Essays by members of the Class of '08
According to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, only 35 percent of U.S. students participate in college, and only 17 percent complete a degree. Congratulations and welcome to the 17 percent! I share this statistic not to make us feel guilty, but rather to remind us how truly fortunate we are. Throughout the late nights and hard work, it's easy to forget the many people who do not have access to higher education. Graduating from Denison University is both an accomplishment and an honor. We have been challenged in many disciplines and have explored both a breadth and depth of academic pursuits.
While at Denison, there is no doubt that we have learned volumes, grown exponentially, and accomplished amazing feats. We’ve taken classes that challenged us to work harder than ever before and had professors that truly motivated and inspired us. Furthermore, our education has not been limited to the classroom. Learning has occurred from the stage to the sports field, and through countless other opportunities that stimulate both intellectual and personal growth.
This wide variety of interdisciplinary, active learning experiences has made Denison not just the school we have attended, but a home we love. Here we have built and developed a community of caring and outreach to others. Our exemplary participation in community service projects is a clear reflection of the values embraced and promoted by Denison. Our class has made an extraordinary and lasting impact on the community, both on and off campus. Denison Community Association volunteers have contributed over 14,000 service hours each year to the surrounding community. Student groups such as sororities, fraternities, and sports teams have given time and fundraising efforts to many organizations. Countless student-run events such as Relay for Life and Make a Difference Day have been remarkably successful. These initiatives and others demonstrate our commitment and dedication to making the world a better place, while contributing significantly to our own personal growth and education.
In all cases, our opportunities have been made possible by the commitment of others ... professors, peers, and parents; coaches, counselors, and alumni have invested their time, effort, and expertise to ensure our success. None of us would be here today without these caring and selfless individuals who have made it their mission to serve us, to secure our success, and to support our dreams.
Just minutes from now, we will graduate. At that time, we will undergo a drastic transformation ... from sleep-deprived students to proud Denison alumni. Even more significantly, we will graduate from those being served to those who serve others. As we begin the next phase of our lives, be it graduate school, a job, or any other endeavor, we must always remember that we are the lucky ones. With that comes a responsibility — an obligation — to continue our involvement with the greater community. As students, our motives for participation in community service have varied. Some are exploring careers, others sharing time with a friend, and still others are driven by a desire to serve. The community in which we live and the magnitude of the challenges we will face are about to expand, but we must continue our commitment to that community, wherever it might be. Let’s challenge ourselves to utilize our unique skills at a higher level of problem solving and with a broader vision. Equipped with an excellent education and a wide variety of experiences, we are now in a position to impact more people and cause greater change.
Class of 2008, as we depart to pursue our next adventure, we must do so with the confidence instilled by our college successes and experiences. Whatever we do, wherever we go, let’s keep Denison's community of caring in our minds and in our hearts, and know that for us, every day can be “Make a Difference” day. By continually giving back, we can perpetuate Denison’s tradition of shaping alumni who are compassionate, active citizens. Today marks our initiation to this auspicious 17 percent. What will you do to make it meaningful? How will you make a difference? Our challenge will be to continuously remember our role in the broader community and work tirelessly to make it a better place for other people. As Albert Schweitzer said, “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found a way to serve.” I wish you much happiness.
Well guys, we made it!
Yes, we are finally done! Can you believe it? It seems only yesterday we were getting ready for the Slayter Sizzle, having our keycards punched to fit the lanyard so we could wear it around our necks (only to realize later that only freshman do that), and keeping our eyes glued to the television trying to sort it out: George Bush or John Kerry? Conservative or liberal? Or somewhere in the middle?
But let me ask you: when I say the word “liberal,” what do you think of? Or how about this: think of your favorite “liberal” professor. Who is it that comes to mind? Are you thinking of a Democrat? An Obama supporter? If I had to guess, I’d bet you didn’t pick a “liberal” professor based on his or her tendency to be giving or generous. Yet, I’d argue that nearly all of our professors here at Denison are liberals in this way — including our politically conservative faculty members. Liberal, perhaps, in the amount of time your professor was willing to spend with you outside of the classroom. Liberal, hopefully, in the amount of feedback you received on an important paper. And liberal, even, in how badly he beat you on the racquetball court. You see, that’s part of what makes Denison great: having a faculty that is generous in forming relationships with you, being dedicated to you, and exhibiting compassion as they work beside you.
But what about being part of a “liberal arts” college? What does that mean? Of course engaging students in the liberal arts is precisely Denison’s goal, exposing us to such a broad variety of studies, all the while “balancing breadth with depth.” It is therefore no mistake that you can now, say, comment at length on the expansion of Nazi Germany even though you’re a chemistry major. Because of Denison’s liberal, wide-reaching approach to education, we are becoming informed, critical thinkers who are well rounded and consequently most ready to enter the incomprensibly diverse environment that the real world is — and this also makes Denison great.
