Kate Brouns ’17 Speech
Thank you, President Wippman.
If sitting through 500 names being read aloud wasn’t enough to make you irritable, I’m now going to ask you to think about physics.
Here’s the problem we want to solve: imagine a cow standing at the top of a hill. Now, let’s say the cow begins to roll down this hill. We know the cow’s speed and its mass, and we want to calculate when that cow will reach the bottom of the hill.
This problem seems relatively straightforward, but looks can be deceiving. First, I’m not really sure how to approximate the motion of a cow rolling, I mean, look at its shape! It’s kinda lumpy, it has an udder, it has legs. And what if it’s windy outside? I’m from the Pacific Northwest, so from my experience, it’s also probably raining. We have some tough variables to deal with here, so we need to find a way to simplify it.
Now arrives the common physics joke: if we’re going to solve this problem, we have to assume this is a spherical cow in a vacuum. No legs, no wind, no rain—our unrecognizable round cow in an impossible air-resistanceless location makes our calculations much less complicated. Reality is often far too complex to take at face value, but if we make things neat and simplified, they become easily solvable! Our dear spherical cow: so symmetric, so predictable, so not lumpy.
I don’t know about you, but I live my life by the spherical cow. I became a math major for a reason—I like my problems clear and my answers solvable; I like to organize and color-code. Gimme a graph, gimme a timeline, gimme some flashcards! I stayed far, far away from history and politics courses; that’s too messy for me. There’s too many possibilities and open-ended questions. I want my questions closed! I don’t want a real cow; I want a perfect, algorithmic, solvable spherical cow.
I apply this orderly logic outside the classroom as well, and I don’t think I’m the only one who does.
When the dryer in Babbitt accepts my Hill Card, I predict that it will dry my clothes. Why then does it just sit there and eat my money?
When I try to be technologically savvy and insert a video into my PowerPoint presentation for class, I predict that it will dazzle my professor. Why then does the video not play while I stand there awkwardly in front of the class?
And this thinking, this thinking that if I do something logical and intentional, it should have logical and intentional results, this is how many of us hope that life after graduation will be. But we all know the sad reality of our situation is that spherical cows do not exist.
You find a roommate off Craigslist and they seem great when you move in, but then they never shower.
You live at home after graduation hoping to save money, but then your little brother asks you every day why you’re single.
You’re qualified for your dream job and you nail the interview, but then they don’t hire you.
How do we make sense of a world with no spherical cows? How do we make sense of life after Hamilton, when our daily challenges aren’t as straightforward as questions on an exam or navigating a dining hall?
But this is the benefit of a liberal arts education. Although abstract math and German 110 probably weren’t the most practical courses for my future, Hamilton has left us with more than the specifics in our textbooks. We leave Hamilton with the tools to navigate postgrad’s unpredictable, messy, friction-filled reality.
You have a roommate who never showers, so you use your quantitative skills to calculate air fresheners into your budget.
You live at home with your pestering little brother, so you use your oral communication skills to persuade him to mind his own business.
You aren’t hired for that job, so you use your writing skills to expertly apply for the next one that comes your way.
These are simple examples, but I hope the sentiment is clear—we have been prepared to solve unexpected problems, to communicate successfully, to lead effectively. No cow is spherical; every cow is different. Our unforeseen hurdles will arrive when we least want them to and when they logically shouldn’t, but we have these far-reaching tools at our disposal to confront these hurdles head-on. And these obstacles are truly what make life exciting. At our 10-year reunion, sure, I’d love to hear about the swift triumphs of your careers, but I’m more interested in hearing what you triumphed against, what crazy thing was thrown your way that you navigated expertly and creatively. I am eager to see what challenges we, the Class of 2017, accept and throw down at our feet in the coming years. But what about the obstacles we can’t overcome? Well, I think we’ll face those on the day that pigs fly, or more fittingly, the day that cows roll. Thank you.