Commencement Remarks by Justin Kirchner ’12
Thank you. I sincerely appreciate the opportunity to speak with you and to speak on behalf of my fellow students today.
Studying abroad in Ghana through the Guilford program last spring, I realized the importance of the Guilford College community. The Fante people impart wisdom through the use of proverb and today I wish to pass along to you a saying as it was passed along to me. The Fante say, “Dua kor gye ehum a obu.” Meaning, if a tree stands alone in the path of the wind, it will fall. But a family of trees will stay strong, together.
When I look out, amongst the family that we have cultivated here at Guilford, I see the truth in this.
This year marks Guilford College’s 175th anniversary. Founded in 1837 Guilford has bared witness to the Civil War and the Great Depression, Civil Rights and the Great Society. Today, we too have seen great inventions and been witness to momentous events. Though today, no event is bigger than this graduation.
It’s hard to believe four years ago we first set foot on this campus. Shyly inching towards Milner, Shore, English or Binford; we didn’t know what these four years would hold for us, we were wide-eyed and ready to make a name for ourselves, the class of 2012. Unfortunately for us, a century before we entered our freshman halls, The 1912 yearbook said: “In the fall of 1908 thirty six freshman found themselves at Guilford for the avowed purpose of making a name for themselves that would go down as the greatest class in the history of the college.” Though 4 years later another article says that not a single member of the class of 1912 got an A, so I think we outdid them there.
But, we, too have been witness to pivotal moments here at Guilford. Two months after arriving, who would forget the electricity surging through campus on that November night when Barack Obama won the presidency and students gathered on the Quad in celebration, eventually marching to Harris Teeter and back because we just didn’t know what to do with ourselves and our joy. Or in 2010 when the Gulf Oil spill filled our headlines, we watched as the oil flowed for months on end. But Guilford isn’t about witnessing history. It’s about making it. Here, we’re taught to be agents of change, embodying our seven core values as we make a difference in the world.
Quakers didn’t simply watch as the Civil War came and went. Guilford acted, and the Quakers created hospitals for Union and Confederate soldiers alike; illustrating the Quaker testimonial of equality that we’re taught in the classroom. When slaves were escaping from the deep South along the Underground Railroad, a great poplar tree in our woods, older than the United States itself, gave them safe harbor, and the students on campus gave them safe passage, embodying the justice that is today integrated in our curricula. Here at Guilford we aren’t taught to accept the status quo and watch, we seek change and do what we know to be right.
When Barack Obama was elected, we weren’t celebrating because we were witnesses to history. We were celebrating, because in our small way, many of us helped make it happen. Volunteering and voting, activism and actualizing we made a difference. After the Gulf oil spill, we didn’t sit on our hands as oil filled our beaches and shores, Guilford students filled cars and vans to visit the Gulf and do their part in the cleanup; repeating motions made in the years following Katrina.
When Bill Clinton spoke as part of the Bryan series, he said that other generations had figured out 90% of the puzzle. They’ve answered the questions as to what the world’s problems are, who they effect, and why they’re there. He said that it is the burden and the responsibility of our generation to answer the how; how we’re going to make the changes that we wish to see in the world. No matter your ideological leaning, Guilford has fostered all of our our passions and our ideas, helping us think critically and creatively, so that beginning tomorrow, May 6th, we can go forward, headfirst and headstrong into the world, into our world, and shape it how we see fit.
As a 21 year old kid, my advice as to the next step is limited. I can’t pretend up here and tell you how to get a dream job, or how to get into grad school. But I can say that in this next chapter of our lives, that we must use what we’ve learned here at Guilford. Not only the knowledge and wisdom imparted to us in the classrooms, but what we’ve learned outside of the classroom, in our halls and our dorms. On the quad, and on the field. Guilford’s been called a school for free thinkers and basketball players alike. For the socially awkward and the socially active. Let us continue. So congratulations class of 2012, we’ve made a difference in our lives and from the desks and dorms here at Guilford. Starting tomorrow, let’s find out what else we’re capable of changing from beyond this tree-lined campus.
As prepared for delivery at Commencement on May 5, 2012