Being a liberal, however, can also mean that you are “broad-minded” or “tolerant”. Part of Denison’s own mission includes a “firm belief in ... compassion unlimited by cultural, racial, sexual, religious or economic barriers” that is expected of its students. Yet this academic year we as a community struggled to adhere to the ideals of tolerance, acceptance, and open-mindedness. The concern is that, while Denison has taken steps to make good on its promise as stated, without follow through, our community could relapse into periods of heated feelings and anger as experienced just last fall. So if we, as the graduating class, are able to leave one final message for the Denison community, let it be this: embrace the ideals of liberality, respect, and compassion so that you can preserve a peaceful environment in which life learning can thrive here on The Hill.
As for us, now ready to venture into this diverse world, we should strive to be liberals. We should strive to understand and accept those who are different from us — for only in this manner do we have a chance at being successful in the game of life. Yet we must be true ourselves. Understanding those with divergent backgrounds or ideologies does not mean we must subscribe to them or be forced to accept the notion of multiple truths. A French moralist, Jean de le Bruyere, likely said it best: “Liberality consists rather of giving reasonably than much.” We should be willing to give those who are different from us our respect, but we should not be willing to give away our own identities.
So be a liberal. Be tolerant, open-minded, and generous. And so let us be liberal in sharing our gratitude for the entire Denison faculty and administration for their efforts inside the classroom and at making our life here the best it could be. Let us be liberal in expressing appreciation for our parents, without whose continued love and support, we may not have made it this far in our academic careers. But most importantly, as we choose to be liberals, we must do it in a way that maintains who we are and what we stand for.
I wish all my classmates all the best that success has to offer, and I am hopeful success will be liberal in its rewards to you.
Four years ago, we came to Denison from all over the country and world — from east and west, north and south. We all voyaged to Granville not knowing what challenges we would face, people we would meet, or what our futures would hold. We came here with the same desire to gain the best possible liberal arts education and expose ourselves to a diverse and intellectually stimulating student body. We wanted to be challenged; we embarked on the “Denison Voyage.”
Today, we prepare to leave Denison and set the direction of our own paths once again. Denison has prepared us for this adventure. A poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox, “The Winds of Fate” speaks to our common growth here on the Hill and our readiness to venture into uncharted waters.
- One ship drives east and another drives west
With the selfsame winds that blow.
’Tis the set of the sails,
And not the gales,
That tell us the way to go.
- Like the winds of the sea are the ways of fate;
As we voyage along through life,
’Tis the set of a soul
That decides its goal,
And not the calm or the strife.
When we chose to come to Denison and set our sails in the same direction, none of us really knew what to expect. We knew we would experience the independence of college life and receive a world-class liberal arts education — in what seemed to be “the cornfields” of central Ohio.
During the summer of 2004, we gained our first inkling about what Denison was really about when we were asked to prepare a creative piece that reflected our class motto: “jump at the sun.” Our first “assignment” gave us the opportunity to introduce ourselves to each other, express our thoughts, and demonstrate our differences and our similarities. It was also a tangible example of the diversity of talents, cultures, and experiences represented by our class.
We were just beginning our “voyage” at Denison.
What is the “Denison voyage?”
Denison is a rapidly changing community. Over the past four years, we have come together as a class in times of both joy and adversity. We have learned from each other, supported each other and celebrated together. As a class, we have developed the urge to be active in and challenged by the growth of our community. We have learned what it truly means to be a community.
Through this experience, we were able to interact with people from a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Our interactions and friendships with people whom we may have initially assumed to be different from ourselves were central to our development as individuals. We were able to learn more about ourselves through understanding others.
Today, we prepare to depart with a common Denison experience: the ability to recognize differences and want to understand those differences. Difference is not only a part of the Denison community, but also of the world at large. As a class, we have learned that difference and diversity are not just “okay,” but essential and celebratory elements of our Denison voyage and our voyage for the rest of our lives.
The “Denison voyage” has taught us that being proactive is essential to achieving success and change both on campus and outside of Denison. As individuals and as a community, it is not only necessary to establish and set goals, but also to work to achieve them.
- ’Tis the set of a soul
That decides its goal,
And not the calm or the strife.
We were initially brought together by our shared interest in liberal arts as individuals, but today we leave as a united yet diverse class with a host of talents to offer today’s world. Denison helped give us tools to be productive global citizens. Now, it is time that we use the more mature set of our sails that we gained during our “Denison voyage” to seek unexplored challenges and achieve new goals. We are prepared to set out on a new voyage with the confidence and wherewithal to weather any gale we experience, to face life’s challenges and determine our own futures.
Four years later, the same wind is blowing, but now, we all have set our sails away from our home on the Hill. Thank you Denison — faculty, staff and my fellow students for a great “voyage”! Congratulations to the Class of 2008!