I gave this speech on June 13, 2010, for the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Humanities and Fine Arts graduation ceremony. The grandstand area and lawn accommodated approximately 900 graduates and 5,000 attendees. David Marshall, the Dean of Humanities and Fine Arts and Executive Dean of the College of Letters and Science, introduced me after the keynote speaker’s address.
Note: Floatopia was a short-running, daytime event in Isla Vista on par with Halloween. Isla Vista is a small town with an overwhelming majority of student residents; it sits on scenic coastal bluffs just north of UCSB’s campus.
Thank you, Dean Marshall.
Last year during Floatopia, I was bright orange. By accident, I had dyed my skin that morning at a Hindu festival and that afternoon, walking through Isla Vista was more surreal than usual. Looks of bikini-clad distress greeted me from every direction.
(stylized voices) “Oh. My. Gosh.” “Are you ok?” “Do you need an ambulance?” Everyone thought I had a violent sunburn, and everyone stopped their debauchery to help me.
Regardless of your thoughts on the Isla Vista life style, it is a spectacular place to spend your college years. Extraordinary acts of community happen there and strangers look out for each other amidst all the chaos.
That got me thinking: what does community mean to us on our journeys after college? Congratulations fellow graduates! (breathe) To honor the parents, grandparents, friends, and professors who’ve supported us along the way, we should propel their generosity and love forward — and add a little Gaucho spirit to keep things interesting.
Right now, life after graduation might feel like an (effect) abyss. You might worry about floundering alone or that one wrong step will doom your future. But look around you: you are not alone. And today? Today is a no more a defining moment than yesterday or tomorrow. I know I’ve been most successful when I belong to others, and I have grown more when I act as a community member instead of an individualist.
We all have diverse communities in our lives, and our experiences with them affect our state of mind. These groups are beds of conflict, as anyone with family members can understand. Instead of bickering or blaming, I ask you to think about conflict in a new way. Conflict and contradiction are powerful because they can fuel creativity and growth. (Repeat.) In fact, I think daily personal conflicts are the best opportunities for self-discovery.
Belonging to a community is really hard work. We don’t get to choose the people we work with, but we rely on each other to accomplish our goals. My biggest challenge in college has been slowing down, (inhale) listening (exhale) and practicing patience when I’m frustrated with other people. In the end, though, striving to see other perspectives shaped me into a better person.
After one of many Isla Vista nights, I walked home in the silver glow of early morning. Amidst lonely seagulls’ cries and rolling red cups, I sat on the sidewalk and thought to three years before. I remembered dreaming of what I wanted to be: confident, focused, open-minded. My friends’ easy vitality felt just out of reach, and so I pursued perfection relentlessly.
A crashing wave brought me back to the morning and something fell into place. I’d become what I’d dreamed of — but imperfect, fragile, and with so much more to learn. More importantly, I knew it would be ok. I didn’t know what ‘it’ was or what it would be, but I still believe in my ability to fight for it. The strength I found in that quiet moment came from the incredible people I’ve been blessed to meet and the community spaces that tested my potential. To those who’ve guided me, who’ve challenged me, who’ve dismissed my mistakes and nurtured my triumphs, I offer my achievements in thanks. They belonged to you already. By letting me into your lives, I’ve learned about intimacy, growth, and resilience, skills more valuable to me than any first post-graduate job. You’ve taught me to be comfortable with who I am, to embrace my strengths and my weaknesses, and to open up to those who disagree with me. You’ve shown me how to let go of fear and anger and self-serving defenses in favor of connection and joy. You can reach the top as an isolated entity, but the journey and its outcome are more rewarding with friends.
Graduating class of 2010: put your whole self into this moment and all the opportune ones to come. Find your peaceful strength, your inspiration, and reach out to those around you, and you will thrive.