Reflections, Platitudes, and Journeys: A Belated Commencement Speech to the Class of 2017

I've always wanted to deliver a commencement speech to a bunch of fellow graduates, but have always wondered what I'd say or talk about. Now that I'm more than a month out of college, here are some genuine thoughts and nostalgic remembrances about my time at Boston University.

During senior year of college, I elected to take a freshman writing course. As one of the only two seniors in the class, I felt empowered, boasting my title as an older and in my mind, wiser, person than my peers. Yet, the advice that my writing professor bestowed on us showed me that the first twenty or so years of my life has barely scraped the surface of what’s to come.

“Commencement speeches are full of platitudes and clichés, pleasant to the ear, but completely devoid of meaning.” -William Giraldi

A quick Google search for “commencement speeches” yields thousands of results, with many articles suggesting what ideas and topics to write about and which quotes to include. More often than not, commencement speeches touch upon the same topics —continuing to dream big, learning to fail, giving back to others — the list goes on and on. Everyone has heard these lessons at one point or another, either through stories that our teachers and parents have engrained in us or through fables of the successful or the ones that failed.

It’s been more than a month since I’ve graduated, more than a month since I feel like I’ve left the bubble of safety that I know as college. Yet, as I look back on my days and nights there, the more I realize college was a social construct, prompting me to believe that all the years of achievements, test scores, and praise we received were merely fabricated to create a false sense of meaning. Equating college to success means nothing when I look back on all the all-nighters, forgone social experiences, and crippling stress. That’s not to say I’m not proud of my achievements or what I’ve accomplished in four years time — but these four years are only a tiny sliver of my life.

A photo of my graduation

Where’s Waldo?

Although I don’t miss taking finals or balancing life and school, that’s not to say college wasn’t amazing. As I sat at commencement, I asked myself, “Where did the time go?”, echoing the thoughts of the hundreds of students, parents, and professors sitting around me. Before starting college, I’d intended for these four years to be some of these best of my life, and now that it’s over, I can confidently say that in retrospect, these years will continue to remain in my memories as some of the most amazing times in my life. The strangers I can now call my friends, the once unfamiliar and frightening experiences that are now so commonplace, the plenty of freedom that I had when planning my days, weeks, and months at school — these all contribute to why I’ll miss my time at Boston University.

Yet, when I look forward at what’s to come — the friends that become strangers as distance and time come into play, the extensive list of uncertainties that lie ahead as an adult, and the worry of having to preoccupy myself during the abundance of free time I’ve have — I get anxious, worried that it’s only downhill from here. Occasionally, I’ll stay up worrying, wondering whether or not my time in college will prepare me for the real world or if it was all a sham. But this anxiety provides a bit of a solace. Although I know there will be dead ends, periods of stagnation, and moments of doubt, I’ve learned during my four years of college that happiness and sadness come in cycles and that only I have the power to influence my emotional and mental state.

As I glance into the past, I realize how unhappy I was. During tenth grade, I fell into a deep depression. Waking up and going to school felt like a repetitive task, one that I didn’t dread, but just accepted. The nature of my depression was monotonous — I invariably felt lethargic, wanting to do nothing except sleep and wallow in my sadness. Hobbies I had enjoyed lost their meaning and I became stuck in a war bunker, not wanting to leave, not wanting to stay. I became depressed because I wasn’t able to find my place in and out of school. At home, my parents constantly pushed me to go out and participate in clubs at school. At school, I felt too introverted to approach new people and wasn’t able to find my place in any cliques. Throughout the year, I felt more and more ostracized from society as I stopped participating in class and closed myself out from the few friends I had. I remember raising my hand once in English class to interpret a quotation from 1984 by George Orwell and provide my opinion, only to have my classmates and teacher completely glaze over what I said and continue their discussion as if I hadn’t spoken. At times, my depression transcended into fleeting suicidal thoughts, only to be pushed back by the expectant faces of my mother and father that flashed in my mind, urging me to push on and not disappoint them as an only child.

More than six years later, as a college graduate, I still occasionally experience twinges of the same depression that had gripped me in high school. Now, I’m better able to understand the sources of my unhappiness and deal with my emotional irregularities in a healthier way, but I occasionally get flashbacks to my period of grief in high school, worried that life won’t return to normal. However, the difference is that I‘m now more aware that life isn’t stagnant and I shouldn’t expect it to be — the situations I encounter will continue to change over time and it’s up to me to approach each one with poise and self-assurance.

The six years between then and now have allowed a lot of time for self-reflection and growth. I feel more grounded in my thoughts, beliefs, and goals. Entering college, I wanted to become a people-pleaser, one who was well liked by anyone and everyone. I wanted to show myself that by crafting myself into an artificially cordial version of me, I’d be able to connect with people who didn’t mesh with me. Slowly, anxiety and worry crept back into my life as I became honest with myself and realized that being liked wasn’t important, but figuring out what made me happy was. Now, I’ve learned to spend more time with people I enjoy, devote more time to hobbies I’ve abandoned, and focus less on the details and more on discovering what makes me happy.

To my fellow class of 2017, your future isn’t defined by who you were in high school or even college. Our iterative process of growth is similar to the molting process of a lizard’s. As lizards shed their skin to allow for further growth and to remove parasites that may have attached to their old skin, we always have the ability to let go of any weights holding us down and liberate ourselves from our fears and inhibitions. I see no limit for myself now that I’m done with college, and I’m excited to see what I can do in the years to come.

Congratulations to the class of 2017!

Graduation portrait in front of the Boston University gym