Baccalaureate Service

Presented by Jay Surdukowski ’02, Senior Class President, on on May 26, 2002

Fellow seniors:

Senior week was our week. A definitive end to our good run of it. This class has been truly remarkable, I’ve always believed that. Ever since folks from our Frye House and Parker Hall contingents took over the student government freshman year. I knew the class of 2002 was a force to be reckoned with.

We continued to excel even to our last week on the campus. Pub-crawl was a pageant of creativity and friendship — At Muddy Waters we showed Scott and the Slum Lord that even a steep cover charge couldn’t keep us away from a good time. At the Sea Dogs game, it was one of our number, not a Bowdoin kid, who made local news by pinching the rear end of the umpire.

At the senior-faculty dinner, we learned that our class put together the second largest class gift in the College history. Gifts are still rolling in this weekend, but at this exact moment we’ve raised $16,471.46 with the help of the Harwards. And the gift we are giving is truly unique. No other class in memory has claimed a space on this campus and done something so meaningful. Our sculpture garden will be a great place for Bates students and folks from the community to gather for generations to come.

For the rest of our lives we will have this place we can return to as a class. Our Ivy Stone and memorials to Morgan, Jessie, and Merrick will be there, it will be a space of memory. The garden will be a place for quiet reflection, a place to enjoy art, a place to eat lunch, and a place to have reunions.

Bates also broke our hearts. We learned the lessons of an imperfect life.

Sadness covered the nation on the eleventh of September and it continues now as violence continues.

Realize that we are faced with a singular challenge. We have come of age, here our senior year, in a violent time, in a new violent century, where Armageddon lines have been drawn between freedom and fear, good and evil, and innocents die all around.

Eliot writes: “The communication of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.” The tragedies are beyond our understanding, but we must try to understand, we must learn the many tongues of the inferno.

It will be upon us to lead in this millennium already so sickly in its youth. How did we react this past autumn, were we critical, were we careful? What was in our hearts? During the bombs? The sweeps? The secret military tribunals?

I ask you my fellow seniors, where did you stand, where are you standing, where will you stand?

A few weeks ago I was in New York at a meeting of a human rights foundation I am active in. A reporter from the Financial Times who covers the UN and who was there at Bonn as they tinkered with Afghanistan said something about international relations that truly chilled me to the bone:

“The grown ups don’t really know what they are doing.”

When our time comes, when we are the inheritors of the mantle of leadership national and global, will we know what we are doing? How we will lead and live began here. Our lives between Russell and Central, Campus and College will color our commencement into the world.

Sadness and challenge also came to our campus, it came to our class.

We remember Morgan, Merrick and Jessie fondly. My own relation to them is caught in thin sheets of time, memories pressed like leaves or flowers in a favorite book, delicate, light, papery, weighing almost nothing, but it is the everything weight of a soul.

There you are Morgan — off campus resident sneaking into my house to do laundry. I find you on tiptoes in the kitchen and we talk about our third world class and your interest in the humanity in dry economic models, and I discover economic majors have hearts after all.

There you are Merrick, in the RA office, our student government office, feeling your way through our silly bureaucracies, all the while determined, so determined to do good by the folks in our class who you all too briefly represented. You were not in it for you, it was for all of us. I cried with a fury only once at this College and it was when you did not come back to us one Monday night.

There you are Jessie, brandishing knitting needles at meetings. Whirling in your seat and fighting for your beliefs, your friends the arts, the chem. free life, speaking with such clarity and intelligence, challenging us, all the while knitting, knitting.

What is left besides memory? A sock behind the dryer, a piece of RA legislation in a dusty binder, a well-worn copy of “Learn to Knit” sent to me that empty September, by Jessie’s mother.

But their presence is beyond objects — be it Merrick’s cards and notes, Jessie’s fantastical cloaks left to her friends in the Discordians, or Morgan’s Bobcat of the week notice.

They are in us. The glint and curve of our eyes, the way we hold our heads, the way we walk, the way we think about the rain, or driving, or early evening. They are in the way we love. Indeed we were taken in front of the horrifying cliff at life’s edge three times in three years, and shaken to the core our very being with the deadly knowledge of love. Its power, its grace, its necessity.

Bates broke our hearts and this was the price of knowledge, but at Bates we found our hearts…

In closing I’d like to share a work by a fellow poet. This is Jessie’s Valentine’s Day:

February, the heart of winter.
Darkness on the roads, in the sky,
Frozen in the ice that sheets the sidewalks,
pouring in the window behind us as we warm our hands against the TV’s glow.
How did we find ourselves alone together
on this night of wine and candlelight,
and winds gusting up to thirty miles an hour,
Feeling as unlovely as only a runny nose can make you?
It’s a desolate comfort in X-Files re-runs,
And pretty girls gliding gracefully across frosted rinks.
We cough in unison, choke down another decongestant
And wait out these long storms.
Sometimes, what is there to do but MTV and home shopping,
And the same old stories of the loves that almost were?
Sometimes it’s enough to see your own sad reflection in someone else’s life.
Twelve months later, I don’t know what you’re doing.
We pass each other with faint smiles on the street.
But it’s Valentine’s again, and this I do remember:
I gave you a paper heart.
You brought me another box of Kleenex.
And sometimes, honey, that’s all we need.

This poem captures our bond so well, our unconditional friendships. Through national and personal challenges, no matter what may come down the line, know that we are, for each other, here now, friends now, always, through almost loves, reruns, and runny noses.

Thank you.