Marlboro College

News Senior speaker remarks by Will Mees ' 10

will mees

I'd like to begin by giving a knowing nod to the class of 2010 - after long nights and longer years, after substance fueled binges and the frantic work that followed, after deadline after deadline after deadline, we've reached a finish line of sorts. A finish line that represents for so many of us a new-found sense of freedom, a chance to take a breath and rest, to look around and see just where we're at. Now is not the time to start fretting about the next race. Now is a time for celebration, for contextualization, for realizations. Now is the time for recollection and rejoicing. Congratulations - I think we've earned it.

I didn't want to come to Marlboro. At the beginning of my college search, I deemed it "too small," thought it "out of character." Despite teacher recommendations to the contrary, I practically ruled the school out, though not enough to forego applying. And then I realized I was broke, and that a solid financial aid package pretty much trumps everything else - "out of character" suddenly seemed just good enough. Fast forward some four years and I find myself in front of a podium, addressing fellow seniors et alia, given the opportunity to speak to some transcendental truths, trying to proffer some nugget of knowledge that hasn't already been hashed and rehashed time and time again. The irony has not been lost on me. I'm half expecting some carton of pig's blood to be dropped on my head at any moment `a la Carrie, to which all I can say is: it better end up on YouTube.

To somehow recapitulate the class of 2010's time at Marlboro would be an exercise in futility. We've been here; we know what went down, or at least those of us who can remember. Who can forget the French language fiasco? The seeming diaspora of Matherites? That incident with the knife? Regardless of whether or not we talked with each other, regardless of whether or not we ever even learned each others' names, we've shared in these events and more: the breathtaking autumns, the blistering winters, the glorious springs. We've eaten together in the dining hall time after time, learned each other by silhouette, can recognize each others' laughs from across campus. In a very real way, our experience here has been a collective one: a bunch of puzzle pieces coming together and forming a delightful, if sometimes weird, sometimes uninterpretable, image.

Regardless of who we hung out with, of where we spent most of our time or what we did with that time, Marlboro has acted as a commons. A single thread weaving through each and every one of our lives. I'd like to think I speak for all of us when I say that there has never been a group of people I have so readily been able to identify and have so readily identified with. All of us here today, patiently, anxiously waiting to receive that little slip of paper that tells us we did something great, came together and made something. Whether or not we run into each other at some date in the future, our lives intertwined, connected at the proverbial collegiate hip known as Marlboro College. There's something remarkably special about that.

Graduation is heavy. It acts as a benchmark, a rite of passage, an ephemeral moment that signals a transition, a transformation. Pretty soon, Marlboro College will exist for us as something that happened. We can not go back in time, we can not relive those first few weeks at school, those moments of trepidation where we wondered if we made the right choice. We can not go back and stay up all night to finish writing portfolio or a Plan paper. There is no more engagement with that time and place, only this one.

Whether or not any of us would even want to relive those experiences isn't really the point. Our relationship with the school is changing, in a fundamental way. We are no longer viewed as students, but as alumni. In a few minutes, Marlboro will exist as a sort of geochronological time stamp for us, a placeholder that represents a pretty significant period of our lives. We're entering a world where Marlboro does us more service as a memory than anything else; it will no longer mean a place to think, to eat, to sleep, but a place where we thought, where we ate, where we slept. Call it nostalgia or yearning or the good ol' days or whatever you want - when we think of Marlboro, we will be thinking of memories.

Memories exist in our heads, in our brains, nestled deep within the crevasses of bundles of neurons. To record a memory is to adjust the connections that exist between those neurons, across narrow gaps called synapses. Synapses are kind of like bustling ports, with cargo ferried back and forth between neurons. Our brain interprets those cargo deliveries -- known in science-speak as neurotransmitters - as thoughts and associations - as memories. It's kind of crazy to think that all of our memories are just slight variations of proteins and receptors and transmitters, but there's some pretty solid science to back this up so bare with me.

