Today is the crowning achievement of a successful and pivotal time in our young lives. Despite time-honored quips about the ephemeral nature of this ceremony, I urge you to dispel any feelings of cynicism. It has been such a pleasure getting to know you. Goucher's community is a place where relationships matter not just between students but between faculty and staff as well. Today is truly a day to remember with fondness. I offer my most sincere expressions of happiness to you all.
And yet, there is no denying that the future is uncertain. Whether you will be finding a job, discovering a new home, traveling, or going back to school, there is an element to the next chapter that will always remain unwritten. A vast gulf of life separates us from our eventual goals.
Perhaps this is frightening, perhaps not. Regardless, there is the immediate present with which to contend. Where will I be next year? The year after? The year after that? For some, this is an easy question to answer, and for others it presents more of a challenge. However, for all of us, there is the deeper, lurking question of the unforeseeable distant future: the fear, as Dante expressed, that we might, midway through the journey of our lives, awaken to find ourselves in a dark forest.
As we leave the halcyon period of college and arrive into the hopeful days of young adulthood, how may we safeguard ourselves from our own dark forests? What is there to ensure we lead happy, productive lives, free from disillusionment and self-doubt? Truth be told, there isn't anything that can completely dispel misfortune, but I think that's ok. We develop as humans by embracing the uncertainty of the dark forest, and braving the passage through it. As the proverb goes, it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive. However, traveling hopefully requires us to see the passage of time in a certain light. I believe that the success of our future is contingent upon the foundation of our present and likewise our past. We have the ability to not let our past dictate our future but we must be ever mindful of the fact that our present quickly becomes the past and the past becomes history.
I encourage you to take a moment to step back and notice the general feeling of this day, knowing that it will soon become memory. That's what this ceremony is: a marking of the time, a milestone that provides something concrete to differentiate between what's here now and what will become our own histories.
Aldous Huxley once wrote that
"The charm of history and its enigmatic lesson consist in the fact that, from age to age, nothing changes and yet everything is completely different."
I believe that the paradox of Huxley's words offers an important lesson. Ours will be an experience of both continuity and disruption. A passenger on a train can remain perfectly still but simultaneously travel hundreds of miles. Infinite, sometimes imperceptible, layers of your personality will be reinvented in the forthcoming decades, until you find yourself at a foreign station stop having scarcely moved from your window seat. The person in the photographs you take today will be fundamentally the same person many years from now, but also completely different.
I have a photograph of my great-grandmother taken when she was roughly the same age as I am now. She is wearing a white dress 100 years out of style, her hair is pulled back into a bun and she has the hands of a woman who grew up on a farm where survival was contingent on hard physical labor. This is the woman I see in the photograph, although she later became a nurse, the wife of a dairy farmer, and mother of six. She is very different than me, and yet, in her eyes there is a sense of familiarity. Though we never met, it seems as if I have known her my whole life. Were it not for the anachronism of her dress, it seems as if she could be standing here today. There is a human element that somehow connects us despite gaps in time. If we have the same eyes, I can't help but wonder how many of her thoughts are my own.
I encourage all of you to trace the past, with either a family member, or a figure that you admire greatly. Compare the similarities and differences. In times of uncertainly, it is tremendously reassuring to remember that countless others have tread where you have tread. They have overcome adversity and triumphed under circumstances of similar or greater difficulty. We are the latest in a line of Goucher students who have achieved great successes in our endeavors. These include Olive Dennis, the first female member of the American Railway Engineering Association, Sarah Hughes, the federal judge who swore in Lyndon Johnson after the Kennedy assassination, and Mildred Dunnock, an academy award nominated actor who's work earned her a star on Hollywood's walk of fame. Whether or not we are conscious of it, we will carry their strength with us always. Their success is our success, and the similarities between our time and the past should be a driving force for comfort.
As we live and adapt in a rapidly moving world, our time at Goucher binds us together. While I cannot predict the future, I can say with great confidence that one thing is certain: we are not alone. Even if, after today, you never see someone from this class again, you are still part of a collective experience that will never cease to exist. This is the continuity with which to ground our uncertain future: beyond the fact that our diplomas are from the same institution, there is a deeper meaning to the time we shared at Goucher, a special, intangible, link that can only be shared by us. It will stand by your side as you travel hopefully.I wish you all the best of luck. I hope that, in the future, when you look upon a photograph from Goucher, you see a piece of yourself, always.