Senior Class Address
by Erin Copple, Class of 2004
Hallmarks of the Denison Experience
Hello and welcome again to families, faculty, staff, administration, and, of course, my fellow graduates. As I was preparing this speech for today, it was suggested that I speak to all of you about what the future holds for Denison's graduating class of 2004, but the truth is -- I can't do that. I can't do it because I don't know what our futures will hold. For each of us, the future holds something different. Some of us will enter graduate or professional school in the fall. Some of us will be going into the workforce. Some of us will be volunteering our time in service to our communities. Some of us will be starting a family and become stay-at-home parents. As we leave Denison today and venture out into the "real world" there is only one thing that each of us has in common -- and that is our Denison experience.
Today we take our place in a continuum of Denison alumni -- a long legacy that belongs to each graduate who has come before us, and all of those that will come after we are gone. And among all of us, there exists one -- and probably only one -- commonality: we are Denisonians. We might be 90 or 70 or 40 or 23, but we all share a common bond -- a bond that many of us have perhaps never considered.
I spent last summer living on campus -- in that room, actually -- and one Sunday morning, I was awakened by a knock on the door. As I opened it, I was greeted by a tiny elderly woman and a younger man. She introduced herself as a Denison alumna and the young man as her son. She had lived in Stone when she attended Denison and was now back on campus for her sixtieth reunion, and wanted to stop by her old room. When she entered the room, she began sharing memories with me and her son -- memories that, although sixty years old, rang true even to me.
First, she laughed and pointed to the corner of the room. "We threw a surprise party for Margaret here," she smiled. "We all piled on the top bunk and the whole thing broke and we came crashing down!" Next, the woman pulled her son to the window, saying, "I used to sit here and wait for your father to pick me up for our dates. I could always tell when he was coming, because I knew the sound of his footsteps." Looking out the window, she told her son, "Your father stayed on campus one summer to plant trees. He planted that one and that one and that one over there." When she left my room -- after regaling me with even more stories -- I sat for a moment looking at the walls and imagining the things I would tell my children when I returned to Denison someday in the future. The truth is that each of us has the same stories.
We have all celebrated birthdays while we have been here. Since we arrived at Denison, we have aged four years, but more importantly, we have become adults while we have been at Denison. If you're like me, you're not sure exactly when that happened -- in fact, most of us aren't entirely sure whether it's happened yet or not. We have made memories that will last a lifetime -- memories of walking on the quad on a snowy night, memories of Homestead work parties, memories of snowball fights, memories of seeing our faculty in regalia for the first time. Somewhere in the making of those memories, we grew up. Over the course of four years, we've all grown and changed -- and maybe even broken some furniture.
Of course, this growing and changing has not occurred only outside of the classroom. During our four years, we've taken, on average, 32 classes, and what we have learned could fill piles of textbooks. But these are things that nearly any college graduate could say -- so what are the hallmarks of a Denison education? Certainly, we have all benefited from our coursework -- we have participated in class discussions that didn't end when class did -- discussions that challenged us, enlightened us, and opened our minds to new ways of thinking, seeing and being. At Denison, we have interacted with our faculty in a very collegial way both in and out of the classroom. In class, we engage with our professors to make sense of or challenge our readings, writings and presentations. Outside of the classroom, we have met with faculty at end-of-the-semester dinners -- we have watched their houses and their pets and sometimes their children -- and we have made friendships that will last long after we leave campus today. And this, of course, is the truest hallmark of the Denison experience. Here on the hill, we have not been seen merely as vessels waiting to be filled with knowledge, not as numbers or quotas, but as individuals who are ready and willing to engage with coursework and faculty alike. As we have finished our four years at Denison, we have spent a great deal of time reminiscing about friendships and memories, but it is the impact of our education that will have the most lasting effect on us -- even when we forget it. And when we return to Denison to visit our old rooms, we should also visit our old classrooms and remember the time we spent there.
My visitor spent a good deal of time reminiscing about the time she spent at Denison with her husband, and although each of us has not found the love of our lives here, some of us have. And besides romantic relationships, we have all made friendships the likes of which we perhaps never thought we would find. How many of us can tell by her footsteps when it is our roommate who has climbed the stairs and is about to enter the room? Furthermore, how many of you have programmed your cell phone so that each of your friends has a distinctive ringtone? It may not be listening at the window for footsteps, but we have our own way of recognizing those who mean the most to us.
Finally, although many of us have not spent summers at Denison planting greenery, we have all planted seeds here that will grow when we are gone. Some of us have started new organizations, some of us have made a lasting impact on those groups of which we were a part, and all of us have contributed to the Denison community simply by being here. Perhaps when we return to Denison in the future, we can point out both subtle and not-so-subtle changes to seeds that we planted during our four years here. As we get understandably melancholy about leaving the place we have called home, it is comforting to know that some things will endure long after we are gone.
And so you see the way some things change and some remain the same. I may not know what your future holds -- in fact, you may not know what your future holds -- but I can assure you of one thing: as you enter that future, you will carry with you the hallmarks of the Denison experience. You will take with you the memories you have made and the knowledge you have gained, you will take with you the friendships you have made, and you will take with you the knowledge that you have impacted this college in ways that will be felt for years to come.
Best wishes to each of you today and every day. I hope to see you at our 60th reunion, where we can reminisce with the class of 2064 about the good ol' days.