Knowledge Is the Most Powerful Gift of All

Lauren Sanchez '11 delivers her speech.

Listen to Lauren's Speech

My father’s family emigrated from Mexico to the United States not more than 50 years ago. As a member of the first American-born generation in the Sánchez familia, a college education often seemed like an unattainable goal, a lofty dream far off in the distance I caught glimpses of every so often. I’ll never forget my grandparents’ reactions when I told them I had been accepted at Middlebury College; the look of utmost pride and joy eagerly spread across their faces. My 99-year-old grandfather explained to me, in his broken English, that it was now all worth it—that all of the trials and hardships throughout his journey as a Mexican immigrant here in the States now had meaning.

This story of family sacrifice and great pride is not unique to me, as I have met many students over the past four years here who will all tell you of a similar journey. My peers come from countries around the world or different corners of this country or a nearby New England town. They are students for whom college was not on the forefront of perceived capabilities and life goals.  All of them provide for their family what I experience every time I travel back to Seattle or phone home just to say hello—an indescribable feeling of providing delight and pride for their granddaughter or sister or cousin. Many of them too, like me, are only able to do so because of the profound generosity of the people in this room with us today.

I first met my donor, Mr. David Gannett, as a young freshman returning home for the first time. While one of the most powerful aspects of this scholarship program is the blind generosity that our donors commit to, I wanted to reach out and personally thank Dave for all he had given, for the opportunities he had afforded me. We met for lunch in Seattle and I distinctly remember stumbling over my words, searching for the right way to thank him for his remarkable generosity.

He introduced me to the life of his late wife, Barbara Everard Gannett, in whose name the scholarship is founded. I walked away from lunch that day knowing that my “thank you” was heard, but resonated much more when I told him of my life, of my aspirations at Middlebury, telling him of the doors he was opening and everything he was handing me.

French-Algerian author and philosopher Albert Camus once wrote, “Real generosity toward the future lies in giving all to the present.” My environmental studies career here at Middlebury has focused on this concept in depth—notions of sustainable uses of our land and resources so that future generations may prosper. In light of current events around the world, from Syria to Japan and from the White House to Tahrir Square, no idea is more powerful than that of our dear Camus.

Knowledge, from education and experience, and from all that Middlebury provides, is the most powerful gift that you could have bestowed upon the students in this room. I can say, with absolute confidence, that your real generosity has given to the future and will never be forgotten by all of those whose lives you have touched.

This past month at new student preview days, I had the pleasure of serving on the student panel and answering questions from future Middkids. As these past four years come to a close, the questions about the dining halls or academic programs were a time of great reflection and I always smiled to myself when I was asked, “Why Middlebury?” While crafting my answer, I began to again realize the magnitude of opportunities and experiences that this wonderful liberal arts college has provided. My study-abroad experiences in Madrid and Buenos Aires, French and Arabic language acquisition, a varsity basketball career and captainship, completing a biology Senior Honors Thesis, the volunteer experiences in the town of Middlebury, calling one of the most beautiful corners of New England “home” for four years—and who could forget the famous granola or the wrath of that Vermont winter. But above all, I fell in love with Middlebury because of the incredible student body, the fascinating diverse community on campus that is fostered and embodied by the generous giving nature of our donors.

These are all integral pieces of a story, my Middlebury experience, and now, are parts of my identity. These are all things that were at all possible because of the philanthropy of the wonderful people sitting in this room. You have all shaped our lives more than one could imagine and have profoundly affected how we will approach life’s future challenges and aspirations. In two short weeks, I will be one of 600 seniors proudly holding a Middlebury College diploma—not a diploma reflecting our individual accomplishments, but rather encompassing all that was given for us to excel here. Of all the people who have helped us along the way, the supportive family and friends, the professors and peers, and you, the donors in this room. It is a testament to you all that have allowed us to grow and learn and explore the world around us throughout this incredible journey.

In closing, I would like to quote Arthur Ashe, the first African American to compete at the highest level in tennis and who later became a Civil Rights and AIDS activist, who said, “From what we get, we can make a living; what we give, however, makes a life.”

Thank you.