Jason Hirschhorn '03
President Hansen, members of the faculty and staff, honored guests, families and friends, good afternoon. Today, I want to talk about flying kites. This idea first came to me when I was in Florida over April break with some friends from Bates. I saw a young boy on the beach trying to fly his kite. The boy was trying hard to get his yellow and blue kite up into the sky. It wasn’t working. Finally, his father came over and helped him, and together, running with the kite and letting more and more of the line out into the wind the kite began to rise into the blue air above the sea. In thinking about what I wanted to say today, this image has remained. Kite flying seems to me a beautiful metaphor both for our experiences at Bates and for our lives after tomorrow, too.
In our time here, some of us have found the kites we would like to fly for the rest of our lives, while some of us are still searching for our passions, but Bates has helped us begin to learn how to build that elusive, perfect kite, to find that balance between the heaviness of necessity and the airiness of dreams. This balance is what I hope our work has been here at Bates and what it can be in our time after Bates. The great Irish poet, Seamus Heaney wrote, “To work…is to move a certain mass through a certain distance, is to pull your weight and feel exact and equal to it. Feel dragged upon. And buoyant.” For the past four years, we have been pulling our weight, trying to feel exact and equal to it. We have felt the tug and the drag and the buoyancy of good work.
Bates has helped us build our kites, but hasn’t told us how long the string attached to them should be, so some of us have flown higher and farther than we ever imagined we could. But like that young boy on the Florida beach, our kites have not risen skyward without the help of others. A dedicated and brilliant faculty, an involved staff, a supportive administration and not least of all, family and friends, has helped us find our kites and get them off the ground. But make no mistake, the direction of our kites, of our lives, will be dependent on our own steering. Listen again to Seamus Heaney. This is a poem he wrote for his two sons,
“A Kite For Michael and Christopher.”
All through that Sunday afternoon
a kite flew above Sunday,
a tightened drumhead, an armful of blown chaff.
I’d seen it grey and slippy in the making,
I’d tapped it when it dried out white and stiff,
I’d tied the bows of newspaper
along its six-foot tail.
But now it was far up like a small black lark
and now it dragged as if the bellied string
were a wet rope hauled upon
to lift a shoal.
My friend says that the human soul
is about the weight of a snipe,
yet the soul at anchor there,
the string that sags and ascends,
weigh like a furrow assumed into the heavens.
Before the kite plunges down into the wood
and this line goes useless
take in your two hands, boys, and feel
the strumming, rooted, long-tailed pull of grief.
You were born fit for it.
Stand in here in front of me
and take the strain.
Leaving Bates, we begin to take the strain of our own lives, to grasp our own experience. Anyone who has ever flown a kite knows that it involves a rush of freedom. We have felt that rush at Bates – the freedom to be whom we choose, to ask questions of ourselves and our world and to be questioned back. But kite-flying also involves a certain amount of nervous apprehension: Will it get up in the air? Will the kite lose its anchor with a sudden unexpected gust?
Some of the choices that await us after tomorrow will be directly related to the fact that we are well educated. With that education comes real responsibility. Will the choices we make reflect the ideals we have tried to cultivate here? Will we take responsibility for our decisions, accepting their impact not only on ourselves, but on others and the environment, too? Winston Churchill said “Kites rise highest against the wind—not with it.” Will ours?
In the years ahead, whether we are working on a friendship or starting a company, working to raise children or working to reform a system, we will be working against the wind as often as with it. And when that wind is blowing hard, the real value of our education will be revealed. Will we discover that it has made us not only smart but good? Will we discover that it has made us not only people of confidence, but also people of hope? The poet President of Czechoslovakia, Vaclav Havel, has told us that “hope is different from optimism. It is a state of the soul rather than a response to the evidence. It is not the expectation that things will turn out successfully, but the conviction that something is worth working for, however it turns out.” May we be that vision of hope. As Patrick Kavanagh puts it, “We are in the midst of continuing life. The fair is alive with tomorrows.” So fellow seniors, let tomorrow come. Our world needs us and we’re ready.
A final few lines now of Seamus Heaney’s to send us on our way.
Now it’s high watermark
And floodtide in the heart
And time to go.
The sea-nymphs in the spray
Will be the chorus now.
What’s left to say?
Suspect too much sweet talk
But never close your mind.
It was a fortunate wind
That blew me here. I leave
Half-ready to believe
That a crippled trust might walk
And the half-true rhyme is love.
Godspeed, fellow classmates. May we move forward and backward on the road ahead with a sense of curiosity about our lives, may we discover that we can make this world a better place, and may we circle back often to this place of the possible. Let your lives soar. I’ll have my eyes on the horizon for our kites. I look forward to seeing us everywhere. Thank you.