2012 Commencement Student Address
“It Was a Glorious Experience.”
by Nolan Doyle ’12
May 27, 2012
“I don’t have one minute’s regret. It was a glorious experience.”
Thank you for the introduction, Dr. Curtis. My role as president of Deerfield’s own “Chick Flick Appreciation Club” didn’t make the final cut on my college application so I suppose it was appropriate to leave it out of the introduction today.
Thank you all for coming out today to celebrate our graduation, the Class of 2012. To fill you in on why this is such a beautiful ceremony: over the course of the past few months, our class, like the classes before us, has engaged in a series of pranks with a purpose. We all snuck out of the dorm, citing curfew as more of a “suggestion” than a hard and fast rule; we held hostage all of the school’s backpacks and made the boys and girls fight for them a la the Hunger Games after lunch one day; and we stole all of the utensils from the dining hall before a sit-down dinner, among others. The purpose is to ensure that the faculty and our fellow students will be happy, rather than sad, to see us leave. So, 2013, if you want a beautiful and successful commencement day–I’d recommend scheming up some pranks, or else people will be sad to see you go.
So, when I heard that I would be delivering the commencement address a few months ago–I did not take this task lightly. First, I watched a few youtubes for inspiration. In the process; I saw Stephen Colbert’s address at Northwestern, Steve Jobs address at Stanford and Conan O’brien’s address at Dartmouth; among others. Of those addresses, the one that really stuck with me and I think will be relatable for you all as well–was conan’s. So, taking Mr. O’Brien’s lead–I let the idea of a commencement address (without an actual one in mind) simmer for a few months. Until last night, when I returned from the Senior Cry, cracked open a Red Bull and my now 4-year old International Business Machine to begin.
Now, I’d like to address the elephant in the room. That I’ve been selected as your VALEDICTORIAN. Bear with me, for a moment, as this deserves an explanation. The valedictorian is the academic title conferred upon the student who delivers the farewell address at the commencement ceremony. Usually, the valedictorian is the highest ranked student. That aspect has never been more flagrantly violated in human history than today. I, who was once called, and I quote: “A waste of my parents’ money and of human cells.” By Mr. Silipo, after cutting his class three times in a row freshman year. I, who was mere points away from not being permitted to walk, much less speak at, this graduation. It would have been alright, though, I had been in touch with IT about Skyping in my graduation address–to which they said: “No, you cannot have chatroulette open in another window, the camera on your computer doesn’t work that way.” To which I naturally replied, “Oh, it works that way.” Today, the word valedictorian can only be used in the traditional Latin sense of “to say farewell.” I am here to do just that, to bid that all of you–class of 2012–fare well at the next station in your life’s journey and that you–underclassmen and women–fare well at this one.
I promise this is the final portion of the disclaimer: My time in philosophy class always flew by, the class would seem to be over in seconds rather than minutes. I was engaged and interested. My time in chemistry also flew by, the class would seem to be over moments after I arrived–I suppose it was because I was sleeping. In any event, I hope these next few minutes are, for you all, like my philosophy classes were for me. If they aren’t, then I hope they’re at least as restful as my Chemistry classes. Either way, I hope this feels brief.
I’d like to use this time to recount a dark hour of mine. Not my “darkest hour” which, as many of you may know, took place my Freshman year in the old Greer in my smelly greens and greys on a Friday night. This dark hour was a deep and inexplicable depression into which I fell this winter term. I don’t know why or how it happened. Some have suggested it was “inner Nolan”, in other words my subconscious sneaking out, depressed that he’d been repressed and scrubbed away with so many showers since Freshman year. Some say it was an existential angst, as I was studying Friedrich Nietzsche at the time. Still others suggest that it was not that I was reading Nietzsche, but rather, living Nietzsche. For those of you who may not know Mr. Nietzsche’s life story–he was celibate for the lion’s share of it. In any event, in my want to learn about why I was feeling this way I fell into an even darker place–I began watching TED talks, an educational series of speakers, excessively. Most compelling to me at the time was the series on happiness, particularly Harvard professor Dan Gilbert’s “Why are we happy?” There are two worthwhile quotes from this examination of happiness which I’d like to share with you today. The first one, I already have. At the start of the speech, I said: “I don’t have one minute’s regret. It was a glorious experience.” And I meant it. But, actually, the quote is from a man named Moreese Bickham. Mr. Bickham was wrongfully imprisoned for 37 years and exonerated at the age of 78, the preceding quote is what he had to say about his time in prison. Now, here are two things that I don’t mean to say–that Deerfield is like a prison–though I expect that would excite a rise out of some of you, or that you all should go out and get arrested (I’m looking at you, Class of 2012: stay safe). What I mean to say, and the next quote will explain this well, is to have less confidence in your predictions about tomorrow and more confidence in your ability to make the best of whatever tomorrow may bring. We, humanly, have an incredible mental capacity to create synthetic happiness. With that ability, it is necessary that you know–come what may tomorrow, I’ll be able to handle it. For example, if after four years of Deerfield–Ian Ardrey said, last night: “I don’t regret a single minute.” And Mr. Bickham said the same thing, after 37 years of federal prison. Obviously, Ian has it slightly better–but Mr. Bickham synthesized happiness and created an experience. Adam Smith articulated this well, when he wrote: “the great source of both the misery and disorders of human life seems to arise from over-rating the difference between one permanent situation and another…” This one is particularly important at this point in our lives, as we’ve just undergone all of the misery and disorders that come with selecting a college. Good luck to the Juniors, by the way. Mr. Smith would laugh at the way which we approach it. In the end, the difference would not be that great whether we went to college A or college B, yet we make our best efforts to convince ourselves through rankings and all the rest that one is a “dream” school and the other a “safety”. What I say, in joining Mr.’s Smith and Gilbert, is, in the future, to be more humble in your ability to predict how much you’ll like a college, a job or living in a parent’s basement and to be more brave in your ability to make it, like you made Deerfield, a glorious experience. Be more humble and be more brave.
My final message will be to the underclassmen, whom I envy, for they have hundreds of Deerfield days ahead of them. My advice to you all will be a re-iteration of the beautiful poem called “The Station”, by Robert J. Hastings, which Charles Jones read at Baccalaureate, one week ago. To briefly explain the work, the poem examines you as a passenger on a train–seeking a destination, at which point you think everything will be alright. The passenger seeks college, a promotion and retirement among other things. To quote from the poem: “gently close the door on yesterday and throw the key away. It isn’t the burdens of today that drive men mad, but rather regret over yesterday and the fear of tomorrow. Regret and fear are twin thieves who would rob us of today.” So, do not waste the short time you have here in regret. There are two basic types of regret–regret of action and regret of inaction. Never regret an action, but learn from each one going forward. Never regret inaction, for it is an endless cycle that is difficult to break. Do not squander your time thinking of tomorrow, either, is the best advice I could leave you with. Live the short time you are here, with your classmates, friends and teachers do not think about the next station (college), for when you arrive–you will realize all the beautiful scenery you missed along the way. Enjoy the Pocumtuck Valley while you have it–it is yours for the next few years. Arden Arnold mentioned last night at the Senior Cry that the sunrise at the rock might be the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen. Hike to the rock and splash in the river.
So, seniors, join me in humility and confidence as we arrive at the next station.
Underclassmen–you must live and love Deerfield as you go along. The station will come soon enough.