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Thank you, Provost Scherr. It is a great honor to speak today at such a special Dartmouth occasion and in such great company. I can hardly fathom that today marks my final Convocation as an undergraduate student at Dartmouth. The beginning of the academic year is truly a remarkable time here in Hanover, and I have thoroughly enjoyed each of the three convocation ceremonies I have attended since my own matriculation. Perhaps that explains why I have been so preoccupied with trying to find the perfect topic for my own address this morning. In total, I wrote four separate speeches on all different topics. The first one I hated, the second one was better but I still hated it, the third one was okay, so I went for a fourth. The fourth was the worst of all, however, so I decided to revert back to the third and start revising.
I now see that the problem with each of my attempts was simply that I forgot my audience, that is you, the members of the Class of 2008. I can certainly remember listening to speakers during my freshman year and feeling unaffected. Upperclassmen and administrators alike tried to explain Dartmouth's unique sense of place and attempted to emphasize the responsibility each student carries to give back to the institution which gives us all so much. We were encouraged to take risks and step out of our comfort zone, and, now that I have spent a great deal of time at Dartmouth, I certainly understand the significance of these topics. For me, though, the first-year student sitting stiffly in her chair, surrounded by trippies on either side, and still groggy despite the long walk up here from the River, I simply was not ready to digest such advice. So, as much as I would love to stand here and reveal to you all the powerful lessons Dartmouth has taught me, I really don't believe that you would take much away from that. Instead, just as Dartmouth taught me, Dartmouth will teach you. Maybe you will discover something as you walk across the Green one morning and feel the presence of Dartmouth embracing you or when you drive across the bridge into New Hampshire and feel as if you are coming home. Dartmouth will teach each of you so much...all in good time.
What I do want to talk about today, however, is you. Something I wish someone had told me my freshman year was, 'Julia, you really possess an incredible amount of potential.' And that is precisely what I am saying to you, Class of 2008, you really possess an incredible amount of potential! When you leave this auditorium and you're walking in a crowded stream of your peers down Wheelock Street and across the Green, I want you to believe that you have the potential to do great things at Dartmouth.
We, the students of Dartmouth, have the power and the capability to change this institution. And the students of Dartmouth's past have left their legacy as evidence of student power and as inspiration for us all. The Dartmouth we see today would be completely unrecognizable if we were to remove all the aspects of Dartmouth which came about through student effort.
The Green, for one, might not be the center of campus that it is today. Up until 1820, each class of young Dartmouth men had the chore of uprooting one of the many enormous tree trunks which still decorated the Green in their day. The homecoming bonfire, which you have probably already heard much about, was first conceived when a few students in the Class of 1888 decided to celebrate a basketball victory by collecting whatever wood they could find and burning it in the center of the Green. In 1935, the students of Dartmouth Outing Club started the Freshman Trips program which many of you have now been a part of. Hopefully during orientation you have already become acquainted with your floor through the help of your UGA. Isn't it is hard to imagine that the UGA program was initially run and supervised by students? Yesterday, you experienced course selection for the first time at Dartmouth, and you are probably already familiar with the distributive requirements you will need to fulfill before graduation. One of your world culture requirements is called Culture and Identity, and that is a brand new requirement inspired partly by a group of Dartmouth students who felt passionately that issues of culture, race, diversity, and identity should be examined by every Dartmouth student. Whether you are waiting in line at a blitz terminal or eating in the Pavilion Dining Hall, your daily experiences have become possible because of the students who came before you. What is most remarkable is that all the amazing people I have mentioned share something in common with the Class of 2008 - they, too, sat and listened to speakers at their first Convocation ceremonies and wondered what they had to offer Dartmouth. They have already proved that they had a lot to offer Dartmouth, and so do all of you.
Since you already have the skill and potential, all that is left to achieving great things at Dartmouth is passion. Make the conscious decision to fully immerse yourself in something that is Dartmouth. Whether it be a project you envision, a tradition you begin, or simply an academic area that you care immensely about, put your whole self into something. Make the decision to jump inside Dartmouth. And make that decision sooner rather than later.
For me, it was the creation of the Peer Academic Advising Program which really allowed me to put my whole self into Dartmouth, and Student Assembly has been the mechanism through which I have invested a part of myself in this institution. For you it might be your favorite class or professor, your athletic team, or your community service project. The medium you choose is unimportant, but the amount of passion you invest is crucial.
Although I promised not to list off the lessons I have learned, I cannot resist throwing this one in: when it is finally your time to leave Dartmouth, you will not want to go. Some part of you, whether big or small, will not want to leave this College. Returning to Dartmouth for your senior year and approaching the day of your commencement, however, will be a whole lot easier if you know in your heart that you have left of piece of yourself here in Hanover, NH. You all have the potential to be an inspiration to the students who come after you. Please believe that and capitalize on it. I sincerely look forward to being a part of the Dartmouth your class creates.
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