Student Speech by Vani Sathisan '07


Middlebury College Commencement, May 26, 2007

Good morning, President Liebowitz, our distinguished guest of honor Mr. Clinton, esteemed faculty, to those of you parents, $200,000 poorer but nevertheless proud, dear friends, love-filled lovers, and to the star-studded and outstanding class of 2007. It's an absolute honor and pleasure to be here with you all today. I admit I lack the life experiences of Mr. Clinton, but my aim here is to use my sensational melodramatic skills, inherited from my dear mother, to convince you, that there's actually life beyond Middlebury, and you are going to rock that life.

The first time I had to give a graduation speech was back in 1990 when I was 6 years old, having completed two years of kindergarten education. Seventeen years later, it feels fantastic to deliver a college commencement address - but this time around, I wrote it by myself. I want all of you to pause for a moment and rewind about 15-17 years back into your life. Do you remember pitifully clinging on to your dad's shirt refusing to let him drive you to school? Now fast forward to this very moment, 17 years later, and reflect on who you are. Many of us are still clinging on to our dad's shirts, and their pockets too, but how far have we come!? I want to celebrate this journey with you today, by bringing in a few groups of people who have made this insane ride worthwhile and meaningful.

I heard somewhere that professors are people who talk in someone else's sleep. [1] Today, we couldn't thank them enough for all that excessive talking. Two teachers come to my mind instantly. In my pre-college high school, the United World College in Italy, I took an English class from a legendary teacher who had more influence on me than any adult, other than my parents. She was an animated woman, nearing her 60s, with a sense of fashion still stuck in the '70s, but under her inspiration, literature just grabbed my imagination. She was the polar opposite of cool, but she sure got us all excited about lit.

Since then, the next inspirational teacher I met was here at Middlebury College. Guiding me with excellent advice, making the study of global conflicts engaging and attention-grabbing, and always ready to harness our potential without spoon feeding us, Professor Quinn Mecham from the political science department, stands out. He epitomizes this "magic" - this magic which so many of our Middlebury professors possess -to spur the students to think beyond the textbooks and to be charged up about issues that matter,

I know, and he knows, that I'm not his best student in our Political Islam seminar, but I hope he knows that he has inspired me enough pursue a future career in a related topic. All of us sitting here today are silently grateful to so many of our professors out there, from political science to biology, computer science to Arabic, geography to women's and gender studies departments - we're indebted for your gentle direction and persuasive teaching. So, thank you, professors. All that talking has paid off.

To all our parents, siblings and extended family members, sitting in the crowd, leaning towards bankruptcy but beaming with pride, look at us and realize that you have invested in us with your unconditional faith and love, and it has all been worthwhile. It kills you to see us grow up, but I guess it would kill you quicker if we didn't. [2] Your unwavering support and believe in our potential has spoilt us enough to graduate from college today.

I read a quote once that said: "The place of the father in the modern suburban family is a very small one, particularly if he plays golf." [3] How beautiful to see so many of you busy dads and the ever-busy moms fly from all across the States, parents of us international students who have crossed borders from other continents to share this grand moment in our lives - and at this point, a big shout out to my dad, mum and big brother out there, as well as the host families of several international senior students who have been a family away from family and home - such as my fabulous host family sitting in the audience, Larry Novins, Misse Smith and Emma. They've helped me out through homeless Christmases and bad tooth extractions. It's great to see all of you here today.

We've heard that there are only two lasting gifts you can give your children: one is roots, the other wings. [4]  Although you parents are trying to clip the wings of your crazily independent sons and daughters, I also know you're silently sitting in the audience, overwhelmed with so much pride and joy. Thank you for letting us go, parents. We will always carry a part of you with us as we succeed.

My graduating friends, today's a bittersweet experience of a sense of achievement mixed with the sadness of saying goodbye to our dear friends, not knowing when our paths will next cross. Many of you will go on now to conquer greater heights and excel in your respective fields. Just look at your class now:

1) You are part of MiddShift, a student organization whose plan the college has approved and accepted to become a carbon-neutral institution by 2016.

2) You are part of a class that has produced three Watson Fellowship winners from across the nation.

3) You are part of a class that has produced Step It Up, the groundbreaking group with the courage to shake the big bad guys for action on climate change.

You give kids from other schools a run for their money, just what will you do tomorrow? Maybe you will be the future secretary-general of the United Nations, a prize winning writer, or an Oscar winning actor, maybe a professional cage fighter or the star housewife raising seven kids, three dogs and two cats, and a husband ... maybe you've met the love of your life in Middlebury and you'll celebrate commencement getting married in Mead Chapel. There's nothing crazy about that but some of us will hide in a corner and secretly laugh at you. The point is, "Our time is limited and I hope we don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice, and have the courage to follow your heart and intuition." [5] I try to live by this quote myself: "The tragedy of life is not that man dies, but what dies inside him whilst he's still alive." [6] So, while we all come out here with some specialty, I also hope that we will keep reinventing ourselves to be trendsetters, never mere followers.

Above all, we must realize the need to let others light their candles by our knowledge. We each have duties to fulfill as global citizens of this world, and I hope we will live our grand dreams with integrity and humility. By that, I do not ask you to be meek and to bow your heads in submission. But be quietly confident. Maintain your dignity in the darkest hours. "Defy the gods. You will be astonished how many of them turn out to have feet of clay." [7]

My mum always emphasized that "school is something you complete; life is something you experience."  So "don't worry about your grade, or the results or success." [8] I'd like to think that I'm significantly smarter than what my GPA suggests. "Success is defined in myriad ways, and you will find it, and people will no longer be grading you, but it will come from your own internal sense of decency." [9] So, I guess at the end of the day, my message is: "Love what you do. Get good at it. And let the chips fall where they may." [10]

I know, we just cannot wait to graduate and go out and party, so allow me to end this spiel with my all-time favorite quote by Arundhati Roy, a prize winning writer: "To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never, to forget." [11]

May we never forget our years in Middlebury, and may we fall in love over and over again. Class of 2007, you are phenomenal. The world is waiting for you. Rock on.

Thank you.

[1] Auden, Wystan Hugh. "Brainy Quote." 2007. June 16 2007.

[2] Kingsolver, Barbara. "The Quote Garden." June 6 2006. June 16 2007.

[3] Russell, Bertrand. "Famous Quotations." 2007. AOL @ Research & Learn. June 16 2007.

[4] Carter, Hodding: "Selected quotes about children." 2006-2007. Quotatio. June 16 2007.

[5] Jobs, Steve. " 'You've got to find what you love,' Jobs says." June 12 2005. Stanford University. June 16 2007.

[6] Schwitzer, Albert. "Albert Schwitzer Quotes." 1999-2006. Quotations. June 16 2007.

[7] Rushdie, Salman. "Salman Rushdie and me." August 25 2006. Michael Diebert Blog. June 16 2007.

[8]Stewart, Jon. Jon Stewart's ('84) Commencement Address. May 20 2004. The College of William and Mary. June 16 2007.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Roy, Arundhati. "Arundhati Roy." 2006. June 16 2007.