Now, every memory changes the way a small subset of neurons in our brains communicate: shipping routes are modified, new docks are located or built, and the net result is something we can harken back to, a thought, a face, a place, a sensation. From a pretty basic process we can get intensely visceral results: associations, both positive or negative, that lead to very real physical sensations. For quite some time, scientists have thought that memories are consolidated - that is, those long-term memories you have of your favorite pet, or that really awesome birthday party, or the ones you're making right now about this graduation ceremony, tend to be stable and can't be undone.

But some new data is starting to question that. At the risk of oversimplifying some arguments, research is starting to show that as individuals revisit events, rethink through memories, those memories actually change. The ports can move or be  modified. Rather than remaining stable, it's starting to look like our memories are partially rebuilt every time they're recalled: memory is malleable.

This might not be that hard to believe: every one has that uncle with the story of the giant badger or raccoon or werewombat creature that attacked them while they were off pissing in the woods; that same uncle who constantly embellishes it to the point where by the third time you've heard the story the badgerthing is twice the size and four times as ferocious with eyes like Satan and teeth the size of tusks. Hyperbole and exaggeration are great tools for storytelling - god knows I wouldn't have been paying attention if it was just a tiger, absent the twelve inch claws. But as people get more and more into the idea of telling their memory as a story, it seems that, inevitably, the story becomes the memory.

Now I'm not here to tell you what your Marlboro story is, or what your Marlboro story will be. All I'm trying to say is that in a week, in a month, in a year, it's likely that the memories of Marlboro we have will have changed, however slightly; the stories won't be the same. As we grow older and, hopefully, wiser, as our perspective changes, the image of what we look back to will also change. This isn't a good or bad thing - it's just a thing, and who knows, maybe it won't actually happen. But I have a feeling it will. I have a feeling that some of us will focus on the good times, and others will focus on the bad times; that these good and bad times will come to represent Marlboro more than Mather or Dalrymple or the Dining Hall ever did. I have a feeling that as the time passes, Marlboro as we know it, Marlboro as we experienced it, will become less and less a physical, tangible object, and become more and more an evolving story, a collection of recollections that come together to paint a picture of a place that no longer exists except as neurons and synapses and neurotransmitters.

Our future selves - the stories we will live, record and at some point relive - will forever exist in relief to our Marlboro stories. As we get ready to walk up on this stage, we now have a responsibility to ourselves to take this chunk of memories, this chunk of cells and molecules that, in a very real way, means Marlboro College, and do something with it. Just as Marlboro was a place for us to grow, we must now learn to grow beyond Marlboro, and grow with Marlboro, as it exists in our heads. We've reached a state of transition that offers us an invaluable opportunity to integrate the who that we were with the who we will become. There is no right or wrong way to go about this, and no one can tell you how it should be done, but it very much so must be done. Regardless of how you feel about this school now, Marlboro is a part of us, engrained within us, evolving with us. I don't know about you, but I think that's pretty amazing.

I thought I might spend this time speaking about an event that tore this community apart last semester. An event that simultaneously reified the respect I have for my peers and the frustration I feel towards those who would so blatantly disregard the values Marlboro is known for. A single event that has led myself and innumerable others to forever associate Marlboro College with feelings of embarrassment and shame. But I realized nothing I can say can possibly make any clearer the mistake that was made; nothing I can say will heal the Marlboro community more efficiently than simply letting a year go by, waiting for those who were most affected to walk up on this stage and out those doors, letting the Marlboro institution reconstruct its own memory of the events. Besides, I can point you to any number of Dr. Seuss books that better explicate issues of identity and disrespect, complicity and duplicity - in rhyme, no less! - that I could ever hope to. Instead, I hope to have given you all something to think about as we spend the next few hours celebrating how far we've come, and how far we still have to go. Regardless of whether or not you think I've been talking out of my ass, I think we can all extend a hearty congratulations to the class of 2010 - thank you for your time, and for the memories.

photo by Jeff Woodward

 

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