College of Education and Human Services faculty member Joshua Garrison offered the following remarks at UW Oshkosh’s spring commencement ceremony on May 14 at Kolf Sports Center:
“Blank, blankity-blank the blankin’ blank. Blankers! Blank this blank. Blank-opotamus. Blank-osaurus Rex. Super-blank-ifragi-blank-stic-expiali-blank-cious. But these are not the rude declarations uttered by the unhinged road-rager; nor are they akin to the gratuitous profanities we hear from the lexically-challenged pop star. The long-distance runner is a more apt analogy. She has logged more miles than your grandfather’s Olds. She trained right through the Polar Vortex, which had the rest of us huddled under the covers with a mug of hot chocolate, watching Netflix and chilling. Cracked lips and blistered heels were preferred to complacency and sloth, and—of her own volition—she suffered and sacrificed for a purpose that bystanders and passersby didn’t understand. She wipes the stinging sweat from her eyes and awakens to find herself on race day, separated from the finish line by a mere mile…a half mile…a fraction of a fraction of another fraction. And that is when she says it: “Blank this blank.” She loves this race; she hates this race. She’s exhilarated by her own exhaustion. But with the dream in her sights, she now just wants it to be over. Common things I hear students say upon nearing graduation: ‘College is hard. It’s long. I’m glad I did it, but I wouldn’t want to do it again.’
“I also hear this: ‘I can’t wait to get out of this place. I need to get out of here.’ While writing these remarks, the film “Escape from Alcatraz” kept coming to mind, especially the scenes where Clint Eastwood digs his way out of his Alcatraz cell with a dirty old kitchen spoon. In the preceding weeks our graduates have also been chipping away: one more exam, one more group presentation… one more credit. And then? Freedom!
“Now, UW Oshkosh is not a prison. And though our students have many nicknames for this fine institution, Alcatraz on the Fox is not among them. You’ve been educated, not punished, although at times it has been punishing. Today you are graduating, not being exonerated. And now you are just free to go. We will not hang your mug shots on post office walls and we will unleash no dogs to pursue you—although, to be honest, your lenders probably will. Your eagerness to leave is a product of your own success and offers proof that UW Oshkosh’s student learning outcomes have been met, for it is our goal that you be ‘fully engaged as leaders and participants in civic, economic, political and social life.’ To remain within these walls any longer would hinder that engagement—it is time for you to go.
“Common things I hear students say as they near graduation: ‘I’m not ready to be an adult. I’m not ready for the real world.’ At first glance this may seem contrary to the aforementioned drive for independence and liberty that fueled you during the final stretch. But here we find a tension, not a contradiction, and it’s one that you’ve experienced before. Before college you may have said ‘I must emancipate myself from this overbearing family that hinders my personal sovereignty at every turn,’ but soon after being dropped off at your residence hall you found yourself saying ‘What I would not give to be tucked in by mommy or daddy one more time…this cafeteria food is rotten and my roommate is scary.’ Or: ‘Once I wage my escape from this conformist small-town high school that doesn’t fulfill my thirst to experience something more cosmopolitan’ turned, at times, into ‘Back in my home town at least people knew my name, I had a place and everything was comfortable and familiar. And did I mention that my new roommate is scary?’ And so we have it today—a desire to move on and transcend the familiar, coupled with a fear of the unknown. This is natural, and you’ll feel it again at your next transition. But let me share with you a secret about the real world: you’ve already been there.
“You’ve carried an eighteen-hour credit load while working forty hours a week at a gas station and—still struggling to make ends meet—you amassed thousands in debt, all because you wanted to teach children. You’ve battled depression or anxiety, and though it paralyzed you or flooded your head with doubt and despair, you picked yourself up, got some help and completed that dark semester. You showed up to morning classes after yet another sleepless night nursing your newborn. When your identity came into question the problems you faced in math class suddenly seemed trivial and unimportant. So you found a community of like-minded people who embraced and encouraged you—you claimed that new identity, loudly and proudly. Math no longer seemed trivial, but it wasn’t difficult, because you’d solved problems of far greater complexity. During your collegiate career you lost grandmothers and grandfathers, mothers and fathers, sisters, brothers and friends—the grief punched you in the face and until you saw stars, and then it kicked you in the gut, bringing you to your knees and leaving you without breath. But upon your return to campus you staggered to the library and immersed yourself in your studies; you honored their memories by fighting through the loss—they would be so proud of you. And, then, there was that perfect spring, when you met ‘the one.’ This was the heady time of falling in love when nothing—and I mean nothing—mattered except gazing into the eyes of this new, most-amazing-person-in–the-world. Your stomach was full of butterflies, rainbows, teddy bears and fuzzy-wuzzies; and though your brain was saturated with endorphins, and all you really wanted to do was go on a picnic and find pictures in the clouds, you spent that beautiful spring day seated in a windowless bunker-of-a-computer lab, pecking away at the keyboard until you’d finished that term paper, bibliography and all.
“Real life requires real sacrifices and each of you has earned your place on today’s stage. It’s my job as a commencement speaker to stand before you and offer inspiration. But the group that we honor today is not in need of it—you are already inspired. Next time you hear yourself say ‘I’m not ready for the real world,’ just laugh it off. You’ve already been there. And you have blanked its blank.
“Common things I hear students say as they near graduation: ‘Thank you.’ I opened with a silly joke about our graduates having sharp tongues, but, really, they are as polite, well mannered and professional as they come. And they always say thanks at the semesters close.
“On behalf of my colleagues let me offer thanks to you, our students and now our graduates. Our professional lives are predicated on your desire and drive to learn; without you, there would be no faculty. Without you, we cease to exist. So thank you for making this life we live possible. Thank you for being our students.
“You are the Class of 2016 and today is your day. Congratulations. May you continue to live in a manner that is splendid, inspired and remarkable.
“As always, it has been a tremendous honor. Thank you.”