Student Speaker: Laura Stakiwicz

My dear friends. Before I say anything else, I would like to first thank you for the honor of being able to speak with you in this way this morning. I am truly blessed. After a relationship with my high school that is best described as mutual antipathy, I begged my mom not to make me attend that graduation. She said, as is the right and duty of all parents, that someday I would thank her for it, which she was wrong about, but it’s the only thing she has ever been wrong about, so. I’ll give her a pass. And I hope you’ll give me a pass. I come to you today as a sentimentalist, someone deeply goo-prone, and also currently overwhelmed with joy and gratitude. I assure you, any cliches or truisms you might detect are wholly and earnestly felt, and meant.

I want to speak briefly about the elephant squeezed into this auditorium. The thing that no one talks about in commencement speeches, because it doesn’t match the triumphant nature of the event. My acting degree alleges that I perhaps have the ability to be vulnerable with large groups of people, so I’ll attempt it: I am scared. I am so afraid. Of going out there, y'know? Every day—at least a few times a day for the past few weeks—I have felt sudden shocks of fear. I have felt the cold shudder of existential panic course through me: What comes next? How do I move on, say goodbye, survive in a world and a life that is different than the one I have known? And while it doesn’t stop me from going about my day, it does cling to me, dragging me away from myself. Fear always comes before a big shift. It comes to you when the last few moments of safe familiarity tick away. The only thing to be sure of about the future is that it is uncertain. And yet. And yet. I remember another moment that felt everything and nothing like this one, and I feel comforted, reminded of what I love about Marlboro.

I remember when I first came to this imperfect place. And I was as afraid then as I am now. Probably more so. And I had that special anger that comes along with fear. But I was met with a community which embraced me, despite that, despite my flaws. And the message that I received, from the community, and from the individuals who would become my mentors and friends, was this: We believe in you. We trust you. We know you’re afraid and we have been there, dude. We know you are imperfect—so are we. And despite that, we have faith in you. I learned to trust myself here, because I was trusted. I learned to value myself because I was valued. Because you believed in me, Marlboro, I have learned to walk hand in hand with my fear. Pretending that it’s not there is fruitless—but it no longer defines me. I suspect I am not alone in that lesson. I sit among 44 incredibly talented artists, authors, leaders, scientists, scholars, renaissance people, creators. You all are so damn brilliant, and to accomplish what you did, to live on a snowy, exposed, and intimate hill for years and come out with a project of passion, you had to come to grips with, and set aside, a whole mess of fear. Such is life, right?

I hope you remember that feeling. I hope you remember how brave and beautiful you have become at the end of this journey. I hope you remember this time when you followed your passion, and how it changed you. I hope it inspires you, when you are out there, wherever that is, to believe in other people. To go on faith, if there’s nothing else to go on. To trust them, and to advise them that it is okay to follow their dreams even though they may be afraid. To be vulnerable with them, and encourage them. You all are living proof of what happens when a person is empowered in that way. I don’t mean to imply that your achievements belong to anyone but you- what I mean is, allow your beauty to reflect, as the beauty of this place has reflected upon you. Understand that people and their fears are profoundly complicated, but also understand that as the potential that it is. I hope your education reminds you, as any good education should, to be wise and sometimes cautious, but more often, to take the risk, and love ardently. I have felt the benefit of that love in this place, and I tell you, it can work miracles.

And by the way, class of 2016. As we stand here, on the precipice of change, I want you to know: I believe in you. I trust you. I know you’re afraid. I am too—but I hope you follow your dreams, anyway. I have faith in you. I have no doubt that our time and space will someday match again. But for now, it’s time. It’s goodbye, because nothing is endless, and our time, here and everywhere, is short. This chapter ends, another begins. Thank you for being one of the best parts of me, and good luck out there. I love you. Let me know if you need anything.