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Becca Atkinson Headshot

To the Colgate University Class of 2014

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2014-05-24-10007007_4326134848667_330845064072146700_n.jpg

If I had had the chance to speak to the entire Colgate class of 2014, this is what I would have said:

Hello Class of 2014, faculty, friends...I want to start by explaining how I came to love Colgate. I didn't love Colgate freshman and sophomore year. I had a lot of fun, sure. But I didn't LOVE it. I knew I could come to love Colgate, I wanted to love Colgate, so I decided to go abroad for a year so that I could return with that excitement I had when I first arrived in August in 2010. Sure enough, I came back this fall and truly grew to love this school. And when I came back, it was really link staff and finding a new community of passionate people that helped me love it like I knew I could. I think that's what Colgate is all about -- finding one's space and one's people, to make a person passionate about this place. And maybe there are some of us under this tent who never truly loved it, but there must have been moments when each of us felt happy about the school we chose, or else we wouldn't have stayed.

People talk about the Colgate bubble and how homogenous the culture is here. But I believe that with a bit of digging, it's clear that each one of us at this school is quite different. Freshman year, a professor asked me what I liked most about Colgate. I said that I think at the surface level, be it physical appearance, hometown, or one's extracurricular involvements, many students look the same. But, you start talking to people, you find that each person here has "a thing" if you will, some interest or obsession or talent or character trait or quirk that sets them apart. I think something that Colgate has taught us well is how to deal with assumptions. Do you remember the fabulous Dr. Maura Cullen who spoke to us in the chapel during orientation (and continues to do so for each class of incoming first years)? She said that assumptions are natural, but it is what you do with those assumptions that shows who you really are as a person. It's easy to see North Face jackets and generalize. But every single person underneath this tent is different, and Colgate has challenged us to move past these assumptions and stereotypes and actually get to know each other.

Now that we've established individuality, I do think that there is one thing we all have in common: experiencing moments of intense happiness and moments of intense loneliness at Colgate. This school gives us both, and we have learned how to process and experience both here. And I'm skeptical of the students who say they have never been unhappy here, or the students who say they never been happy. There are moments for each of us, pockets of despair, pockets of bliss -- we find them in different places. Maybe you're having one of those miserable-and-alone kind of days. But it's October, and the sun is setting above Frank dining hall and it's beautiful. Or maybe you're walking along Willow Path and it's 0˚ but you remember there is free slices in the library.

Perhaps we learn to experience this intense range of emotions because we live in the middle of nowhere and only have each other to hang out with. Sure, we may miss the sprawling metropolis but just look at these hills! I don't know if I'll ever be so close to cow manure in my life! I don't regret choosing a school in the "rural" category, because I got to experience what a community feels like, with all its upsides and pitfalls. At a university in a big city, we wouldn't know if the people we were walking next to were fellow students or tourists. There is comfort in recognizing almost every face that is going through this experience alongside you, even if we are going through it in different ways. Marina Keegan, Yale University class of 2012, says it very eloquently in her graduation speech "The Opposite of Loneliness:" "It's not quite love and it's not quite community; it's just this feeling that there are people, an abundance of people, who are in this together. Who are on your team." Okay, so even though were not Yale, we're Colgate (thank you Gary Ross) and I think the same can ring true for us here. It isn't always easy. It's a pretty complicated place here. It's not all about love and community all the time.

And we don't always say hi to each other even though by senior year we pretty much know each other. Why is that? I don't know, and it's something I'll never really understand. But let's forget about that for a second...let's forget about unfulfilling Jug encounters, the douchebags and the haters. Forget the ridiculous temperature we spent 4 winters in. Forget the papers written at 2 a.m., the stress of finding a cubicle. Or a date... Forget the separate social groups. Think of the cross country trails -- that bright green in the fall and that beautiful white in the winter. Think of Trudy, glorious Trudy that came to us January our Freshman year. Think of the leaves on Willow Path in November. Think of Frank omelets and Colgate day. Think of Raider Passion, and FSEMs and brown bags. Think of Adam and Steve, think of the times we all came together when a member of the community died. Think of the weather that first week we arrive in August. Think of the Library Café during finals week, This Is Not A Play About Sex, Vagina Monologues. Think of Franks hot sauce, the number 13. Think of the farmers market on the village green, division one sports, the COVE, Living Writers. Think of meeting strangers on the cruiser. Think of Dance Fest, Maroon News, the a capella and theater groups. Think of the Brewery, the Barge, SLICES!!!!!

There are good days and bad days everywhere, which is why it doesn't feel quite right to say "I can't wait for the real world." Life after Colgate, sure. But this is the real world, or at least it was for us for four years. We lived it, we smelled it, we changed some things we didn't like, we learned...this was our place. And even when we were feeling lonely or happy, we went through all of it together. I think that's the thing we need to remember most -- despite our differences, we went through this together. And to the class of 2014: I'm glad we did. Thank you.