An Act of Optimism


Adrienne Matunas '13 delivers her speech.

Listen to Adrienne's Speech

Good afternoon! Thank you all so much for being here. I’m very honored both to be here, and to say a special thank you on behalf of my classmates to all the donors we’ve had the pleasure of sharing lunch with today.
Out of curiosity, how many of the student recipients here are seniors? I don’t know about the rest of you, but as graduation gets closer and closer, I’ve been getting prematurely Middsick just thinking about all the things I’m going to miss once we graduate—the things that made our experience at Middlebury so worth saying thank you for.

For instance, one of the things I know I’m going to miss is the richness of my days here. I’m a joint religion/philosophy major, but after leaving my thesis carrel in the morning, in the course of a day I might also go to a poetry class, have lunch in Italian, work at a preschool, train for a half-marathon, go to choir rehearsal, watch a friend’s theater performance, and TA an astronomy lab up on the roof of BiHall, all before returning to my philosophy homework. I love days like this because they challenge and nurture me as a whole person, not just as a student of a certain major preparing for a certain career. I’m extremely grateful to have spent my college years on a campus that really does, as the Dalai Lama urged when he visited this past fall, educate my heart as well as my head.

Another of the priceless opportunities Middlebury has given me was the chance to study abroad. I spent the fall semester of my junior year in Italy, where the excellent language preparation I received at Midd enabled me to truly immerse myself in another culture, and grow more than I ever could have anticipated.
Finally, I am grateful for—and will miss tremendously—the extraordinary community on this campus, both faculty and students, whose passion for the things they do is both exceptional and contagious, and has shaped the sort of person I’ve become. It is such a vibrant, exciting community to be a part of, which I think is why the people were what stood out most when I visited during Preview Days five years ago.

After that visit, I knew that Middlebury was where I wanted to spend the four years of my undergraduate education. But I would never have been able to come to Middlebury that following fall were it not for Middlebury’s policy of meeting the full financial need of accepted students.

Part of what makes Middlebury’s need-blind aid policy possible, of course, is the generosity of people like you. What makes those of us students here today especially lucky, however, is knowing the name and story of one of the people who has given this gift of an education to us.

It is one of the greatest gifts to spend four years studying what you love, but I think an even greater gift is when someone else is so convinced that you studying what you love will bring good into the world that he or she—having never even met you—is willing to support your efforts. What Cathy and Shawn Ryan have given me, and what other donors have given the recipients of their scholarships, is more than money to help with tuition—it is faith. Faith that the aspirations we have, and have dedicated our time at Middlebury towards pursuing, are important, and worth pursuing. Not having met us before, you have trusted us to make good use of what you have worked hard to earn.

A wise educator named Colleen Wilcox once said, “Teaching is the greatest act of optimism.”  Supporting someone else’s education with a scholarship is also a tremendous act of optimism, for it reveals your belief that there is a benefit to be had for the world by giving students the chance to study the things they are most passionate about.

You should know that your faith in us motivates us. It makes the late nights grappling with papers and problem sets—times when it can be easy to lose sight of the larger goal—seem worth it.
And here’s the thing. Not only does your faith in what we’re doing at Middlebury affirm and remind us of its value, but it also inspires us to do the same—to open for others the doors you have opened for us.

I would count having the opportunity to receive an outstanding education, not only at Middlebury, but all the way from elementary school through middle and high school, to be one of the biggest blessings in my life. I am blessed that, in part because of the fortune I had being born when and where I was, and in part thanks to the generosity of people like you, hard work is the only thing that has ever stood between me and my goals.

But that is not the case for many young people growing up around the world today. Recognizing that the schooling I have received is a rare gift, therefore, is what motivates me to pursue a master’s degree at Monterey next year in teaching English as a second language in conjuncture with service in the Peace Corps. My hope is to share the opportunities I’ve been blessed with in my own life with students for whom the opportunity to achieve proficiency in English, and the many doors English opens up, may not be guaranteed. I think if I’m able to help even one student learn English well enough to be able to go on to take advantage of a college education, or get a good job that would enable her to provide the same opportunities for her children, that would be well worth two years of Peace Corps service, and the four years at Middlebury that brought me to this point.

In order for me to even be able to consider doing anything of the sort, though, someone had to believe in my education first. And, probably, many of you who believed in my education along the way got to that point thanks to the support of someone else. Giving, in that respect, is like casting a stone into a pond—the ripples continue to expand.

Are any of you familiar with the author Ray Bradbury?  Ray Bradbury once said, “We are like cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.”

Spending four years at Midd, thanks to your tremendous generosity, for us has been like taking a really big, invigorating breath of fresh Vermont air. For my fellow scholarship recipients and I, when we graduate, it will be time to exhale, to start breathing the gift you’ve given us back into the atmosphere. Living as a human being requires, after all, that we keep breathing—that we take in the gift of life, cycle it through our heart and veins for a spell, and then pour it back into the world. There’s a reason why people who hold their breath for too long start turning blue. That’s just not how it works. The skills we’ve acquired at Midd are not like Hostess snack cakes—they won’t keep forever on a shelf. Rather than let the gift you have given us get stale, our next task will be to put it to use.

I’d like to close with something Picasso once observed:  “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.”  To Cathy and Shawn Ryan, and all the scholarship donors who have made the gift of a Middlebury education possible for me and my classmates, you exemplify Picasso’s words beautifully, and we are truly blessed by your generosity. Thank you so much.