… on graduation (condensed to fit your screen).
By Tucker Angier, my son, Middlebury ’16
We are graduating at the tail-end of a transition year in Middlebury’s history, leaving to enter a world that is changing and challenging. Similar to students who left Middlebury in the tumultuous 60s of foreign wars, elections and societal change, the class of 2016 will be facing unpredictable challenges, and doing so alongside people who think of millennials as an annoying, over-entitled generation. We’re referred to as overly PC, sensitive, soft, spoiled and misguided, and we need to transcend that stereotype.
We’ll spend the rest of our lives honing how to make informed decisions in our day to day lives that exert positive change. The best place to learn how to start has been four years of multidisciplinary instruction from the lens of liberal arts. Over the past four years I have been at various times an art historian, a francophone, a biologist, a chemist, a classicist, a poet, an essayist, an economist, and a philosopher. Trying on these different hats doesn’t make me an all-knowing Renaissance man, but it’s changed my attitude in the classroom, an attitude I’m taking with me to the real world. It’s so deeply ingrained in me that our education is happening whether we’re enrolled in school, or not. We should try to derive value from every interaction, squeeze every last bit of detail out of the information we’re provided – we almost don’t have a choice in an exponentially changing world. As Emerson said, “books are the best of things, well used; abused, among the worst.” If he were alive today, he may have said: “Everything’s worth a Google.”
Every semester I have had classes in the sciences that reinforce lessons from the humanities, and humanity classes that elaborate on scientific principles. Middlebury’s professors have fostered a world where we could easily talk across fields, and you would be surprised at the level of interdisciplinary crossover that comes about; Middlebury has figured out how to integrate their educational sphere, which is merely an academic mimic of the outside world. This interdepartmental integration is the best kind of job training a student could hope for. This news, if it is news, is also good for the parents sitting here today wondering if their child has somehow thrown away that small fortune spent on this education. Some of us today will be graduating today with a secure and stable job, others not. We don’t know what versions of success our future does or doesn’t hold, but our education here has given us the mindset needed to get to as close as we can do the ones we choose. Middlebury has created in this class students of the world who through their resilience, tenacity, learned intelligence, and empathy can exert a positive influence on the world.
My friends will be the first to tell you that I argue a lot. I can’t help it; I like to talk. A lot. I frequently misspeak or misquote, and I’m embarrassed to say sometimes I even unconsciously (or consciously) confabulate. I have also made the mistake of arguing for arguing’s sake. But over the past four years, I’ve been doing it less and less. My time here has taught me how to use what I’ve learned and think about what I say; I’ve gotten better at speaking my mind, at questioning my own thoughts, and at respecting other’s arguments – inside and outside the classroom. Our arguments need to be productive to have this positive influence on the world. Maybe referring to them as arguments defeats that purpose, but it doesn’t have to.
José Martí, a Cuban writer, once said “Man needs to suffer. When he does not have real griefs he creates them. Griefs purify and prepare him.” Easier said than practiced, and I think I’m old enough to know that none of us know what griefs might come when all is said and done after we cross the Rubicon next week. All I know how strongly I feel that my time here has shaped me to cope, to have humility, and to work to change myself and the rest of the world for the better. I am optimistic that we all feel the same. Class of 2016, let’s all go out and argue as fluently, resiliently, and kindly as we can to exert that change.
Thank you to my friends, my family, my professors, and everyone who has been a part of my life for the past 22 years and made today possible.