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2012 Spring Issue 8 (May 25, 2012)

A Commencement Address

May 25, 2012
By Samir Bhala

Good morning, Carleton College Class of 2012.  We made it!  [With the affect and style of President Oden] Indeed, in the words of former President Robert A. Oden, Carleton is a part of us as much as we are of it.  Our shared common academic experiences and achievements are a part of us.  Some of us remember burrowing for hours in computer labs across campus.  My personal favorite this year was the Weitz Center Public Lab, where any number of you probably heard Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, and the Rolling Stones blasting from my computer.  With the pressure of a deadline concentrating our minds, others may recall feverishly applying finishing touches to final drafts.  Ultimately, each of us researched and produced an original, comprehensive thesis ranging from six to 101 pages.  We triumphed.

These triumphs occurred not only in the classroom.  The spirit of Carleton sustained through our many adventures, from leaving it all in the pool, on the pitch, on the court, or even at computer screens in CMC 109 – yes, you too, Carleton StarCraft League – to finding love in such a hopeless place as a Sayles Dance and co-writing with one of our peers both good and bad romances.  We matured.  We bonded.  Some of us even got married.

Yet, as we leave Carleton, it would be disingenuous to not acknowledge the cloud of uncertainty that hangs over us. We face definite challenges.  This is nothing new.  And our responses to these trials prove nothing novel about the human condition.  At Carleton, truly remarkable individuals overcame circumstances and situations to earn a degree that will serve as a stepping stone for future greatness.  Some among us overcame physical distance from their homes.  Others battled unseen, cognitive impediments. 

Common among all of us is that we never quit.  It sounds cliché but, in the deepest darkest hours of our days, each of us possesses that innate ability to defy adversity.  I know this because I have done it myself.  As many of you know, I navigated my way through multiple disabilities here at Carleton.  I was born with a rare and incurable genetic skin condition.  It is why I wear a helmet.  Before I entered Carleton, I also suffered from a brain aneurysm and several post-operative strokes that left me half blind, with cognitive deficits, and unsure of my abilities in a radically different situation.  I worked hard, but no more than any of you would have.  I was determined not to let my condition define me; I know each of you would have acted similarly.  Mine is a story of that perseverance in each of us, something that led me to fight back and to succeed once more.  To paraphrase that Bon Jovi song, it was my life and I did it my way because I wanted to thrive while I was alive.

However, I had considerable help from an extended community of classmates, professors, and administrators.  What I cherish about my Carleton experience is this community, growing together and helping us all overcome that which each of us faced.  Yes, we can each individually overcome our circumstances but, as Larry Cooper’s Political Philosophy class teaches us, we live in a society, among our peers, whether we like it or not dependent on one another for success.  Nobody makes it alone, and acknowledging those who help us along the way makes Carleton the institution that it is.  For me, a short list of these individuals include Deans Joe Baggot and Cathy Carlson, who helped me reassert myself; Professors Larry Cooper, Roy Grow, Richard Keiser, and Greg Marfleet, who provided me with academic support and understanding; and Anne Lamppa, who taught me that disabilities do not define you.  We are as much of Carleton as it is a part of us, and these bonds are what make this place unique.

We all must continue to push forward and fight for what is right in our lives.  We all must live our lives our own way and, together, we can, and we will, make a difference and change the trajectory of our worlds.  Although each of us will achieve in the long run, we will also encounter setbacks.  We hold it within ourselves to alter our situation, to change our country, to view life as a series of trials, and to never let individual setbacks mire us in thoughts of greater failures.  Frustrations may mount, but nothing defeats you unless you let it.  So it is imperative that we never quit, and that we rely on each other to grow and to change the world.

Knowing this, and knowing what extraordinary feats we are all capable of doing, Carleton Class of 2012, I have no doubt that we will continue to triumph.  To paraphrase the Beatles, we will sail together, Carleton, into the sun.  And we will find our sea of green.  We will overcome our waves, and achieve all of our dreams.  Thank you for a great four years, Class of 2012.  Stay awesome.

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