2016 Pomona College Commencement – Honorary Degree Speaker: Helen Pashgian

2016 Pomona College Commencement – Honorary Degree Speaker: Helen Pashgian


[applause] (Helen Pashgian) To you,
the class of 2016. This is your day. In the brief time I have, I wish to touch on two thoughts. First, over 100 years ago, President Blaisdell incised some words on the stone gates of this college, some on the side of entrance, others on the side of departure. Today, I wish to speak of departure. “They only are loyal to
this college who, departing,–.” Today, you depart. Not yesterday. Today. And today,
his words now speak to you. They are simple words, and yet, and yet, they are elusive, enigmatic,
and full of mystery. Should you think of them again as you move forward
to invent your own lives, they may change and evolve, even as you yourselves
grow and change and evolve into the persons
that you will become. This is your day. And so, today, I hope that you will take
the time to pass through the gates just once more. In the excitement of this day, even as you make plans to visit
classmates in the near future, it might be well to pause and reflect. After all, this has been your home
as it once was mine. And even though you may
return again and again, never again will you inhabit this place as you have for these four years. At this moment, you depart through these gates
as an inhabitant one last time. So pause. Pause. Second, curiosity,
that intangible quality, whatever it may be. This curiosity that has been sparked
in your Pomona years will stay with you and serve you well. It will pay wildly unexpected dividends, even as it may take you to
wild and unexpected places. Not only will your curiosity guide you
into areas that most attract you, but it will also direct you away
from wrong choices. You may, for example, enter into
a promising field of study or a job with great expectations
and excitement, only to find that what was most exciting has soon given way
to boredom and exhaustion. You fear your curiosity has vanished. However, it is in fact
still powerfully present. If you will let it, it will turn you towards new directions. “But,” you will say,
“what might these new directions be? How will I proceed?” I don’t know. I cannot tell you. I am not you. But I can offer you a glimpse through words I have loved
from long ago. Many years ago, the legendary
New Yorker theater critic, Brendan Gill, wrote a review of a Broadway revival
of Chekhov’s Three Sisters. He said this: “Chekhov’s theme is
the conflict that exists between the hope of happiness that rises unbidden in us coupled with our total ignorance
of where happiness lies.” I would like to suggest that if you examine closely
what you love the most, keep your curiosity ever before you and work very hard. The result will be not just one but multiple opportunities
that will open. And be careful not to
hurry this process. Time is your partner. You will eventually find that place
that is yours and yours alone. And I would dare to further suggest that that is where happiness lies. I would like to close with
a child’s poem about curiosity. And I would like to dedicate this poem
to someone many of you know: my friend and colleague
Professor Jonathan Wright. [audience cheering and clapping] A more curious person
one cannot imagine. [scattered laughter] This is a child’s poem
and to a child, it is always literal. But to you, to the class of 2016, it is of course a metaphor. It goes like this: “He stopped to watch
a singing bird. The rest walked on. They had not heard. He paused again to watch a bee. The others passed. They did not see. A chipmunk ran across the lawn. He saw it hide. The rest walked on. Then from his hand, a small coin dropped. He did not hear, but they all stopped.” Thank you. [applause]

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