Student Speaker: Michael Auerbach '97 MAT '17

Fellow graduates, members of the faculty, Kevin, trustees, friends and families…my family…thank you for being here today and thank you for the honor of speaking to you on this occasion in this place that I love so much.

I had a lot of things that I wanted to talk to you about today. I found out about this in January, and, unlike my Plan of Concentration…I wanted to get an early start…

So I had a pretty good head of steam going, then a couple weeks ago I was at the graduate-undergraduate mixer up in the campus center and I casually asked somebody ‘so, how much time do I have for this, anyway?’

“Three minutes.” I was told…

So I crossed everything out…which is ok because I don’t have anything to tell you about where to go, or some guiding principle or nuggets of wisdom gathered from my many years of experience.

I mean…what? I was there and now I’m up here, so I have something to tell you—you should follow my map? It has been twenty-one years between there and here and I have made a lot of questionable choices…luckily they were all the right ones, as it turned out.

Marlboro College doesn’t really teach you to make sensible choices.

Make choices, yes. Examine choices, analyze choices, question choices, agonize over choices, examine, examine, examine, discuss some more, agonize choices some more…

Then you make them yours.

Nowhere between there and here have I experienced a place—in both my Graduate and my Undergraduate experience—that has allowed me so much freedom of choice. Marlboro is unique in rejecting nothing except lack of integrity in the question that you are asking, lack of vigor in pursuit of that question, lack of clarity in communicating your findings, and lack of certitude in defense of those findings…hopefully sprinkled with  a dash of humility in the face of feedback from this faculty who has given us so much guidance and support and wisdom through the years of our experience.

So, yeah, I have nothing to tell you about where to go. You people are Marlboro College Graduates and I wouldn’t embarrass all of us by deigning to tell you what direction to choose.

It's on you, regardless of what I say. You will make choices about what to do now. What to do next. You will make choices, you will go places, you will stay here or you will go.

Most of you will work for Mocha Joe's. 

On this day I reflect and give thanks to the ways that my choices led me back to this wonderful place which has woven itself through my life over and over again. I do not have time to tell you, but I will pass on a couple. Janaki Natarajan, you are my heart. She and her Teaching for Social Justice students who have brought so much humanity to my students for so many years. Mikaela Simms who has brought Diversity education to children throughout our district and advocated for inclusion and recognition of the struggle that people of color face throughout our nation. Jenny Ramstetter—my mentor, my ally and, in recent years, my colleague. Working collaboratively with you has been the greatest gift of my professional career.

And finally, I have been lucky to know Bob…Bob Engel.

Who here in this room was that lucky to know Bob? I treasure every word that passed between Bob and I.  unlike so many people you will meet, conversation with Bob never had wasted words, never about himself anyway. I realize now that I have known Bob for twenty-five years and I know less about him than I do about most people.

The thing I cherish most about Bob was this community and how it supported him. That poor man who lost his wife, and then went home to die, alone in a big house in the woods in the middle of nowhere…as he slowly lost everything about himself that had made himself part of this community, this community, he did not lose this community. 

From T Wilson bringing him his medicine every morning to Jennifer Ramstetter, and friends and colleagues I do not know to thank, those people, this place nurtured him, abided with him and cared for him, making the reality of this community, this place this more than dream that we believe in, but a reality that they supported and made real when it mattered, and I will be forever indebted for that. Thank you.

OK. Here’s the thing, the big payoff, your big life advice. As I said, I could never tell you where to go, but I can tell you what you’ve got.

I have been to a number of college graduations, and every time I feel pity for those happy graduates—not out of meanness or pride—but I feel a small part of pity because I know that they have not done what you have done. They have not been forged by what you have been through in your Plans, your Capstones, your Orals. They have not experienced what you have, honestly, what you have survived. 

Among over 2 million graduates this year—I did the math—only 0.002 percent (and I rounded up) have done what you have done. And you’ll carry that with you wherever you decide to go.

I know many grown, fully adult people who shrink from what you have already faced and overcome.…complexity, ambiguity, crippling self-doubt, really hard work, failure both real and perceived. You have done that. What am I supposed to tell you beyond that?

You are not afraid to ask questions that haven’t been asked or to give answers that you trust whether anybody has ever heard them before. That is all that matters, and that is what you have earned.

And with that, I will say that I am so proud to stand here today and acknowledge this shared quality between us, and to wish you all the best with your choices, whatever they may be.

Thank you.