Student Speech by Lauren Allison Curatolo '06



Commencement, May 28, 2006

Hello. Good morning and welcome, Class of 2006.

I'll be honest, I am quite nervous - but perhaps not as nervous as President Liebowitz and the rest of the administration. I wish I could have been in Old Chapel when they announced that the raging feminist on campus would be delivering the commencement speech.

I love microphones - what can I say?

But not to worry, I won't be talking about blue lights, diversity, misogamy, patriarchy. Chellis House renovations - perhaps.

Class of 2006, we are here today to receive a symbol of our achievement and success. All of us have chosen to define success consistent with our own personal wants, needs and desires. We are here today for that one thing that will tell us we did, however we chose to do it.

We are here today, Class of 2006, for the cane. It's true. Who here doesn't remember the speech delivered to us during convocation freshman year? We all sat in Mead Chapel as a replica of Gamaliel Painter's Cane was passed around, and those of us fortunate enough held it for one brief, ethereal moment. At that moment, we knew that we were holding a symbol of the patriarch - oh! I'm sorry! That was not supposed to be there. Excuse me. That was a typo. That was a typo, really! - we were holding our honor and our dream.

Yes, I'm quite funny.

And in many ways, we were also holding a foreshadowing of events, because not only is this cane a symbol of the aforementioned, but it is also one day going to be of use to most of us... Thank you, Middlebury College, for reminding us that our youth is fleeting.

I'm just on a roll!

Henry David Thoreau aptly stated, "Things do not change. We change." Our canes will not change, only we will. And, as we grow older and wiser, our cherished memories of our special days spent at Middlebury College will follow us forever.

Enjoy the ride. Watch out for the bumps. But remember to stop along the way and enjoy the scenery. Never let anyone tell you that youth is wasted on the young. Instead, embrace your youthful abandon.

Until this day, and possibly forever, Middlebury College will be our journey's foremost stop. We will each be handed the cane, which we have transformed into our own unique individual symbol. We shaped and molded this seemingly inflexible ordinary and wooden object into one that now has the identity of its holder. The canes may all look the same, yet within each one lies your unique vitality, your aspirations and your future. Don't ever forget the importance of the cane, and let it forever be a remainder to you of your ability to affect positive change in this world and, most importantly, in yourself.

I am sure that few moments in life could ever feel as fulfilling, and, at the same time, as totally surreal as this one. This one special moment in time has created an atmosphere wherein all of our Middlebury memories flash before us.

I remember driving up to campus freshman year - passing by groups of runners, of course - getting out of the car, looking about and thinking, wow, this is really quiet. My first McCullough party brought about different thoughts entirely. This was going to be a very long four years.

My first class was an intro class in biology, and as the syllabi circulated around the room, I began to think to myself, are the next four years really going to be for my benefit, or am I unknowingly participating in a college-wide experiment sponsored by the science department on Darwin's theory of survival of the fittest?

You have survived the quiet, the McCullough parties, the syllabi and, perhaps, for some of you, public safety. We've endured intense moments together. We've mourned the loss of the blessed PIN bill. Some of us will forever call our haven down the hill "Baba's," despite the many name changes over the past four years. We managed to deal with the system administrator and the constant reminders of all of our e-mails, and, if you're here today, I'd like to speak to you after graduation.

We've endured intense moments together, the commons system debates, the diversity debates. We've seen blue lights go up - oh, blue lights! - Starr Library and the Shag Room close down. What a shame. We've felt the effects of the new alcohol policy and wondered if it actually worked, felt the pain of not making the party list - I'm not bitter. Really. We've spent countless hours on the phone with ITS, and we watched the on-line face book redefine social interaction, dating, and perhaps you've even been poked - probably by me.

Recently, there have been many articles in The Campus debating whether or not we're an apathetic group of individuals. Regardless of what people have written, myself included, I am certain that all of us have left an indelible mark on this campus and on the lives of those who have chosen to teach, mentor and guide us over the last four years. With one another, we have shared the past, and I know that we share a bright future.

T.S. Eliot wrote, "In my end is my beginning." And so here we are on the brink of yet another beginning. Which path will we choose? Will we dwell on the fact that "Graduates are required to move out of their dormitory rooms no later than 11:00 p.m. on commencement day," or will we celebrate the fact that when we depart here tonight our hearts and minds will forever become part of this campus' history?

Realize your power and know how intrinsic you are to the whole of this world. My last J Term class reinforced these concepts for me. I decided to take a dance class entitled "Mapping Twom," which featured contact improvisation. I knew only a few others in the class, and for those of you who know me, my dance skills are, at best, limited. Modern dance seemed to be a fun option. I assumed that looks were irrelevant, and, subjectively, I could construe this as art. Of course, I was proved completely wrong.

This was perhaps one of the most challenging classes I had at Middlebury. I recognized the challenge and knew that I, and others in the class, would have to recreate parts of our minds and bodies in order to achieve levels never reached before. Needless to say, we succeeded together.

One class focused on listening to the sounds of our bodies. We were instructed to walk around the room for a few moments, and when we found ourselves in front of someone else, we had to stop and begin touching this person.

When I became the recipient of this otherwise intimate interaction, my whole demeanor changed. I had to overcome my own insecurities, and so I did. It was truly a special moment. Men and women touching. Men and men touching. Women and women touching. It was the creation of the post-structuralist world I had only read about in my women's and genders' class - and that is a major, really, even though I'm the only one graduating from that department. It was physical interaction sans the fear of "What does this mean?"

Why am I sharing this with all of you? We must realize the ways in which we are all connected. One of my wonderful friends always comments that we are part of the whole. She's a philosophy major, so I expect these things once in a while. I've always felt that we are connected, that our actions will always affect the lives of others. Once I took this class, listened to my friend and listened to the bodies of others, these feelings became further amplified.

We must not be pedestrian with our thoughts. We have a responsibility to think both locally and globally consciously. We are a privileged few, and we have an obligation to share our knowledge and our spirit with our global community. Our education has been empowering, to say the very least, and I stand here, confident with the words I believe, that you will each let the world change you. And you, in turn, will change the world. Whether it has taken four years or more, for those of you have chosen "professional student" as your major, you have had the opportunity to create and to mold to your specifications the unique individual that sits in this audience today.

Try not to be disappointed if you leave here and have not yet fully discovered yourself. It is a task you will hopefully never complete, and one that will forever challenge you. Revelations will always abound. Make sure that you're conscious to recognize them.

Rilke once wrote in "Letters to a Young Poet," "You are so young. So much before all beginning." And I would like to beg of you as well as I can to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart, and to try and love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now and perhaps then, some day far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

The journey towards self-discovery is in living life itself, embracing that which you do not completely understand. I urge you, Class of 2006, maintain your strength as you continue to change, and be prepared. You may wake up one day and find yourself as the giant bug described in Kafka's "Metamorphosis."

Embrace the journey. Stay true to your resolve. Search your inner being and cling to your corporal being. Persevere and do so irrespective of this world and your own ever-changing realities. Escape definitions. Escape labels. Escape societal pressures that encourage conformity. Do not relinquish your steadfastness, your power, your indomitable, impenetrable self. And, when in doubt, take your cane and lean on it for a moment, and remember that at one time in your life, your friends, here at Middlebury College, were and always will be your support system - your cane.

Congratulations, Class of 2006.

"Gamaliel Painter's Cane" sung by Francois Clemmons.
The Middlebury College Alma Mater, "Walls of Ivy," sung by Francois Clemmons