Your life is like Tetris. Stop playing it like chess.

By Jeremy Mathurin ’16

It is on this day we graduating seniors look back on our time spent at Hamilton and try to derive some lessons, some newly acquired wisdom attainable only through the all-so-powerful documents we just received. After countless hours spent in the library huddled in groups for warmth, what overarching insight could possibly encapsulate all of the time, energy and perseverance it took to get here? If I were to narrow it down to a single pithy yet profound phrase, it would be, “Our lives are like Tetris. We should stop playing it like it’s chess.”

The critical awareness we have gained throughout our time here, the “how to think” of our liberal arts education, allows us to take the experiences that life has holding behind its back and interpret them to take meaning and significance out of the frustrating and often monotonous days that lie ahead. Think about it — that’s Tetris! It’s choosing, on a fundamental level. It’s taking these random experiences as they slowly fall down the screen of life and rotating them 360 degrees; moving them two rows left and three to the right; examining them from new vantage points so as to make them fit into the grander mosaic of our lives. 

Now, I use chess as the counter example because it perfectly exemplifies our natural default setting, where our own needs and desires outweigh those of all the other people around us. Every day, day in and day out. One step closer to checkmate; one step further from failure. However, the importance of our Hamilton degrees is that of awareness, choice, discernment — the ability to reinterpret life from multiple perspectives in search of the most fulfilling, empathetic and ultimately happy placement. Tetris, not chess. If you think you’re in checkmate, you can choose to flip the table and play something else.  

But, that in itself is the tragic paradox.

If we become more and more successful, accumulating hopefully more and more capital, expectations and desires seem to rise in tandem, which yields no permanent gain in happiness. That is why it is crucial for us to keep this Tetris metaphor in the forefront of our minds as we fight in the trenches of the “real world.” We can choose to think of the entire universe as working against us, as people in our way, or we can choose to believe that everyone sitting in Commons at 9 a.m. on Sunday morning the first day of finals week is miserable, and there’s no need to yell at the guy who cut the line because it’s not going to help anything.

Regardless, the decision is just that — ours. And it’s oddly comforting that we get to choose how to view our lives; we get to evaluate our experiences; we get to make the most of our time on this “pale blue dot.” I only employ this admittedly juvenile Tetris metaphor to make absolutely clear that, in life, the only person you’re playing against is yourself. Sure, we don’t always get to choose the pieces we’re given, but we can absolutely choose what to do with them. 

Personally, I choose thanks. I choose life. I choose love. I choose serenity. I choose to forge arguments made of cast iron and then bend them to my will. I choose to paint vast murals with my pen with the page as the canvas, the audience as the backdrop, the similes as the sandy beach and the metaphors as the frothy white caps. And I choose poetry, because that’s me (oh, that kinda rhymes). For I would rather break myself up amongst my constitutional factors and make my protons and neutrons sing Rent songs like actors. I choose to cherish; cherish each boring problem set and lecture. Because knowledge is strength, and I don’t think I’m big enough yet. I choose to thank the teachers, even the ones who failed me, because accolades are forgettable, but you will never forget a supreme failing.

But you can choose for yourself. We’ve got the same embroidered degree. We can choose to be captive, or we can choose to be free. At the end of the day, I don’t really know you, and you don’t really know me. But a lifelong game of chess still seems thoroughly unrewarding.  n

Class speaker Jeremy Mathurin ’16 shared this advice with 488 fellow students-turned-alumni at Hamilton’s Commencement ceremony in May. A Posse Scholar and public policy major from Miami, Mathurin won the 2016 McKinney Prize in public speaking for seniors. He is a strategy and operations consultant for Deloitte in Washington, D.C.

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