Commencement 2007 -- Lisa Gulian's Speech Transcript

May 25, 2007

I have spent what at least feels like the bulk of my four years here at Goucher College haunting the second floor of the Hoffberger Science Building in pursuit of my Chemistry major. And yet, despite completing no less than 54 credits in my major, at this second the only chemistry I can remember is as impressive as“H2O means water!!” However, the blame for this hopefully temporary inability to recall my science does not rest on my shoulders. It’s ALL Goucher’s fault. Because right now, in this moment, I can tell you that the most important lesson I’m going to take from Goucher hasn’t come from books or classroom discussions or essays or lectures or workbooks or problem sets or even from endlessly staring at Excel crunching numbers long into the night and early into the morning until my eyes go blurry, drip tears, and the outside corner of my right eye AGAIN starts to twitch. No, this lesson was not found in any such scholarly sources. Because the greatest thing that Goucher has to offer any of its graduates is the lesson that we “Live Better.” And this lesson is gleaned, whether consciously or not, through Goucher Lore.

Goucher Lore, with a few important additions from everyday student life, can be classified as anything Academic Dean Michael Curry mentions on his “Quirky History Campus Tour.” Though I’m not nearly as versed in the fun and interesting facets of Goucher’s Campus and history as he, I will do my best to hit upon some of the highpoints, and to explain just how and why they are responsible for the fact that I don’t remember the difference between Hund’s Rule and the Aufbau Principle, outside of that they both say…something…about electrons. So, without further ado, I present: What I learned from Goucher Lore about Living Better, By Lisa Emily Gulian.

Hang a tire swing.

Anyone who has walked around the academic quad has probably spotted a lone tire swing hanging near the Myerhoff Arts building. It was hung in hopes of winning the heart of a female student by one of Goucher’s first male students shortly after the school became coeducational in 1986 and has remained in that tree ever since. Though that enterprising young man’s love life doesn’t concern us today, his actions do. Twenty years after the first men stepped into Goucher classrooms, there his swing hangs. That man left his mark on Goucher and has inspired dance choreography, recollections of childhood swings, and, just once, I saw a squirrel sitting there eating a nut.

More than likely, that young man had no idea that he would be creating a campus landmark the day he strung up that swing. Now consider how long we’re awake in a twenty-four day…as college students we are-or were as the case may be-conscious for as many as even 20 of those 24 hours on any given day. Think of all the opportunities we have each day to make some impact our surroundings. That tire swing has become an indicator of how tangibly we can change the world around us; of our ability to effect change, regardless of magnitude, in ways that will allow us both as members of a community and also as individuals to Live Better. Some of us have done this by raising campus consciousness of political issues, special events, or human affairs. I wrote my name on a wall with phosphorescent paint. It’s not what you do; it’s that you do it. Leave behind some remnant of yourself so that the world knows that you were here, and you KNOW you mattered. Living Better means knowing your own worth and recognizing that you and your contributions leave a wake that spreads like ripples everywhere you move.

Beware the deer, watch for squirrels, and even the BABY bunnies run much faster than you do.

Between Goucher’s acres of woods and the well-groomed expanses of lawn on campus, there is a veritable plethora of wildlife that we have come to accept as another part of what makes Goucher, Goucher. Deer of all ages and sizes run freely around campus as soon as dusk falls, birds trill wakeup calls outside our windows, squirrels catapult themselves about the lawns, and every time and again, a bunny will let you spot him. Actually, the campus wildlife doesn’t REALLY constitute a lesson. But the way they make me feel does! When I leave Hoffberger at 6:30pm on a Friday afternoon, drained from a long day of classes and working in my research lab, no matter how grouchy I am, those cute little squirrels with their swishy little tails make me grin like a fool. They put me in my happy place and make the walk from Hoffberger to my dorm room bearable. Knowing a surefire technique to get yourself out of a funk into a happy place reduces the time you spend being discontent, which is an excellent way to Live Better.

If something happens to the Goucher Bubble, we always have the fallout shelter.

