Contact: Sarah Ray


Posted: February 6, 2002


had two brothers graduate college last year and heard a number of good

graduation speeches. All graduation speeches I have seen fall into two

categories, both of which a student speaker is grossly unqualified to

dabble in. The first is the personal agenda speech. In these speeches,

the speaker quickly forgets that the speech is intended for an audience

and expounds the virtues of his or her new book/tax cut/charitable organization

etc… We all know what that is like. The second is the “ordinary

people/extraordinary feats” speech. In it, the speaker usually inspires

the graduates to use their education to achieve some lofty goal, be it

dedication to civil service, the end of world poverty, world peace etc…

At my twin brother’s graduation last May, the speaker simply pleaded that

we all throw away our cellular phones because of the havoc they wreak

on personal relationships. Although there was nothing more sacred than

the cellular phone to my family at the time, we dutifully heeded the speaker’s

advice. I mean, what is the use of a cellular phone when we can instant

message each other with our palm pilots? Seriously though, after college

our relationships will change and we will have to begin listening more

to each other than to professors. Learning opportunities will not be so

obvious. As a student speaker, I am simply a colleague of yours. But I

strongly, strongly believe that everybody has wisdom to share. I hope

this speech reaches everybody, with a special Feb twist.


are a number of hard questions that we find ourselves giving long-winded

answers to these days. But as Febs, or February graduates, we have been

answering these questions for years. We all have had to explain that we

are not, in fact, normal. We did not graduate in May. Rather, we are Febs.

We are Febs because of a bond we share with everybody else here for one

of three reasons. First, there are those who were determined to be Febs

and checked the “February Admission” box on Middlebury’s application

five years ago. We’ll call this group the “Febs by Reason.”

Second, there are those who had that little box checked unbeknownst to

them. They are the “Febs by Force.” Third there are the “Regs”

or May graduates that, for one reason or another, did not see four years

as an appropriate window through which to finish college. They are the

“Febs by Default.”


have heard that there is also another breed of Feb: those who are chosen

and reject their preordained Feb status by graduating in May. These people

enjoyed the close-knit Feb community until May rolled around and then

they left us for much bigger and much better things, such as unemployment.

To draw a parallel to a sitcom we are overly familiar with, these Regs

in Feb clothing are like Marcia Brady’s quarterback boyfriend from the

rival high school who dates her only long enough to steal her brother

Greg Brady’s football playbook. To keep with today’s festive atmosphere,

I will not give them a Feb name. I will not call them traitor Febs or

even Benedict Arnold Febs. They will simply not reap the benefits of graduating



benefits of February graduation include the fulfillment of certain promises

made to us by the Feb panels at the visiting day for admitted students

five years ago. One such promise started: “Being a Feb is awesome.

You graduate on skis.” No joke, I really thought that we skied down

and received our diplomas while on skis until about three months ago.

Personally, I believe it is a good thing that we don’t; I am having reconstructive

knee surgery on Thursday because of a fall I took on that fated mountain.

I think that I will be the only graduate to use their graduation cane

next week. A second promise began: “Being a Feb is awesome. When

you graduate the job market is just waiting to suck you up.” We all

know that’s not the truth these days. Talk about hard questions, I have

been dodging the “job” bullet for months.


the question we all will face in about twenty minutes is “what are

we going to do from here on out?” In this sense the liberal arts

education is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, our educations afford

us incredible amounts of opportunity and leeway to shape our lives, regardless

of today’s unsavory job market. On the other hand, the freedom to choose

what we do can also be a burden. Until now, the path to here has been

clear, although difficult at times. But this is the first time that the

choice is really up to us. What lies ahead, and I believe that I speak

for almost all of the graduates, is a daunting quagmire of possibility

and opportunity.


problem is compounded by not simply deciding what to do, but also by identifying

how we will measure our success at it. Until now, success was simple to

measure; everybody was ranked on the same grade point system. Positions

on sports team, ski passes or significant others only complemented the

grade point average. However, after today everybody has to make decisions

about what to do and also devise a system for measuring success. We will

all find our own definitions and we have to be strong enough not only

to identify what works for us, but also to accept the diverse choices

that others make.


word of caution: these problems are not, in fact, new. Opportunity is

a mixed blessing for millions of people in the U.S. It is not surprising,

therefore, that country’s most popular genre of books focuses on “how

to get rich.” Hopefully we will ask different questions and demand

different answers because the second most popular genre of books in the

U.S. focuses on “how to recover one’s self esteem.”


there is a problem with this ordering of opportunity and success. It focuses

too much on what we do and not enough on who we are. This chain of events

has been ingrained in us since grade school. As kids we are asked what

we want to be when we grow up. We all answered “the president, an

astronaut, Bo from the Dukes of Hazard.” This is the malevolent side

of opportunity. We are trained to interpret certain jobs and experiences

as success itself. However, the most important aspects of our lives are

not those things, but rather the person behind them. Yet, no one asks

us who we want to be in elementary school. Nobody says that “I want

to be a good friend” or “I want to be a devoted father”

or “I want to still be an enthusiastic amateur at the sport or art

that I love.”


I believe that these will be the measures of success and happiness that

really matter. And I am not the only one that thinks this. Many psychiatrists,

geneticists, evolutionary biologists and physiologists, among others,

are involved in the study of happiness or, as they prefer to scientifically

call it “subjective well-being.” The largest on-going study

at the University of Michigan - lasting over twenty years - has sampled

changing levels of subjective well-being across innumerable countries

and cultures. Besides the influence of genetic makeup, they find that

our happiness is not a function of age, race or sex, or even education,

fame, fortune. Rather, it is a function of the way we live our lives and

whom we share them with.


empirical results should really come as no surprise. With time we would

probably figure them out ourselves. Our liberal arts educations will useful

to the extent that we can use them to think critically about our lives

and, most importantly, to create the security to enjoy our favorite activities,

our communities, our families and the friends that surround us now. Oh

and pay special attention to your Middlebury friends - chances are we

are going to marry each other! The only thing more fun than alumni weekend

is an alumni wedding.


do not interpret this speech as a justification to underachieve in our

careers - that would be missing the point. But I want to make it painstakingly

clear that we are not what we do but rather who we are as people. To the

extent that who we are influences what we do the better. That is a simple

recipe for success. But it will demand courage to try and fail personally

and professionally.


I want to say that it has already taken courage to become Febs - that

decision is against the grain. I hope that the decision to be a Feb has

been beneficial, even if non-traditional. You can now decide whether the

speech I just gave should be called “extraordinary people/extraordinary

feats” or “ordinary people/ordinary feats.” Personally,

I think that the line between the two is somewhat blurry. However, one

thing is clear: graduating from Middlebury, graduating in this Feb class

is nothing short of extraordinary. Febs by reason, Febs by force and Febs

by default unite! Hey, let’s even let those traitor Febs in on the fun.

Let’s keep the Feb spirit alive throughout our lives and bring it to our

friends, our families, to the rest of world. Thank you.