Faculty members, my family, my friends, welcome. I’m just so glad to be here with you all today. It’s been a long time coming. In 2006, during my first semester here, I took a communications course with the aptly named [communications aptonym]. She had us do an intriguing exercise. Write 20 sentences starting with the words, “I am.”
The first several sentences are easy: I am a woman. I am a mother. I am a wife. I am a daughter, a sister, a friend. I am a student at Nearby University. I am 39. Then it gets a bit harder. How do you describe yourself? I am Jewish. I am very short. I am a reader. I am a knitter. I am…
When I first did this exercise over two years ago, I thought about what I would have written when I was in college the first time, at 18. Who was I then? How would I have described myself? Some of the sentences would have been the same; others would have been very different. I was not a mother or a wife. I didn’t know how to knit. I was, at the time, an indifferent student, because I only did well in classes that interested me. But have I really changed? I still only do well in the classes that interest me, but the difference is that, this time around, I find all my classes interesting. I see the connections between them. I see their connections to me. My time here has made me feel more connected to the world itself. I see the connections between myself and the greater community, between my choices and actions and their ripples outward. I see the connections between what I have learned as a student, as a mother, as a wife, and as a daughter. Unlike my 18-year-old self, I no longer ask, “Will I ever use this in the outside world?” I know the answer. Everything we learn, we use. As a student I use what I’ve learned as a mother, as a wife, as an employee. As a mother, as a wife, as I live in the world, I use what I’ve learned here.
What would I have written ten years later, about mid-way between my 18-year-old self and now? I was married. I was a college drop out. I was in therapy. I was learning to program computers after spending years managing a bookstore. I was a New Yorker. My husband and I were contemplating our move down to Northern Virginia and I struggled with that decision, since so much of my identity was as a New Yorker. As a non-driver. A pedestrian. A city girl. My time at Nearby U. has made me feel like a Virginian. Being a part of this community, diverse and welcoming, has helped me finally feel at home in this very different place from where I grew up. This global community of students and faculty, of all ages and nations, has made me feel more at home here than anything else I’ve encountered in my ten years in Northern Virginia, even including my husband’s election last year to the [thing he got elected to].
During the election season, I realized that Ms. Aptonym’s class was even more valuable than I had thought. Her lessons helped me immensely going door to door and talking to people on back-to-school nights. My Women and Work class, my Psychology in the Community class, oh heck…every single class I’ve taken here taught me something that I used during the campaign. During my classes I saw the connections between the History of Religion, the History of Western Civilization, and their connection to Hawaiian Dance. I saw the connections between Small Group Communications, Women and Work, and Psychology. I saw the connections between the books I’ve read for pleasure and the books I read for class. The connections between knitting and politics. If you don’t think knitters can change the world, then you haven’t seen one turn a long piece of string into a cable knit sweater*.
Professors are not the only ones who taught me here. I also learned from my classmates. In my classes have been students who are old enough to be my mother, and a teacher nearly young enough to be my daughter. And I have learned from everyone. Everything I have learned has helped me to grow, to become.
What will I write when I am 49? When I am 59? 80? Who will I be and how will I describe myself? The years ahead are as open for me at 39 as they are for those of my classmates in their twenties. We are, as the existentialist Rollo May has said, constantly changing, becoming. I am.
I am. I am a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a granddaughter, a friend. I am 39. I am, to my own surprise, a good student. I am a reader. I am a knitter. I am political. I am short. I am hopeful. I am strong. I am silly. I am loved and loving. I am proud and grateful today that I can also say, finally, I am a college graduate and that the college was Nearby University
*Thanks to Stephanie Pearl-McPhee for inspiring this line.
Through My Glasses, Dorkily
1 year ago