’09 Millor Orator Finalist – Jessica Landis

April 23rd, 2009

So… we’re all here. Sitting here in these strange robes and funny hats. Most of us are probably thinking about how long we have to wait until we can leave and enjoy ourselves with our family or friends… but maybe right now, you are thinking about everything you have gone through to get to this very moment. Or maybe the thought has crossed your mind in the past few weeks, or as you finished your last undergraduate final exam, or said goodbye to Diane and Miss Bettie in the caf. In the case that you haven’t had the chance to think about the entirety of your college career, I invite you to do it now. And this goes for all of you with us today: take the time right now to think about a period in your life that pushed you to the limits, to every extreme emotion. A time when you laughed until tears rolled down your cheeks and your stomach hurt. A time when you were so frustrated and stressed out that you didn’t think you could physically take it another minute. A time when you made some of the best friends or lost some of the people closest to you. A time when you had the time of your life or when you barely made it through. Whether your feelings toward that period in your life, or toward our college experience, are positive, negative, or indifferent, take those feelings in now and savor them. Feel those emotions moving inside of you. Think about the people who were there with you and those who helped you get there. Take a deep breath…. Now exhale. Let it all go.

“This is what rituals are for. We do spiritual ceremonies as human beings in order to create a safe resting place for our most complicated feelings of joy or trauma, so that we don’t have to haul those feelings around with us forever, weighing us down.” Those words are not my own. I’ve been reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat, Pray, Love, and I recently stumbled across this little insight, and I thought so that’s why we have a graduation ceremony. We could easily pack up and move out the day we finish our last final exam and receive our diploma in the mail. But today is important. Today is significant. It is the one day that we can really sit down and reflect on the past few years of our life—I mean, really, we will all be sitting here for a few hours so we might as well spend it doing something productive, right?

So we thought about the happy and the sad, but then we exhaled that last breath of air from the past. And now it’s time to let it all go. We savored our memories for all that they are worth and now it’s time to pack them up and take them with us…now, that’s not to say that we forget everything that we’ve learned and experienced. But it’s time to take the next step in our journey, to make that first stroke on our new blank canvas and look forward to the continued mural of our lives which we will assemble.

So….now what? What do we do with this world in front of us? Whether we have plans or not, I think it’s difficult to imagine exactly where we will be a year from today: It’s scary. But we have to start somewhere: this is where those packed up memories and bits of knowledge you’ve acquired come into play. Ok, now I’m not trying to give you a lesson in morality, none of us are perfect, I’m not pretending I’m anywhere near close. But there are a few things I’ve picked up along the way that I think are worth sharing today.

First, and foremost, you’ve probably heard this before, but it’s all in the little things and it’s true. You’ve also probably heard the phrase: “keep track of your pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves” (that’s for one of my very financially-minded friends.) We say it in many different ways, but it’s always important to remember. It’s smiling when you pass someone on the sidewalk, taking a minute to think about others before yourself. It’s about holding the door for a stranger—unless it’s the door of a residence hall, and in that case you are compromising the security of the building. But seriously, take that extra second to pass along that bit of kindness that could really change someone’s day. I know it always means a lot to me.

Second—now we’re going a little broader in scale—“Be the change you want to see in the world”. Yeah, that kind of sounds like a big jump from the little things. But I think it’s just as important. “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I mean, you can’t go wrong with Ghandi. We can talk and talk and talk about everything that’s wrong in the world, or the way that things should be. But it takes action, and it takes you. BE that woman or man for others that we have been hearing about for four years. And many of you already are! Take a minute and look around you and appreciate all of these wonderful people. But we all must remember that we have a responsibility to be the change we want to see in the world. It’s about the words we use and they way we treat people on a daily basis. This responsibility might seem a little scary at first, and maybe that’s why it’s so easy to say why bother. But this is where we make the greatest mistake of all: by not acting, by not doing anything about it. The power to make this world a better place lies in our hands now as it did yesterday and will tomorrow. Ok, if none of that made sense, tonight, listen to the song “World” by Five for Fighting. History starts now.

This is a little bit of a follow up to the first two, so we’ll call it: point number two and a half, when it gets tough, and it will—keep going! Now, I don’t think these grand ideas about changing the world will be easy—even if we just take the “little things” route, it’s tough to wake up every day and expect to have a positive attitude. So this is when I share my favorite new quotation which was passed along to me at the bottom of a friend’s e-mail: “People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.” In other words, sometimes we need to take time and re-motivate ourselves whether it’s a serious time to contemplate what moves you in life or with a nap when you really need it.

Third, and finally, and this has to do with the previous two and a half points, in fact it has to do with everything: LOVE. Whatever you do, do it with love. Love for life. Love for yourself. Love, love, love. Take that blank canvas and paint it with pure love for humanity!

So, back to that song I mentioned earlier: it really does pose a great question. Yes, time to think again: take advantage of this whole sitting thing! “What kind of world do you want? Think anything. Let’s start at the start, build a master piece. Be careful what you wish for; History starts now. Start now.”Ok, now if you’re thinking you didn’t take full advantage of our little reflection time, here’s your last chance. Make it good and don’t forget anything! Breath in…Breathe out. Ok, are you ready? Well, hell, I’m not—but here we go!