This was the speech I wrote and submitted to present at Class Day. I was not selected to speak in the end, but I was a finalist so it was published in a small collection of other students speeches that was given to every member of the class of 2013. It's not online yet, so I thought I'd put it up for anyone who wanted to read it.
Maybe we’re a little lost right now. But don’t let that scare you, don’t laugh nervously and shrug it off. Let’s talk about it.
We are just graduating and the world is ours to explore. No more pre-set path, it’s all out there to make your own. We spent evenings wondering how we will measure our own impact and what we want to learn along the way. Maybe some of us have a final goal on the horizon, a dream we want to turn into a reality, but we wonder what steps we need to take along the way.
Somewhere along the way, Yale gave me something I still treasure – it gave me a lens with which to consider myself – as an individual and as a member of this community. It built a community of scholars and friends. It gave us the space to be introspective – to ask ourselves, and others, hard questions.
How will you use your time and value your results?
In the endless list of possibilities, what will you decide matters enough for you to add your own unique touch to it and call it your own? What will you remember as a defining moment of your time here? That value system was yours alone to decide.
The character you have become and will keep molding over time comes from your experiences. It comes from days spent wandering through undiscovered corners of your neighborhood, conversations with your suitemates on the floor on your common room until 4 am, and long drives with a mentor figure. Nights where you bent over your desk long into the night cracking codes and accepting that glorious Eureka! moment. Minutes where the song played by your friend on the cello explained exactly what you were feeling but couldn’t explain with words.
Celebrate your uniqueness and everything that you’ve learned here, but please, don’t stop evaluating yourself.
We each invite time for introspection into our lives: For some, it means long, abstract conversations about values, and for others it means meditation or experiments. Maybe it was a long walk through a park with nothing but the sound of joggers passing you and gravel crunching beneath your feet, or maybe it was a pause, between pages, while you read something that really engaged you. Wherever that space was – where you felt uncomfortable, where you examined yourself and your decisions, where you decided what mattered to you most – protect it.
Here comes a thought experiment: Maybe we are lost. But we are forging our way from here on out.
Don’t you see? You will be the deciding factor in your journey. There isn’t a checklist anymore, because you have the freedom to decide what comes next.
You will be afraid sometimes. This is not the last time you will feel uncertain or confused about your direction in life. It’s also not the first time you’ve experienced it.
If you give yourself the bedrock of integrity that comes from knowing who you really are and what you want to make out of your life, no one can ever take that away from you. It is yours to guide you through whatever comes next.
You will probably never leave these conversations with black and white answers to your problems – but regardless of the other people in your life, your new environments, friends, jobs… you’ll be able to make better decisions in that moment about what you truly want holistically. That was what Yale wanted for you. It sought to build leadership through scholarship and character. You have some of the answers you need to ground you through the uncertainty and fear.
Be open to the world around you and learn from the people you meet. You will never stop being a student. There will be situations that challenge you again and force you to question what you stand for, but know yourself and what you value, and you will make decisions that you can live with.
I hope your last days here and everywhere are spent with the knowledge that you want to be where you are or where you are going, in that moment. No one can ever take that away from you.