To participate in commencement — to commence — is to reflect on the passage of time.
Commencement alludes to a beginning, yet graduation marks an ending. On this day, past and future collapse into the present, pausing time itself.
As I reminisce on the last four years, I think of all the moments I wished I could hold onto forever. The handshakes, the hugs, the two-hour lunch in the dining hall, the two-hour cry on Old Campus. The Saybrook Strip. The last song at Woads before the lights buzz on. But despite my best efforts, such moments elude my grasp. I regret that those moments are ephemeral, but I also recognize that they are no more ephemeral than life itself.
What, then, will be our relationship to our past — that is to say, to each other? The saddest thing, I think, would be to cling on to some bygone vision of our “bright college years,” watching each other grow into parodies of ourselves.
While the past may be a source of comfort and familiarity, it can also be a specter, haunting us with all the “what ifs” and “back in the days.” At points of transition, the temptation is always to long for the past. Even old resentments can serve a useful psychological function, rehearsing emotional scripts which write out the unknown.
But for the Class of 2018, I hope commencement will, instead, be a moment for reinvention — an opportunity to learn, grow and develop beyond the proverbial Yale bubble. Or, as the keynote speaker put it at our freshman assembly, all those years ago in Woolsey Hall — a chance to change.
Now, reinvention is hard. As we form new connections between neurons in our brains, our old synapses literally degenerate. At the cellular level, the death of our old selves is not merely metaphorical, it is physical. Yet, unless we embrace the work of reinvention and craft new lives for ourselves, we will perpetually linger in the twilight zone of nostalgia. The wistful past will become a forlorn present, and then return as a dread of the future.
Rather than refusing to leave Yale behind, let’s relish the fact that there is a part of Yale that will never leave us. In my time here, I have been moved by the passion, transformed by the humanity and challenged by the intellect on this campus. Together, we will carry the confidence we have gained at Yale, and boldly go where none of us have gone before.
To my friends — I want you to know that I will always be there for you, as you begin new jobs or enroll in graduate school, settle into new cities or move back home, start families or break up with lovers. I will gently nudge you when I think you have strayed, but I will also respect the integrity of your life decisions, even when I disagree with them. For the rest of our lives, be they long or short, I will celebrate the people you become, even as I cherish the people you once were. And I will do all this without resentment or envy, but with the knowledge — though not the expectation — that you will do the same for me.
At Yale, we say that the days are long, but the weeks are short. The festivities of commencement weekend have been long, but the past four years have been short — and how I have wished that today could last just a bit longer. Just as we are mortal — my first-year self could pull an all-nighter or chug 5 beers and still function the next day; no longer — so too is our time together finite.
But this is not the end. In the years that follow, there will be class reunions to attend — and to miss. Baby showers. Weddings. Visits to hospitals (but hopefully not to prison). Funerals. On each of these occasions, I hope we will unpause rather than replay the time we have shared, just as we did. Today.