During the course of world history, Goucher found cause to build and supply a fairly sizable fallout shelter under the Dorsey Center Courtyard. As busy college students who may sometimes feel as though we don’t see or hear enough of the ‘outside world,’ those suffering from a reduced-worldview affliction are said to have fallen victim to the “Goucher Bubble.” However, even if we may go through days or weeks or longer where we feel disconnected from greater society, here at Goucher we are lucky to have had most of our student population living on campus. At the very least, we’ve always been able to rely on on-campus interactions to satisfy our social urges. This type of human to human interaction has hugely shaped our lives, and the impact that we have had on each other over four years is immeasurable. I mean, who else is glad they aren’t still the person they were when they arrived as freshman? The personal interactions each of us has had with friends, faculty, and staff have been as large an influence on our growth at Goucher as our academics. If I can call our education a journey and declare our journey over, I might draw a comparison of our time at Goucher to the quest of the Ukrainian Alex and American Jonathan in the film adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel, Everything is Illuminated. Alex and Jonathan strive to unearth the life history of Jonathan’s Ukrainian immigrant Grandfather, and they find that in addition to the facts they expected, their expedition also shows them than have more in common than they realized. I’d like to use words that Alex writes, albeit in imperfect English, to Jonathan who has returned to the US, to express the solidarity our common experience will always give us, even if we lose touch with one another: “I have reflected many times upon our rigid search. It has shown me that everything is illuminated in the light of the past. It is always along the side of us, on the inside, looking out. … [I]n this way, I will always be along the side of your life. And you will always be along the side of mine.”

There’s no Greek life, but there is a geek life.

While Goucher attracts students who do not mind that our school has no official fraternities or sororities, it does attract students who are ready to take advantage of all the scholastic and extracurricular opportunities this liberal arts college has to offer. In an atmosphere where the involved, committed, and driven student is the majority, we sometimes forget what we sound like when we start talking shop in public. Admittedly this is probably more of an issue for science majors, but there sometimes comes a point when it becomes difficult to turn off our academic personae. The ability to juggle these pieces of who we are, the academic, career, or goal-oriented part and the personal, private part, is a key component to Living Better. Just like eating only carrots will start to turn you a little orange, without making room in our lives for many interests we may face burn out. As the oh so quotable Ralph Waldo Emerson says in The American Scholar, "Time shall teach him, that the scholar loses no hour which the man lives." Don’t deny yourself a well-rounded existence. Often the things that Better our Lives the most find us when we aren’t even looking for them.

The "four feet on the floor" rule

During Goucher’s days as a women’s college, one of the rules meant to keep the girls in line was that when male visitors came to call, all four feet in the room were required to remain on the floor. In possibly the most literal of all the lessons Goucher’s Lore may hand to us: Keep your feet on the ground. Live in the here and now-reside in reality.

Goucher College: the love child of John Goucher and Mary Fisher

When John Goucher asked for Mary Fisher’s hand in marriage, her wealthy father feared John was using Mary for her money. To wed Mary, John had to prove he was not doing so for the cash by spending Mary’s money. John accomplished this end by putting the money towards paying for our own Goucher College. If that boy hadn’t met that girl…well, I’m sure the implications for all gathered here are obvious. Of all the different ways John Goucher and Mary Fisher could have spent their money, in 1885 they imaginatively chose to open The Women’s College of Baltimore, which eventually became Goucher College. Though John and Mary gifted Baltimore a great asset in the formation of Goucher College, it should not be overlooked that they did so to secure their union. John and Mary were able to give to the community, but they were not afraid to get something in return.

A huge component of Living Better involves service not only to others, but to the self. Let others know their value in your life, but expect to be similarly appreciated. Build moments of complete selflessness into your life, but don’t neglect to also include moments of pure selfish pleasure and luxury. Dedicate yourself to furthering charitable causes, saving the environment, or groundbreaking research, but reward your noble efforts with extra dessert, long showers, or sleeping late on the weekends. Embody the David Bowie lyric, “If she says she can do it,/She can do it!/She don’t make false claims!” Work hard at everything you do, but make sure you’re doing work you care about with people who can make you smile. Surround yourself socially with friends and family who encourage you, support you, but also rely on you; people who facilitate your Better Living, but also inspire in you the urge to support THEM in Living Better. If I could choose one of the ways Goucher has shown us to Live Better as that I consider most important, it is the lesson garnered from John Goucher and Mary Fisher.

Now, I would never presume to generalize what it means to Live Better to such a diverse student body as the Class of 2007. How could I when we are all going in such drastically different directions when we leave campus tonight? But regardless of where your lives now take you-be it getting a job, pursuing an advanced degree, travel, or just going home to sleep for a few months before tackling all that is “What next?”-I implore each and every one of you to ask yourselves what YOU need to Live Better. Examine your time at Goucher, and the importance of the lessons each piece of Goucher Lore has for you. Do the squirrels really mean a lot to you, or do you really need to focus on the “Four feet on the floor” rule? Recognizing your standards of Better Living will allow you to make more informed life decisions, which can only increase the number of positive choices you will make, which will help bring you happiness, which plays a crucial role in Living Better.

So now is the time to say “Thank You!” and “Good Bye!” to Goucher College. The hard part is over-we’ve earned our degrees! Forgive the cliché, but the world is ours for the taking. And, armed with all, that is ALL, of the lessons with which we leave Goucher, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, to prevent every one of us from Living Better.