Commencement 2015: Alexander Bolden’s senior address
The 2015 Senior Address at Commencement, as prepared by Alexander Bolden of Cleveland, Ohio.
Falling In Love as a Weapon against Injustice
Thank you all for coming to support your loved ones and sharing this special moment with all of us graduating today. It’s safe to say that everyone here has had an effect whether big or small on those receiving their diploma today and because of that you deserve honor too. Please give yourselves a round of applause.
Students everywhere are marching. Whether it be in the streets of Baltimore or the international recesses of Twitter; whether it be in the words we write in essays or the very act of marching across this stage.
Never forget that education in itself is a revolutionary act, and I want to begin my speech by asking you all to remember the people who aren’t able to have this moment, whether they would have walked this stage with us like Evan and John, or another stage somewhere in the world like Trayvon, Aiyanna, Mike, and 147 Kenyan students whose names, unlike our own, will not be read at a graduation.
I ask you to not commemorate them in a moment of silence but rather in action. Walk this stage for them and rejoice that much more in memory of them. Let your education be a tool of restorative justice by remembering them in the joy of this moment with a degree in one hand and a friend in another.
When is the moment you fell in love with Bates?
It is this love I want to capture, the loving atmosphere of Bates which allows for us to hold each other in moments of elation and despair. It is this love which will allow us to change the world. This love has an origin. This love that allows for students, staff, faculty, and community members to march in solidarity with the Baltimore revolution comes from a special place in this community.
It is this realization, which prompts me to ask: When is the moment you fell in love with Bates?
Unlike the experience of many of my peers, my love of Bates was not found on my AESOP trip nor did it hit me upon joining a sports team or through the family that was forged in an over-crowded Smith room. Mine is a story of gradually falling in love with Bates while overcoming an overwhelming feeling of fear.
I did not come to Bates after being intrigued by the beautiful campus, impressed by the highly respected professors, or charmed by the warm-hearted staff. I came to Bates because it made financial sense despite my desire for a large university in a big city. In fact, my mother cried on move-in day after making my bed and giving me hugs filled with simultaneous pride, excitement, and sadness because she knew that her son was alone in a place that he did not want to be.
She feared that she had sent her son to his own demise, and I feared the same. I spent my first night at Bates alone in my room in Parker overhearing others on Alumni Walk forging friendships that may have lasted to this day. I sat there and questioned my decision to come here, a question I would ask as a senior for different reasons, mostly thesis. Was Bates the right place for me?
Little did I know that the next four years would become my answer to this question as I fell in love with a community that I had denied as my own.
My claiming of this community comes in a loose construction of memories that define my experience as a Batesie. My love of Bates grew as my relationships with this community grew. I didn’t just fall in love with my fellow students but also our professors, staff, and the L-A community that surrounds us.
I found myself missing things that I had previously not even liked at Bates.
My love is borne out of transformative events as big as Professor Nero’s eye-opening “White Redemption” class which prompted me to question the media and which has been formative in my life.
Anybody who has taken a film class here at Bates knows that it not only makes you think about the past, but also stays with you into the future. I will never watch a film without questioning the implicit meanings hidden in the subtext of the cultural moment, like the grossly inaccurate casting of athletic young Black men in the 1997 film Amistad in order to make audiences comfortable by concealing the horrors of the emaciated men, women, and children who faced the middle passage in squalor.
I am sure all of us have had huge academic awakenings similar to this, but it is just as much the small moments as the big which made me fall in love with this community.
Things as small as being invited to a party in V1 by seniors in the second week of my freshman year, or professors telling me to add them on Facebook, or playing basketball with rambunctious seventh graders at Tree Street. These events, while seemingly small, were cumulatively a large factor in me falling in love with the Bates community.
These events are, in fact, an indication of the type of community we have at this school. Here at Bates there is a larger interconnectedness that transcends the divides that often fragment society. While we are far from perfect — when on campus we all learn, play, and hoard an unimaginable amount of almond cookies as one community.
And within the larger Bates community, there are pockets of solidarity and alliances that form. This makes me think there is something special about our class which defines us as slightly different. We have truly been a class in transition and experienced things that will never again happen on this campus.
For instance, we are the last class to know the true glory of Milt’s and wonder why Dean Reese is there at 1 a.m.
