Greetings students, honored guests, faculty, staff, friends, and family. It is an honor to stand before you to share a few words on such a special day. I am humbled by this award and thank you for having me here.
Today I’d like to address something that most people in this room have been thinking about a lot this year, as the Class of 2014 looks ahead to “the real world”: Goals and Expectations. In the 2005 film Dodgeball, when asked if he has any goals in life, Peter LaFleur, owner of Average Joe’s Gym, says, “I found that if you have a goal, that you might not reach it. But if you don't have one, then you are never disappointed. And I gotta tell ya... it feels phenomenal.” I do realize that in this movie there is a fictional country called Romanovia, where local power plants field their own dodgeball teams, so I concede that not everything about it can help us understand real life situations. But Peter LaFleur’s quote has always struck a chord with me. I have realized that it speaks to an important part of human nature around goal setting. Nobody likes to fail, or at least nobody I have every met. It doesn’t feel good to fail because we always want to impress, to show our best skills at all times, and to be proud of everything that we do.
Not setting goals means suffering fewer disappointments, but, it also almost certainly means that you will underachieve. For example, if you had not set a goal for yourself to earn an undergraduate degree from a top college so that you could push your limits mentally, physically, or both, then you would not be sitting in front of me today. We could all have taken the “easy way out,” and gone to a different school with easier classes, and professors who would not have cared enough about our education and development to challenge us so much in their classes. But instead we took a risk and applied to Hamilton. We were accepted because something made each of us stand out to the Admissions office enough that they dared to put their faith in our success. And we have developed close and everlasting bonds with students, faculty, administrators, coaches, and other members of the Hamilton community because we have put passion and dedication into our work.
Taking calculated risks is part of life, and there is bound to be some failure. But when we learn from these mistakes, what follows? Success! We all have cultivated skills and stood up for our beliefs in ways that we did not even know we could when we stepped onto this campus four years ago. Our Hamilton experience has given us the tools to succeed, and we have been surrounded by people who were there to push us in the right direction.
Then it was up to us to put our passion together with their guidance and make something of ourselves. In our midst we have politicians, artists, scientists, doctors, lawyers, teachers, a future Oprah, and many more amazing individuals including maybe even a few Olympic curling hopefuls. We are all unique. And I love that. You cannot find a cookie-cutter in the shape of a Hamilton student, and that is something to be proud of. We have set goals and expectations, succeeded, and not taken “no” for an answer, so that we could get ourselves to the level of intellectual, interpersonal, and physical skill that we are all at now. I can’t think of anywhere or anyone with whom I would have rather spent the past four years.
One of my favorite sayings throughout college has been “It’s all about expectations.” I can actually remember the moment freshman year when my dad said those words to me and I really heard them for the first time. Since then, on innumerable occasions I have taken a step back and assessed my expectations. Try it sometime and you’ll realize the incredible effect that expectations can have on any experience. Here are three hopeful expectations I have for myself, our class, and for our generation.
First, I expect that we will care. Once every month, every week, or even every day, try to care about one person or thing that you have never cared about before, either because of lack of awareness or specific choice not to care.
Second, I expect that we will surround ourselves with good people. Hamilton does a nice thing for us by hiring great faculty and staff, choosing outstanding students, and engaging us all in an effort to create one huge community on top of the Hill. Now it will be up to us to find the same quality in our friends and mentors off the Hill.
Third, I expect that we will be passionate. I have said many times to people who have passions that I do not share, that “I am so happy they like what they do because it is something wonderful and productive, and because I could not picture myself doing it for a single day.” If we take those passions and run with them, whether in an academic setting or not, we will enrich our communities and our lives.
So care about something, surround yourself with good people, and follow your passion, whatever it may be and wherever it may lead. Also, take pride in who you are as individuals and how you have contributed to Hamilton College. We are the Class of 2014. Congratulations!