Senior Class Address
by Yaida Oni Ford '02
Allow me to say that I am in a very privileged position to be standing here in front of our distinguished faculty and staff but most of all I am grateful and honored to be speaking on behalf of my peers of the Class of 2002.
I told myself I wouldn't romanticize any part of my speech but since we're graduating, I said "What the heck?" Today we are not only departing from this place, but also from the amazing people we met when we came. I sat up really late one night looking at some photos and thinking about all of the cool names of the places that people here are from: Liberty, Miss.; Lima, Ohio; Vancouver, Wash; and not to mention the many countries — Ecuador, Mexico, Portugal, Zimbabwe. Some of these places are very foreign to some of us. The point is that none of us would have spent four years together in Granville, Ohio (a place that was foreign to most of us before we came here) if it weren't meant to be.
Although I don't know every one of you by name or face, I feel connected to you all more this year than any other. I'm here today to talk about the ties that bind this class together — the unforgettable experiences that we had. I can almost guarantee that practically everyone of us felt one of the following emotions at some point in time throughout the year: scared, confused, lonely, a little helpless, super confident, happy. By mentioning these following events, the intention is not to dwell on them as these times have passed. But the mention of at least one of these events of the past academic year is simply meant to hit home with at least one of us here today.
At the beginning of the year we experienced a roller coaster of emotions, and it began with the loss of a classmate, who to some of us, was a brother or a close friend. Some of us were confused by all of this — we may not have known who Matt Heim was or who his friends were but we knew that he was no longer with us and that someone somewhere was suffering because of it.
Whether we knew him or not, some of us experienced a little loneliness and at some point we needed someone to talk to — to tell us that life was going to be okay. Sometimes you just need that reassurance. Some of us may have found comfort in a Bible scripture or in song lyrics. Some of us may have found no comfort at all as only time would ease the longing that we felt. But we weren't sure if we wanted the time to pass quickly or if we wanted it to stand still until we felt like we were ready to move on.
I can't speak for anyone else here, but although I didn't have the chance to know Matt personally, he taught me one lesson: That we are all affected by tragedy (regardless of race, gender, ethnicity or age). And tragedy is something that we do not have to ignore or brush under the rug. Tragedy helps us to realize that we are all in this together in some way, and that only if we support and comfort one another can we all begin to heal and move on.
The events of September 11 are another good example of how tragedy can pull us together. Half of us were not even aware of what was going on that day due to the fact that a lot of us don't wake up early enough to watch the morning news. I just happened to be standing in my kitchen around 8:37 a.m. when my roommate came out of her bedroom and around the corner and said, "You won't believe this." She walked over to the TV and turned it on. All I saw was some tall building up in flames — then she explained what happened — and she was right, I didn't believe it.
It seemed as though I kept running into people who had family in New York and D.C. and I wished I knew how to comfort them, but all I could think was how insignificant any of my problems were. And although my family was all the way over on the opposite coast, I found myself beating a path to the nearest phone to call them. For those of us who were here together, we talked about this tragedy for weeks. We worried and we prayed. We argued back and forth in the Bullsheet about the real meaning of patriotism and being an American. We were all a little uncertain about what life would be like for us in 2002. But above all else, we were all scared and needed something to hold on to. So, whether you believe me or not, whether you know me or not — like it or not, my message is that despite our artificial differences, finding a tie that binds may not be as hard as we think.
The last couple of common experiences bring to bear two emotions — confidence and happiness — that we all felt at some point in time throughout the year.
Let's start with the moments where most of us as seniors were probably super confident:
1) When we landed a job at the first company we interviewed with and took it only to find out that a way-cooler job opened up somewhere else, and we'd either feel bad about quitting before we actually started or we were afraid to apply because of the possible competition;
2) When we mailed in our last grad school application. The confidence was kind of two-sided here. Allow me to explain: When someone would ask which schools you applied to, you sounded confident when you rattled off the list. But months later when they asked if you'd heard anything yet and you hadn't — your confidence waned just a little until it became a hope or a prayer that you'd hear something soon.
3) But the most confident of us all are those that are taking a "break," or a "sabbatical" as some of us would prefer to call it. You feel confident now, but are you confident that your parents are going to let you stay rent-free for an "undisclosed" period of time? Are you confident that your bedroom is not the family storage room now? Are you confident that you even really want to go home? For some of us home is the last place we want to be right after being semi-independent for four years. For others, there is no place like home, especially if it's rent-free.
Next I'd like to mention the experiences that made some of us super-happy, and it's so funny how when you're in college it's the little things that make you happy:
1) When your early morning class got cancelled or your professor pushed an exam date back — which you thought would give you more time to study but actually gave you more time to procrastinate;
2) When your mom sent you one of those snack baskets for finals week with Rice Krispies treats and trail mix in it.
3) Or when one of your roommates parents dropped off food for them but you were all excited because you knew you were going to get some too;
4) Going to the registrar's office for the pre-graduate interview a little nervous because you knew there was a chance that you would need more credits than you thought in order to graduate.
Well, my time is almost up and it would not be fair or realistic not to mention the frustration that some of us feel, or will feel very soon. We've postponed reality long enough, and now we're toe-to-toe with it. We are now beginning to realize that our shining moments here on the hill are about to be over, and that's quite all right because we have a whole lot of new territory to conquer out there. It's amazing how this one little place called Denison University has prepared us for what we are about to accomplish in ways that we may not know right now but are destined to find out.
We are here on this day, May 12, 2002, and are about to get our due in a few moments, and nothing will feel better than when we wrap our hands around our degree — not only as a symbol of our accomplishments, but also as a way of saying "see ya," although it seems like just yesterday when we met and said "hello." When we departed from our various locations in 1998, we boarded a train together that was bound for Denison University. Now after what has been a tremendous ride (with those moments where we thought it would never end) it's 2002 and time to get off. But what we do when we get off the train is completely up to us.
The accomplishments don't end with today's ceremony. For my class, the Class of 2002, life begins after today and success is sure to follow. One piece of advice before I sit down: Don't let anyone discourage you, get you off track, or hold you back — because someone will try. Keep on moving forward and only look back to remember that, as a class, we have shared tragedies and triumphs that have made us stronger, and it is after this day, May 12, 2002, that the world will see the brightness of a future untold as we take it by storm. Carpe Diem!