Senior Speaker Address: Maya Rohr
When I sat down to try and figure out what to say to you all today, I knew exactly what I wanted to say, but not how to put it. So I’ll struggle through, though I can’t promise eloquence—I think I used up my eloquence quota writing my Plan, so you’ll just have to bear with me.
I’ll begin with this: Marlboro College can be a very difficult place to be. I refuse to pretend otherwise. I’ve been here for four years. I have never known loneliness like this: so strong and so present it becomes almost tangible, a functioning part of me.
I am not alone in my loneliness—everyone I know has experienced some sort of wall between themselves and the others here. Loneliness, and its counterpart, solitude, seem to be part of Marlboro’s defining experience.
Why is this? I have come to a messy conclusion, one that has lots of stray ends, which is that we simply don’t talk to each other enough. You would think that communication would be simple in a community of less than 400, but that is not the case.
Don’t get me wrong. The people I've met at Marlboro love deeper and harder than anyone I’ve ever met, anywhere. But sometimes in the act of caring, we forget that we must love one another in ways that don’t naturally occur to us. Just as each person expresses passion and concern in their own way, they must also be cared for individually. I forget this. I forget that people don’t respond to the same things I do, that even my closest friends have emotional languages that are different from mine. My love does not always translate.
There has to be communication, with constant effort, that evolves as we evolve as people. Ursula K. LeGuin put it like this: “Love doesn't just sit there, like a stone; it has to be made, like bread, remade all the time, made new.”
And at this school, we become new so quickly. With every book, every conversation, we try to absorb new perspectives and in the process become different people every day. We have to allow the community to see us as we are, in all our mutable glory.
It’s funny, though. Looking back, I think I came to Marlboro specifically because I knew it would be quiet, and that I would be able to be alone. That’s the difference between loneliness and solitude. Everyone here knows both intimately. Sometimes they bleed into one another.
Sometimes it feels like you’ve exiled yourself at the end of the earth, and the grey skies and pearly mountains of winter begin to work their way into your bones, and it seems that it will be this way forever: the quiet, the chill, the austere books and instruments. Forever, forever.
But that’s silly, because here we are, and we have finished something. What have we learned? That everything comes to an end, for one thing. I thought that I would feel thankful for that, and I do, in a way. But I did not anticipate the enduring loneliness, or the grief. Already I feel the overwhelming sense of loss: of you, my friends, my mentors; of myself, the person that I am here, the person I became in your presence.
I’ve been more imperfect at Marlboro than ever before, but that is because I have been forced to confront my inherent flaws here. They have come to the surface—all my demons and weird, wormy bits. That’s what happens in a community this small, this intense, and this intuitive: we demand so much from one another that we must expend every single part of ourselves in order to function.
My point is that frank, honest critique of ourselves is essential to our survival. For all its shortcomings, all the troubles that come along with living in a small, confined space with lots of other opinionated, imperfect people, Marlboro is a good place to talk with those we might totally disregard out in the real world. I have tried to live up to that, and I’ve failed most of the time. But I’m certainly more tolerant and a little braver than I ever was before.
The most important thing we can do is to go out into the world and try to have the sorts of conversations we have here, but have them more often. I’m not just talking to graduates. Underclassmen, faculty, staff, everyone: each of you has a perspective, and if you keep it to yourself, we’re going down.
So what I beg of you, and of myself, is that we speak up. Ask someone about their day, and be prepared to listen. Next time someone makes you angry, figure out how to make it better: write a letter, talk to a friend, confront someone—but try not to push them further away. Keeping ourselves isolated only perpetuates the fissures that could tear us apart in the end.
But that is for later on. Right now, our more immediate concern is understanding how to say goodbye to a place that we haven’t come to terms with yet. There is a proverb my best friend told me years ago, while she was living in Catalonia, where it originated. “Take hold lightly, let go lightly. This is the greatest secret of happiness in love.” This has been helping me lately. If I tie my sense of self to this place, to you, or to anything outside of myself, then I will always feel lonely, and I will always feel this sense of loss. But if I acknowledge my departure, then there is no pretending, right? I tell myself this. I’d like to close with a poem by Elizabeth Bishop, a writer that consoled me when I was inconsolable, who taught me about loneliness, and loss, and imperfection.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.
Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.
I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.
—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
I know I am losing you, and this place. We will never be the same again. But I know this: the echoes will resound forever. Thank you.