We are the last class to experience Throwback Night and all of its chaos. We are one of the last classes to remember that the OIE was once a house where people brought blankets and slept during finals week.
Raise your hand if you have gotten one of Vinny’s riddles right. Now raise it if you’ve gotten one wrong. How many of us have been made fun of by Dean Tannenbaum, aka Chief Keith, in the most brutal and loving way possible?
Many of us fell in love with Bates through these experiences. It is because of this love that we demanded Bates to be everything that we wanted. We became activists and allies with cars parked in front of Commons, banners hung from the third floor of P’gill, and bodies lying in front of the salad bar.
President Spencer herself has admitted that it is our class that pushes the administration to be better. I believe that this is because despite all of the change throughout this four-year transitional period the love that flourishes within the community and that exists inside of these graduation gowns never faltered, thus allowing for us to come together and demand that the love that we have for each other be reflected in the activity of the school and community at large.
We became activists and allies with cars parked in front of commons, banners hung from the third floor of P-gill, and bodies lying in front of the salad bar.
So I ask again: What is the moment you fell in love with Bates?
Was it in the omelet line? Was it in Alumni at a rowdy basketball game? Was it in a ridiculously titled Short Term class? Or a midnight run to Lewiston Variety? Or maybe it was the first time you heard your professor cuss in class.
For me the realization came while sitting in my dorm junior year. It just so happened that this dorm was a Pacific Ocean away from any of the places I just mentioned. You see, it took me going to New Zealand to realize that I had already fallen in love with Bates. I found myself missing things that I had previously not even liked at Bates — like Sunday dinners at Commons or the 1 a.m. walk from the library to P’gill.
I realized that my love for Bates had been hidden in all the things I took for granted. It became normal to complain about a 3.5-minute walk from 280 to Commons. It became normal to walk into your professor’s office unannounced to talk about a paper and what happened on the last episode of Scandal. And it became normal to see any dog and automatically pet it.
From a sparse room in New Zealand, I realized the uniqueness of my experience, and it is at that point that I realized that Bates was not only the right choice for me,but is where I belonged. I took for granted the specialness of this community and only realized it retrospectively after noticing that I had been a Batesie for three years without even knowing it.
However, it was not within this space that I realized this love. Not within this Bates bubble between Russell Street and Campus Avenue, not within the confines of Ladd, P’gill, P’grew, or Chase, and not even sandwiched in between Lewiston and Auburn. It was not within any physical space that I realized the love — it was not in any intellectual proof I could provide data for.
No, instead, it was in me and in my process of becoming a Batesie. And although today we take our quarter-million-dollar diplomas and pack them in a box next to our Bean boots and leave this place, remember it is not here that your love belongs.
Part of the Bates commitment to social justice demands that we take our love with us, out into the world. This love should travel with us in the hearts of any person who has heard the bell on Hathorn toll and realized they were late to their 8 a.m. It lies in the connections we have made with each other and the love that resounds in declaring, “I am a Batesie.”
It is out of love that we have become allies to those who are struggling and it is out of love that we stand for those who cannot stand for themselves.
It is this love which will allow us to change the world. It is out of love that our class demanded change on this campus. It is out of love that we have become allies to those who are struggling and it is out of love that we stand for those who cannot stand for themselves. If there is nothing else that I have learned from this campus it is that there are no bounds to the change a community can affect when it is grounded in love.
So in this moment I ask you to love yourself, love your friends, love your parents, love your family, love your fellow Batesie, and, most importantly, love those who are in need of love. And while, much like my experience at Bates, the loving of a community that is different from you might be hard at first, submerging yourself in their culture will provide you with moments, big and small, which over time will make you fall in love which is the only weapon we have against injustice.
I ask you one last time to recall: What was the moment you fell in love with Bates?
And I challenge you to share the love of that moment — or that process — with those who need it the most, whether that be by writing a scholarly dissertation on women’s rights, or by reassuring that little boy or girl in your City Year or Teach for America class that It Gets Better, or by organizing a rally against fracking, or simply by sharing on social media the fact that Black lives do and have always mattered.
Do it all with the same love that made you fall in love with those here next to you today. Do it with the compassion and faith that Bates has prepared you to identify, critique and create solutions to injustice. Do it by upholding yourself to the standards of a Bates College Class of 2015 graduate.