Commencement 2014: Senior address by Collin McCullough

The 2014 Senior Address at Commencement, as prepared by Collin McCullough of Plattsburgh, N.Y.

It is an honor to address the Class of 2014 today at Commencement. It is an honor to count myself among this class’s ranks and an honor to act as one of their representatives. This is due, perhaps, to the fact that I was supposed to graduate as a member of the Bates College Class of … 2013.

To those of you wondering if Bates now offers a master’s degree — the answer is no. And to those parents who are wondering how a student who managed to fail a year of college made it behind the graduation podium, I assure you this was all by design.

This is my story, but it actually has a lot more to do with your sons and daughters.

You see, while your soon-to-be-Bobcats were searching out colleges, taking standardized tests and going through the application process, I had already begun my studies at the University of Rhode Island. It would not be long until we were on this campus together, I as a transferring sophomore and you all as incoming freshmen. And it would be soon after we arrived that I would find which Bates class I really belonged to.

At Bates, meanness will not be tolerated and arrogance will not elevate one to a higher social status.

In my experience, there are two characteristics valued at Bates that set this community apart from other college environments. These are affability and intelligence. They are passed down from class to class and this is very much a part of what makes Bates … Bates.

It is a certain agreement that we will remain inclusive and approachable as a student body, that meanness will not be tolerated and that arrogance will not elevate one to a higher social status. It comes in the form of a kind word and in the willingness to provide outreach for those in need. I have experienced this from many far-reaching corners of this group of young people, who possess the qualities of intelligence and kindness in abundance.

I have heard college described as a time to find a niche, find a fraternity, a sorority or a handful of close friends. I have never felt that limitation in my time at Bates. On any night of the week I know I can find myself with nearly any combination of these seniors, willing to discuss everything from the 1960s social movement’s effect on 1980s economics to the consequence of cell phone usage on the upcoming generation’s ability to verbally socialize.

And there is a wealth of acceptance at this school, as I would find out.

Typical Bates students are dedicated to their field of study. Talk to these seniors. Ask them about their majors. And you will find, in most cases, a near mastery of academic subjects. But if, we, as a community of students, were not actively open to new perspectives, if we reserved ourselves to narrow viewpoints from specific people, then our mission here would be undone.

It is not only our hard work and quick minds that make us respectable individuals, but also our willingness to engage and challenge each other with openness, with acceptance. And there is a wealth of acceptance at this school, as I would come to find out.

On the first day of my junior year, I went into Lane Hall and filed for a leave of absence that would span two semesters. And when the time came, I went on my own [study] abroad of sorts, spending the fall in our nation’s capital as a congressman’s intern, and the spring in the American West on a National Outdoor Leadership School semester.

During my travels I would regularly field questions about my decision and while I usually provided an answer that went something along the lines of “I’m trying to round out my resume,” the main reason I went on those adventures was so that I could find myself here, today, with the most exceptional group of people that I have ever counted myself a part of.

This last year has only strengthened my conviction that there is power in kindness and courage in community.

In the end I did sacrifice much, leadership opportunities and my reputation especially. By leaving after my junior year I forfeited nominations for captainships and managerial opportunities. And still, I stand by my decision. While those titles and honors may bolster how I look on paper, it is the depth of friendship and crucial conversations here that have given me the courage to enter the workforce as a confident and competent Bates alum.

This last year has only strengthened my conviction that there is power in kindness and courage in community. I cannot bring myself to believe that a day will come when maintaining friendship and fostering community is not one of my top priorities. It has become a large part of how I measure success.

This Class of 2014 has grown up in a distinct generation of college grads. Time and again we hear about the shrinking job market, about how traditional success will not be as easily attainable as it was for our parents. We know this. It is a huge part of how we have prepared for our lives outside of college. And yet, I do not feel nearly as daunted as I should.

This is due to my confidence in this group of intelligent and kind Batesies. Intellect and affability: To have one and not the other would be of no use. It is the combination of those two qualities, intelligence and kindness, that makes me feel assured.

The triumphs we experience, the failures we will meet, will be sweetened and softened by true friendships.

And this class will meet success in the traditional sense because of it. But before we get there, we will inevitably need to scrape by on the entry-level opportunities made available to us.

And yet, there is no need to navigate the inaugural corridors of American adulthood alone. There is no need to return to an empty apartment every night or to bury ourselves in the obsession of our work. The triumphs we experience, the failures we will meet, these will be sweetened and softened by true friendships.

I have learned much at Bates. This institution has enhanced my ability to think critically and to hold fast to my opinions, it has taught me confidence and communication — but from the students in the class of 2014, I have learned the value of something I prize above all else. And that is the power of a simple hello or a selfless extension of kindness.

Thank you, Class of 2014, for accepting me into your year. It has truly been an honor.