John F. Phelan
It is a true honor and a privilege to be able to stand before you one last time and reflect on our past four years here at Bates, but forgive me if I seem terrified, because I am. Having to address such a large crowd really makes one appreciate the cozy academic environment of a class with 10 or 12 students, because even if you mess up you can pretend it never happened and actually get away with it. My last course here at Bates was devoted to reading Franz Kafka, and my time abroad was spent in Prague, so perhaps it is not a coincidence that my thoughts immediately focused on the theme of metamorphosis when trying to come up with a meaningful topic for this speech. I originally wanted to dress up as a bug but the College didn’t seem to share my enthusiasm for that idea (although Professor Sweet would have been thrilled, he might even have tried to throw apples at me). But in all honesty, change is a defining element of a Bates education. The word metamorphosis implies more than change, however. It is a complete breakdown and reconstruction, not just in external appearance, but in the aspects of our personality and thought process which combine to form our very identity. Bates has completely changed the manner in which I interpret events and formulate judgments and actions, and I have a strong suspicion many of my classmates feel the same way. Thanks in large part to acute relationships with the professors, administrators, and staff of this college who take emotional stakes in our performance, as well as the exposure to the many differing viewpoints of my peers, I now feel a little more confident in my ability to critically assess my surrounding environment.
One of the primary tasks of this address is to attempt to convey to all of you our perceptions of this class’s identity. When the group of students responsible for contributing to this ceremony first met, we realized how difficult it was to assign a label to our many personalities, all of which combine to make this campus the lively place that it is. Bates attracts and promotes independent thinkers, and identity assumes homogeneity. Yet there are common threads which run through us all, and we chose to elaborate upon the passionate nature of this class. Luckily for us, passion is in no short supply at Bates. Passion for work, for play, for our friends, families, and communities. Passion for ourselves, for life, for knowledge. It is the task of the admissions office to scour the world in search of applicants who possess this quality. It is the task of all who belong to the Bates community to foster and develop this passion. But it is ultimately up to us to determine what we are truly passionate about, what activities or pursuits will guide our remaining time on this earth and allow us to live free, happy, and fulfilling lives. Some were lucky enough to enter their first year dorms in confident knowledge of their passion, some are just passionate about everything. But for many, it took a metamorphosis which only a school such as Bates can offer to initiate our unique journeys of self exploration. Within these building walls, under this canopy, on these roads and fields and mountains, in cities and landscapes all over the world, we have spent four years in pursuit of a goal too abstract for my words to do justice. We may not have found it yet, but at least we are all looking.
In closing, I would like to offer one word of advice imparted to me 4 years ago when I was faced with a similar transition: “Live life to its fullest, but whether by cell, e-mail, pigeon or parrot, don’t forget to call home.” When all else fails, we can always be passionate about friends and family. Good luck, graduates, and try not to change too much out there.