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Student Commencement Speech by Kelly McCutcheon '93
Good morning to Wellesley's 115th graduating class. It is an honor to be speaking to you today. I would like to welcome and thank all of the parents, relatives, partners, children, friends, faculty and staff who have made it possible for us to reach this day. It is a joy to us all that you can be here to celebrate with us.
Reaching this day has been a long and yet rapid process and it can be hard to think about what today means. A few years ago, when I saw the movie EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, I was struck by one of its simple lines. For those of you who are not familiar with this modern fairy tale, it is the story of a young man, Edward, who is created by an inventor. When the inventor passes away, Edward is left incomplete, with scissorhands instead of human hands. He is discovered by a neighborhood woman and he walks towards her, holds up his hands, and says, "I'm not finished." I wanted to get it printed across all of my shirts and made into bumperstickers.
All of this, everything we have been working so hard on during our years at Wellesley is a journey, not a race to be won. We are not finished, we are just in a different place than where we started. While this notion of continuity struck me during a movie, maybe you realized the same thing in another way. Perhaps a certain biology lab prompted your interest in pursuing a career in genetics or a studio art class gave you a new interest in art museums. Maybe a novel you read described a place you are now trying to visit or a lecture you attended gave you a new angle on an old topic. We have all had different experiences here and we will continue to do so when we leave.
However, we are here today with a common purpose: to celebrate the completion of our undergraduate education. We are finishing our time at Wellesley as students. But, we are not finished. There is unlimited growth and change before us. If our education has served us well then the learning and the curiosity engendered here will continue for their own sakes. This day is called our commencement for a good reason. We are here to commence the rest of our lives, to hold up our human hands and say "We're not finished."
Starting well over a year ago many well-meaning people began to ask that cheerfully phrased question, "So, what are your plans after graduation?" By January I was listing the things that I was not going to do. "Well, I'm not quite ready for graduate school and I have not yet sent for a Peace Corps application." I tried to picture myself in a year, 10 years, 50 years but I couldn't see myself. My anxiety ran high and my temper grew short at various times. But then, I would remind myself that graduating from college is not synonymous with having a clear vision of what the future holds.
For those of you who know in your heart what you want to do, then do so with the greatest passion. If however, you are unsure of what will be best for you right now, then do not try to live someone else's life in the meantime. Explore every interest you have no matter how far out of the mainstream or how far out of the limelight it may be.
It is true that we will be reading about one another in the years to come. One of us may line her mantle with Academy Awards. One of us may enter the White House as President. One of us may discover the cure for AIDS.
The rest of us, though, do not need to be the stuff of headlines to make a difference. Do your best at every moment. Find work that makes life better in any way. Commit yourselves to partners who value your vision and respect your passion. Raise children who know that telling the truth and believing in the future will make a difference. Choose your issues and fight for whatever you believe in. Help others gain access to the kind of education we have received.
Just as we are not finished, so too are the goals of our time here not finished. We have often spoken of multiculturalism, and what is important is that we take this initiative with us wherever we may be going. There is no corner of the globe that would not benefit from the equality and explicit valuing of diversity that is inherent in multiculturalism. By multiculturalism, I do not mean a dogmatic political correctness, but rather an openness to the new ideas and to the people who have had to fight their way to the front and to old ideas which were brushed over for political and not intellectual reasons. I also do not mean the adoption of pat answers and attitudes that serve only to placate, not to educate. Accepting simple answers only denies us the richness of the complexities that lay underneath the surface of the issues that multiculturalism raises. Each of us has made many assumptions that demand evaluation, and judgments that deserve another look.
We have also learned that each one of us has her own voice and that each voice is worth hearing. Some of us speak loudly, while some of us use our silence to do our talking for us, but we each retain our voice. Taking the time to listen to each other is another goal which bears relevance far beyond our time at Wellesley.
We were here for many critical turning points in the politics of the modern world and in this country. The Berlin Wall came down, the Soviet Union dissolved, the Gulf War was waged, the L.A. riots broke out, the presidential administrations changed. We have seen that a conflict of ideals can be a volatile thing and sometimes we have found ourselves at the very centers of the changing pools of feminism and multiculturalism. However, while political changes may grab the most press and employ some of the loudest voices, the changes in all the other arenas of our lives need our voices too. Through all of these changes, we have made our opinions known and tried to learn to respect differences. These are dialogues which should not end today.
The world has changed before our eyes and it will continue to do so. Let us be a part of it. Let us speak up, use our voices and then take action whenever possible. We know that each person can still make a significant difference. As an Ethiopian proverb says "When spider webs unite they can tie up a lion." Imagine what 550 motivated women can do.
We are not finished, we are commencing and when we gather here in five years and in fifty years to look back, we will still not be finished. There is work to be done and we are certainly the women for the job. Thank you and best wishes to all of you.