Eduardo Crespo ’04
President Hansen, members of the administration, members of the faculty, trustees, parents, families, dear friends, and members of the Class of 2004, I am honored to address you as this year’s Class President.
When our Class chose “roots” as a focal theme of this ceremony, I started to think about my home in Ecuador, and I started to think of the relationship of roots to the things they nourish. When you compare the beautiful spring leaves on a tree to its roots, the root – at first glance – may not seem the most beautiful representation of the tree. A root is raw and immersed in soil. Yet, roots carry a symbolic value that can overwhelm our traditional notions of beauty. Marge Piercy’s poem “The Seven of Pentacles” speaks of the true beauty of roots:
“Connections are made slowly,” she writes.
“Sometimes they grow underground.
You cannot always tell by looking what is happening.
More than half the tree is spread out in the soil under your feet”
But sometimes, roots can grow on top of the soil and the connections are in plain sight. Sometimes, roots are visible. And, it happens that the very few trees in the world that boast these roots atop the ground are found in the region of the world from which I come. Those roots provide shelter, protection, and above all, nurturance to a variety of ecosystems and cultures.
Picturing these grand trees is not an easy task. So, I would like to take you on a brief journey to an isolated place in the world and in my homeland: the Ecuadorian Rainforest. Taking you on this imaginary journey has a definite purpose. It’s not about bringing us closer to a place with slightly friendlier weather than Maine. Believe me, I do treasure the memories of those grueling winter nights in which the thermometer hit – 18. Why then, you may wonder, leave this special moment and travel in imagination to a place so different from this place?
Because I think the Amazons can give us a greater perspective on our Bates education, which has helped to make us citizens of the world. And I think that the world of which we are citizens is quite similar in some ways to the Amazons: infinitely beautiful yet full of suffering [pause] and teeming with unanswered questions. The world of which we are citizens is in dire need of explorers who are curious, educated and – above all – sensitive to its imperfections, its pain, and its possibilities.
When describing the Amazon’s beauty, no one is labeled a romantic or an idealist: the place is outstanding. In the rainforest, nature’s sounds are intense, a sense of solitude is always present, and the air feels vast. No matter how local you are to this place, everything can seem foreign in the Amazon: strong sunrays grow dim before touching the ground, since their entry is blocked almost entirely by a glittering green blanket of leaves overhead. You find yourself surrounded by impossibly tall, ancient trees, by species of every sort, and by the peoples who have made their home in the rainforest for centuries. The deeper one walks into the jungle, the more intense the sounds of nature become and so do its secrets, beauties, and dangers. This palpable sense of mystery and uncertainty is one of the most compelling features of the landscape.
When I was a child, I had an unforgettable taste of this mystery. I accompanied a group of people that was being led through the muddy paths in the rainforest by an indigenous guide, a leader of the Shuar people. His deep reverence for this place was as visible as the huge roots all around us. At one point in our walk, we came to a halt, and utter silence fell over the group. We stopped, paused, and listened; and I found myself standing in awe under a tree’s roots. Those roots extended a few feet above the ground. It seemed as if this collosal tree was suspended in air, flying overhead and flaunting its greatness in this secluded area in the jungle. Its roots were complexly interwoven and thick, and widely spread. After a few minutes of silence and admiration, our guide said only a few words in Spanish, “Estas raízes son parte nuestra, y han sido nuestra cobija”… “These roots are part of us, and they have been our shelter”.
Now, I know, we are a long way from the Amazon, and most of us have never known the fierce struggle for life of the peoples who have always found their shelter there – the struggle for bodily, cultural, and ecological survival that is generated in large measure by our practices and policies in this hemisphere. So when I recall this man’s words in our context, I mean no disrespect to his. But the poetry and truth of his words have stayed with me all these years, and I found myself thinking of them as we approached this day. Looking around today and seeing all the visible connections we have made with each other and this place, I want to say, “Estas raízes son parte nuestra, y han sido nuestra cobija”… “These roots are part of us, and they have been our shelter”.
Bates is one of those colossal, visible roots upon which all of us have stumbled as explorers. Explorers who sought to engage new places and new ideas, explorers who had to overcome many obstacles. Together, have made our way through times when the world dealt with (and continues to confront) grave questions of terrorism and violence, shifting global identities, and pressing environmental concerns. And we did this – I like to think – with poise and determination. As we coped with changing lifestyles and grueling schedules, one thing stands out the most today: we share a passion for and connection with this place. Because at Bates, after having explored some muddy and challenging paths, we have had the privilege of receiving an excellent education. We have gained the tools to channel our curiosities, the capacity to know we shall not pale in front of any challenges or uncertainty, and the insatiable need to ask questions that will require complex answers.
But one thing does strikes me about Bates the most, which should not be confused: Bates did not shelter me. Bates did not shelter any of us. If anything, Bates gave us the greater capacity to question, to become less sheltered than we were before. If anything, Bates has revamped those shelters, the comfortable values we held. We have been challenged now, and our shelters, have, we hope, changed. Education “liberates precisely because it insists that we” become accountable to ourselves and to others, that we become “authors, creators of whatever order and sense our world can have.” (Bakhtin 1984: 348)
Describing Bates’ beauty and excellence, no one can be labeled a romantic or an idealist because this place and the education we received here are outstanding. And today, that could not be any more visible. The values that Bates instilled in us are the great roots that will forever ground each of us and intertwine all of us: egalitarianism, academic rigor, intellectual excellence, and social engagement for the common good.
But we must remember that individual freedoms, education, egalitarianism and social equity have no conscience of their own. Whether or not our Bates education becomes a force for that common good depends only on us.
So, I ask you to pause. Pause, stop and listen to the sounds of Bates. Listen to the heartbeat of those with us today: let the struggles and victories and the mysteries of the past four years surround you. [Pause] And in this silence, there is no other recourse today but to honor this place and the people of this place, and to offer thanks for all the opportunities that Bates has provided us. “Estas raízes son parte nuestra, y han sido nuestra cobija. “