gave:
Good evening classmates, family, friends and faculty. First off I want to say (once again) congratulations to all of the soon to be graduates sitting here. You, we, have worked long and hard to see this day, it’s about time we give ourselves a pat on the back.
This journey towards our Master’s degrees have included many obstacles: whether losing a library, or renting film equipment, from broken elevators, to stubborn printers, then there was Blackboard (need I say more?) and of course building up a pain tolerance to the food from Rafiqi’s.
But, aside from the minor grievances, this place wasn’t so bad, now was it? I have to say in my 3 ½ years here most of it has been time and energy well spent. Well, expect for getting swept off my feet every time a strong gust of wind happened down 5th Avenue, chuck in an umbrella and you were in danger of entering the no fly zone.
Speaking of flying…so many graduation speeches refer to spreading your wings, taking flight, soaring like an eagle, and at the risk of sounding clichéd I too am going to discuss flying, or more directly the process one takes toward getting off the ground.
Novelist Douglas Adams, writes the following about flying in his book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:
“There is an art, a knack to flying. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss. The first part is easy; all it requires is the simple ability to throw yourself forward with all your weight, and the willingness not to mind that it’s going to hurt.”
Sounds a lot like grad school doesn’t it? From our first day in class, we had to be willing not to mind that we were going to get hurt. And that hurt manifested itself in different ways: our first reading assignments, first graduate level exams, first writing assignments and first criticisms. No one said graduate school was easy, but again, no one said life was easy either. Some of us arrived at the New School Graduate program fresh from undergraduate school; others of us took awhile to get here. But what we all learned in our very first class was that this was going to be a challenge, sometimes it was going to be hard, sometimes a little less so.
However, no matter how many times we hurled ourselves at the ground, and DIDN’T miss, we had the support of our classmates, professors and friends, to pick us up, adjust our trajectory and convince us to try again.
Our professors, diligent educators that they are, were regularly available for office visits, phone calls, via e-mail or through that dreaded Blackboard. Faculty guidance and interest in our individual work gave us each the nerve to experiment with our creativity, develop our voice and increase our volume loud enough to be heard. From these teachers we learned new problem solving techniques, the significance of constructive criticism, and how to be analytical, thoughtful and productive members of our professional communities.
Classmates and friends, many times they were both, most of us come here not just for that piece of paper you are going to receive in the mail in a couple of weeks, we also came here because where better to meet people in your chosen field than on a school campus. Grad school is social networking at its finest from conferences to coffee houses. In 18th century London, coffeehouses were indeed called “Penny Universities” as students could enter the coffee shop for a penny, drink unlimited amount of coffee, and spend the day surrounded by fellow students, philosophers, politicians, educators, writers and businessmen. Today you’d be hard pressed to find anything you can purchase for a penny, much less a cup of coffee in Manhattan, however the amount of time most of us have spent between Joe’s, Starbucks, and Cosi is indicative of how important face-to-face social networking continues to be for all of us, and because of each other’s support, friendship, partnerships we will leave here understanding better how to share our ideas and play well with others.
To once again quote Adams: “Most people fail to miss the ground, and if they are really trying properly, the likelihood is that they will fail to miss it fairly hard.”
As we head out into the real world, some of us for the first time, some of us for the second or third time, I can assure you there will be times when you will fail to miss to the ground, and that it is going to hurt, but keep at and one day you will miss, eventually, it’s a matter of statistics.
So in parting, my final wish to each and every one of you is that when you throw yourself into something with all of your weight that you all miss the ground.