Bess Kalb Graduation Speech – Video & Transcript

by DataEntry on May 12, 2009

Bess Kalb Graduation Speech Transcript:

We’re not supposed to be here. We’re very late. We didn’t do what was expected of us. We didn’t stay up to drag our parents to Providence in December. I’m sorry about the weather but this is where apologies end and embracing the situation begins.

If there is a giant conveyor belt that puts the American five-year-old in the position to learn that the square peg goes into the square hole and he went to fill in the bubble for “all of the above”

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this room is full of the lucky ones who leapt off that belt, and decided to hang around thinking to ourselves, “We’ll just stay here while the economy gets fixed.”

Personally I should have seen this coming. It was in a middle school French class that I learned that would haunt me into adulthood. “I am sorry for being in a slow manner.” For magical reasons, this line would get me off the hook every time. Thought the institutional acceptance of the line fizzled out pretty quickly, the opportunities to deliver it have persisted. Here, months late, we know the simultaneous terror and elation that comes with prematurely drudging at a Brown’s pace. Many of us left the ‘semestitarian’ life cycle behind us and let the days go by according to no syllabus.

It was different for each of us, as uncatagorizable as

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commune in Utah. One of us went to down the New England coastline to facilitate conversations between local fishermen and the corporations who threatened their livelihoods. One of us took up residence in a swing state and fuel mobilized over 1000 people who proved instrumental in electing Barack Obama president. Thank you, Billy.

Whatever the adventure, the pursuit, the challenge, there was an inevitable shared experience. Now when the paperwork was filled out, the parents consoled, the signatures signed, came the explanations, the personal asterisk hanging over each of our heads in so many conversations. We’re taking time off. We’re between years.

In that limited space between where I was supposed to be and where I was in the fall of 2007 I found myself in business casual attire in the green room of the Colbert Reportsaying “Yes I can be in New York in September.” and “Yes, with a politics concentration Brown is a perfect prerequisite for working for you here.” and “Yes, I’m also very good at getting coffee.” I was hired.

On the first day I was handed a nondisclosure agreement from the show’s parent company, Viacom. I signed that I would not disclose sensitive information for any purpose, profit or commencement speech. I was never given any sensitive information so I can say under the good graces of the law that I played video games and ate marshmallow cereal with comedians for four months straight.

All of us have had the experience, that crystalizing moment when we have questioned the tools afforded to us by our undergraduate education. Nothing in Brown’s poli-sci program prepared me for having to use computer manipulation technology to morph Steven Colbert’s

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face with presidential candidate’s Hilary Clinton’s. I was equipped with no academic tools, not even that multi-applicable critical thinking one.

There I was, functioning, thriving even in an environment so different to traditional academia. Where an undergraduate degree in political science was only as useful as the jokes someone could make about the concept of a majority whip. I grew certain that school was a bit excessive, a distraction, a maze of tires to hop through on the way to what’s really out there. I emerged from this office culture of disaffected institutional mistrust where comedy was as effective as a policy review publicizing governmental hypocrisy and I returned to Brown in the least of Brownian spirit. I was jaded, questioning the value of this education.

Yet here I am, here we all are two years later. I stand here realizing that this reactionary cynicism towards my undergraduate degree is in fact an integral part of Brown’s particular undergraduate education. It was this institution. It was the distinctly unconventional conventions of Brown itself that gave us all the gentle push off the conveyer belt when we were ready and never held our hands.

In many ways, perhaps contradictorily, we experienced a fundamental facet of Brown during our time outside of our education. The hyper aware questioning of our purpose, our dissatisfaction when we knew that we weren’t using our incredible depositories of our knowledge for the good and our tendencies to use metaphors like, “We’re all on a giant conveyor belt.”

These are products of Brown. Something connects us to each other and to this place. It runs through our wildly desperate experiences of gaining trust in an outside community, of devoting our waking hours to a higher calling, or running errands for a late night TV show host. The loaded, all-encompassing term ‘point fiver,’ this term, this euphemism, has little to do with our expected date of graduation. The point fiver had the same name in December of 2005 as it did December 1979. It’s a label that stands alone without reference here. It signifies a certain kind of lateness, a lateness that permitted us to disengage who we were scheduled to be in order to take ownership of ourselves. In that way we are very early. We are not stragglers; we are here deliberately, unapologetically and better for it. We are today’s point fivers.

We are the class of 2009.5 and congratulations to us all.

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