“On Our Horizon”: The Commencement Speech I Never Gave at Brandeis University

As we approach the graduation weekend for numerous schools around the country, I’ve been reflecting on the past year. A year out of the dorm, and a year beyond the home I made during my college years.

I graduated from Brandeis University a year ago this month, and as I see posts containing the words “graduation” and “college” beginning to trend on Facebook and Twitter, I remember what it was like sitting my dorm days before life would take a major turn.

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And I think about the commencement speech draft I wrote, but ultimately didn’t end up giving during graduation. Another wonderful speech was chosen, but as I reread the words the went pen to paper 12 months ago, it’s striking just how much they still hold true today. Even more striking, though, is just how applicable they might be and are to most every student graduating now, regardless of the school.

I’m struck reading it just how much it still resonates with me. And it seems that it should see some sort of public viewing, even after a year, and even if it’s not from my lips at a graduation ceremony. So I suppose I’ll take a chance and publish it here.

The terms may not apply to every school, and the people referenced may have long since found new avenues. But I still think perhaps some few might get something out of reading it. I certainly did writing it. I wrote it while listening to the song “You’re a God” by Vertical Horizon; I’m not sure what exactly was in that song, but to me, it seems to capture the surmounting victory and limitlessness of graduation perfectly.

So I’ve simply copied my original text; no corrections, omissions or substitutions. Honest words for an honest feeling, take from it what you will. This is how I felt a year ago this month. Accomplishment and pride in oneself go hand in hand as we forge through tough times to hit our most celebrated highs. To all those graduating, congratulations on reaching a new horizon.

On Our Horizon

Everything we need is right here before us. We have conquered so much to be here now, and our tide is still rising. To my fellow graduates of the Brandeis University class of 2014: Congratulations!! We’ve reached our horizon!!

What we have accomplished here today is success unto itself. We have succeeded in becoming what we always thought we might be, but never truly could be until we came here, to Brandeis; we have succeeded in fully becoming the best versions of ourselves: compassionate, driven, talented, destined. As far as we move in the future, as uncertain as our paths might seem, or scary the times may become, we will always know that it was here at Brandeis that we become heroes, the masters of ourselves, our pasts and our destinies.

I could never be anything but honest in saying this to all of you. As Brandeis graduates have stood here before me to say, “thank you” is what we can only begin to communicate back to our esteemed President Lawrence, Provost Goldstein, the members of the board of trustees, and Brandeis alumni. Even more, though, to the distinguished and hard-working faculty and staff, our honored guests, our friends, and most importantly, our families, without whom none of us would be standing here today.

In the seven semesters that I’ve spent here at Brandeis (yes, I was a Midyear, and such a cult status will never be lost on me haha), I’ve learned more than I could ever articulate at this particular moment. I was breathless with excitement and determination on the day my acceptance letter came, and I only became more so the moment my college career began here, a feeling I’m sure you all share.

Because that is exactly the kind of school that Brandeis is; the kind of school that challenges us to achieve all that we can, the kind of school that challenges us to be masters. Yet Brandeis is the sort of place that welcomes not only those students who are academically bright and accomplished, but those students who possess other talents, most more than anyone could ever imagine. Brandeis accepted me when I certainly didn’t have the 4.0 GPA. Yet they saw in me not what I had ever been (in grade school, high school, or whatever), but what I could be as a Brandeis graduate. For all of you, I can only begin to imagine the potential that Brandeis saw when your names came across the desks here.

And what a breathtaking community we’ve cultivated here, like no other anywhere on earth. We are not content to crawl; Brandeis students run everywhere, most times with three or four textbooks in hand! But I’ve seen Brandeis students achieve amazing things: I’ve seen students create a more stable sense of community than I have likely ever seen, rejoice with one another when the times are wonderful, and console one another when the times are tough.

Little did I know when I stepped foot on campus during Orientation the experiences at Brandeis that would unfold before me; the experiences that will forever shape my life. Here’s just a little bit of what we did. Things we loved (and some things we regretted so much haha!):

  • We rode down the library hill in the snow, flipping over on impact at the bottom
  • We all somehow got through UWS
  • We fought tooth and nail for the best seats in the library during finals (regretting immensely when we left for just a minute to grab a coffee!)
  • We put together amazing broadcasts on BTV and WBRS (seriously, who doesn’t have a WBRS shirt?)
  • We dominated in sports (sometimes haha), led by our captivating athletes (and yes, we all tried desperately to figure out what our mascot actually was (apparently an owl with a law degree who sits on a jury))
  • We totally rocked the social justice thing; no we didn’t always agree, but hey, we’re the judges and jury, so would anyone expect us to?!
  • We absolutely excelled in the classroom, and collected majors and minors like they were baseball cards (and yes, I still only have one major, so I might be back in the future!)
  • We hung out at Ollie’s way past our bedtime, rocked out at Chum’s and ordered Asia Wok way more than any of us want to admit (yes, this is another regret we think back on warmly haha)
  • We mentored each other, competed with one another, and learned more in four years than many of us thought possible
  • And most importantly, we made friends and relationships that will last a lifetime

Brandeis is just one more step in our life’s journey, but one that we will hold close forever. Last year, I went abroad and found myself in Amsterdam, in a city, country, and culture vastly different from my own (ok, not that different haha). And although I miss Amsterdam every day, while I was there I found myself missing Brandeis every day. No, I didn’t miss the BranVan so much, or the Rabb steps, and I for sure didn’t miss that ridiculous East Hill most of us had the displeasure of trekking up in the winter. No, what I missed was the sense of community that one can only describe as “Brandeis social justice.” Because it’s not something that we do to create a sense of community for social events in Waltham or Boston, but also something that we create for each other here, every day.

It’s something that begins to envelop prospective students the minute they come for a tour, and something we all feel throughout our time here. And while I made wonderful friends while I was abroad, and felt a sense of community that was special at that time in my life, nothing was or will ever be able to replace what we have with one another here at Brandeis. The support we give to one another, the benefits we afford each other and the pride we take in one another…these are all things that we came to learn best during our years here.

And now this time has come to an end, and it’s time for us all to move to our next chapters in life. But what a ride it was! We handled it as best we could, and I must say, I think we absolutely succeeded. I could say that I believe that the degrees we receive today are a testament to our accomplishments. Except they aren’t. They are an affirmation of what we already know: we, us, here right now, we are our own testament. We are all we need. Look to the people sitting beside you today, and take pride in the people they are, take pride in yourselves. Let us take pride in who we have all become. We have become the heroes of our own stories, masters of our own destinies, if only for a little while. That is what our degrees are a testament to: that we will never give up, and that the drive and success we found here at Brandeis will follow us our whole lives through.

So today as we strike the next notes in our symphonies, remember what Brandeis taught us: be fearless, take risks, dare to dream, dare to strive for something more. Reach the crescendo like we did every day here. Continue to be Brandeisian in every moment of your lives, lending hands to the world and spreading the values that were instilled in us here. We’re pretty stubborn, I think we’ll make it work.

I am inspired by every one of you every day, and look forward to seeing the amazing things that you all, that we all, accomplish. Congratulations, class of 2014!! We are heroes. We did it!!

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