President Creighton, Distinguished Guests, Members Of The Faculty, Families And Friends And Members Of The Class Of 2000:
Colombo, Sri Lanka, 1996. It's a hot and humid August afternoon. I am sitting in a room I have occupied all my life, trying to pack my life's belongings into two suitcases. My head spins with snippets of well-meaning advice on "the art of packing" for this unseasoned traveler: "oh, you are going to school in Massachusetts, well then make sure you take as much winter-gear as possible, if not you'll freeze to death", or, "tea, every Sri Lankan must take tea when traveling abroad." For the sake of my sanity and to avoid the risk of coming here with two suitcases packed to the hilt with winter jackets and tea, I shut the door on every well-meaning family member, I make a dent in the clothes pile on my bed, sit down and look around me, at the open closet, and half-open drawers, at the walls and shelves lined against them. What to take and what to leave behind.
South Hadley, Massachusetts. May 2000. The question has come back to haunt me, along with a series of sub questions: How did I, an International student who came here with all of two suitcases to my name, accumulate so much stuff over the course of four years? More seriously, how will I ensure that I leave with only two suitcases. And so I escape the worst writer's block ever experienced by a student Baccalaureate speaker, and plunge into packing, walking around the room, throwing things into two open suitcases, walking down the hall, to donating things into goodwill boxes and walking to the library, returning unimaginable piles of books. And as the shot-glass from senior-ball is packed in and the dress I borrowed for senior ball is returned to its rightful owner; as the portfolio of all the papers I have written go into a file and all the blue book exams I have taken go into recycling, I start to pay closer attention to every tangible object I am taking or leaving behind and even as I do I begin to wish I could give myself an ounce of that time to reflect on everything intangible I am taking and leaving behind. What to take and what to leave behind. After sitting for days on end at a blank computer screen waiting, desperately hoping that inspiration would come, I start to pack, and a Baccalaureate speech begins to form.
We came here ages ago to this "bustling hub" that is South Hadley taking ourselves very seriously. We thought we knew what we were getting ourselves into. If Mount Holyoke's reputation hadn't preceded it, our first week of classes where we sat surrounded by women who seemed to have an opinion on everything, clued us in on that exhilarating and painful reality: that yes, Mount Holyoke was going to be a challenge, academically. Yes, our time here would be socially trying, or so we gathered from the long silences that ensued across the lunch-table after the introductory, "Hello, what's your name, where are you from" questions, and also when I realized that I didn't enjoy myself at TAP, not even the first time around! And yes, it would be culturally mind-boggling, we inferred as we rolled unusual names off my tongue and fitted new places into old maps. Beyond this, we are going to be find. Mount Holyoke was going to be a breeze.
I think we forgot one little thing. We forgot that in juggling a rigorous class-load with a longer list of co-curricular activities, that in meeting new people and making new friends, that our own worlds would begin to shift, that we would come to know ourselves a little better, as intellectuals, as artists, as women of color or as women of faith, but above all as individuals. While I can look at you, this collective class of 2000, and see a group of women who moved together from orientation to disorientation from D100's to Honors projects, from a group of eager bright-eyed first years to a group of stronger, wiser -albeit exhausted- women, I look at you again, and I see individuals, for whom those moments of self-knowledge have been as different as they have been personal. A professor who stopped you on the way out of class to tell you what an interesting point you made and would please choose to open your mouth more frequently, the equanimity you found during a five-day trip down the Niger river during a semester in Senegal, a 8.25am Calculus class when you realize that not only were you finally beginning to get a hang of it, you were actually enjoying it, a glorious afternoon of rehearsal at a piano in Pratt, When I think of my own moments of self-knowledge and even as I know they will be different from each of you, I also know you will be able to understand.
So what do we take Class of 2000? I like to think that we take a keener sense of ourselves, whatever way we found it. And what do we leave behind? I like to think that we leave behind those individual processes of self-discovery, that have left Mount Holyoke a little different than we found it.
We came here ages ago, very different people from different places for different reasons. Some of us because MHC was the oldest women's college in the nation, some of us because it offered us the best financial deals and some of us because of the very attractive female/male- on the admissions brochure we thought might still be hanging around! Ages after, we are also very different people, leaving with different experiences and memories to different places. I can look around at the small number of friends I have known since my first year here, see how much they've changed, and become not more alike, but more wonderfully unique. See there is no typical Mount Holyoke woman. What I love most about this community is that I didn't see myself reflected in the faces of the women walking past me on the way to class. What I take from this place is the room it has given me to grow and become my own person. In allowing us to travel higher on expanding orbits, Mount Holyoke has taught us a greater sense of self that is large enough to contain other selves.
I am happy to announce tonight that I am all packed. I've brought it down to two suitcases that once again meet all international airline luggage regulations. Some of the things I packed in are the same things I packed into these same suitcases on a hot and humid August afternoon four years ago, when I was leaving home for Mount Holyoke. Give or take a couple of inches off my hair and an occasional lapse into American English, or even my own version of ghetto talk, I am very much the person who came here four years ago. We don't magically mutate into cookie-cutter Mount Holyoke women. Mount Holyoke was not the beginning of our journeys. And as easy as it is to be carried away by an almost romantic notion of these four years as the beginning and the end, I charge you the Class of 2000 to reflect on the families, friends, teachers, neighborhoods and countries that came before. And while we go our separate ways, we are still traveling, so I charge you the Class of 2000, to be open to the people and places that come. The true global citizens that we are, we will probably pack and unpack our belongings many many times in the years to come. I wish then that you will be ever open to your travels, unpacking a little of Mount Holyoke, discarding a little of Mount Holyoke and accumulating a little of the places and people that are to come.
One of the wisest women in the world, in her day job works as my mother. Four years ago, while I was packing my life's belongings into two suitcases to leave home for the first time, she shared a few words of advice with me that have carried me through the years, that today I give to you. She said, "Dilrukshi, if you want your ship to come in, you must start building your docks." I give these words to you today, not only as a statement on the future but also as a reflection on the past. Even as we go our separate ways, we are bound together for having shared one dock for four years. To my fellow travelers, I would hope that there will come a time when the process of packing and unpacking will be as, or more rewarding than the journeys and destinations themselves. I will miss you all very much. And tomorrow Ill be saying in my heart: good luck, Godspeed, and good sailing.