At my alma mater, there is a tradition at the end of every spring semester where a committee of seniors selects from a pool of submissions a speech to be read at a graduation brunch. The following (edited) speech was not selected.
When we were accepted into college, we filled out a few questions on a housing survey in consideration of our forthcoming living situation. These answers were compiled in a process known as the Freshmen Housing Lottery, which threw us into residence halls and picked our friends for the first six months of our collegiate career. We’d spend the next few weeks drinking ourselves into near-comas five nights a week until we’d all catch the flu and discover that Orientation does not extend indefinitely into the second month of classes.
Over the last eight semesters, we have booted and rallied towards Commencement. Looking back, you may think about all of those countless hours you invested socializing on the third floor of Case, all the times you’ve been spotted by John Jug’s giant flashlight gun after dancing on the Jug’s benches, or the next morning brunches spent trying to avoid the three girls you made out with the night before. All of these factors have worked together to help shape the past four years, and these moments are what we will summon when we reflect on our time here.
But have you ever paused to consider how much of your collegiate experience was determined by your response to the housing survey? How much thought you put into circling various numbers from 1-7 corresponding to your sleep and study hours? Unless there is an all-powerful machine that the good people up at Residential Life feed our scales to in order to compute a roommate happiness quotient, there is reason to speculate that no more than chance went into our rooming selection. In another life, a mere shuffle of that stack of housing forms, and you might have wound up in a different dorm and spent the first quarter of college surrounded by different people. Born amongst other personalities, would you have continued on the same trajectory? You might have ended up joining the improv-comedy group, falling in love with that ginger boy down the hall, or trying acid with the residential druggies.
During my time here, I majored in Neuroscience and English and led an a capella group and a fraternity. I co-hosted the University’s most metal radio show, wrote two articles for the school newspaper, got written up by Campus Safety three or four times (still some debate), lied, cheated, stolen, and peed on carpets, fraternities, and in the occasional bed of whatever room in Cutten happened to suit my fancy. My four years of college have slipped by on a hedonistic slide of girls and beer, the success of which has been measured solely by the size of my GPA and the number of sexual conquests that have resulted in some form of ejaculation.
Looking over this list of accomplishments, I recall my humble beginnings, and it is impossible for me to separate how much of what I have done was due to the living situation I was first handed. I came to college without musical or Greek ambitions, and can say for certain that I would not have had the courage or desire to try out for either if it hadn’t been for the influence of my freshman roommates. Who knows who I might have become if I had been placed in another dorm? Would I have found the same friends? Gotten the same advice about what classes were the easiest A’s? Enjoyed the same professors? Declared the same major?
To all you sweet bros in Beta/ Sigma/ PKT/ etc. that think you are mega tight for nabbing a bid to the chillest house on campus: did you choose your freshman roommates? Which dorm room on your floor ended up having 20 people and beer pong tables shoved inside? Who started showing up to those gatherings, and who you started to run around with? Countless factors have led you to the decisions you take ownership of on a daily basis. In another life, a mere shuffle of those housing forms, and you might not have ended up in the same house. Perhaps Carlos down the hall ends up looking slightly better in croakies and pastels than you do, and you don’t get a bid. Maybe your family doesn’t have enough money for you to pay dues, so you get a job at the library instead.
Above all of the liberal arts knowledge I have crammed into my head during the past four years of college, I see today that we have no more say over what will happen to us in these lives than we do over our freshman rooming situation. Call it chance, fate, karma, whatever: no matter your creed, The Housing Lottery placed you in one of many dorms of our society, picked your roommates, and pushed you far beyond the next four years.
Yet you have a choice. Look around you. Look at your peers, sitting silently for as long as I care to keep talking, because that’s what’s respectful and that’s how we are supposed to behave at these things. Were you led here today, or did you lead? Will you be another face in the crowd, patient and waiting, or will you stand, flip over the table that has been set for you, and seize your fate? While we remain unable to choose our circumstance, the hand we are dealt by that omnipotent machine, the decision of how we play it is entirely our own.
The years lay sprawled before us, ours for the taking, and with any luck, we will go on to be 40, 60, 80, who knows? Life as we know it may be coming to end, but we are only just beginning. Sometimes life will be slow, drawn out, at a cubicle or in a hospital with all your loved ones around you, and sometimes it will happen fast, in the blink of an eye, crashing into a tree and killing all four passengers inside. Regardless of how it happens, what you do is up to you.
After all this youth, if the prospect of shaking hands with the President of this fine University and being handed a diploma does not make you want to raise that laminated piece of paper above your head and scream for all you are worth, then you are missing the point. We may find ourselves at jobs that are mundane, and we may even have to scale our drinking back from five to three nights a week, but that doesn’t mean we have to give up our Fraturdays. Will you smile and overcome, or will you fall trembling before whatever form of magical Residential Life roommate happiness quotient machine you may or may not believe in?
On this spring afternoon, just another day in the history of man, life is happening. NOW! Do not mourn its beginning. Wake the fuck up for it.