Commencement 2008 remarks by student speaker Lovell| May 14, 2008
Following is the text of the prepared remarks delivered by Josh Lovell, the student speaker for the 2008 Commencement 2008 ceremony. —Ed.
COMMUNITY. It's a sexy word here at William and Mary. We throw it around as easily as we do a Frisbee in the Sunken Gardens. When asked, what's the one word that best describes William and Mary, the rote answer is community. It's a mysterious, awe-inspiring word here at the College. But honestly, I think we give it more depth and meaning when we use it in context. When we break it down and give it definition. What does this word mean for you? For me? Especially within the context of our experiences in this place. In this community.
Across the board, in my experiences at the College, as an undergraduate student, staff member, and graduate student, I have found the importance of community here at William and Mary to be this…showing up. People showing up and being present with each other. Often times, more important than the words that are spoken or the occasion for being there, the true comfort, the true bond that is established, the true support that is given is because of presence. The power of being present with the people who need you. That is where I truly believe that the power of community at William and Mary comes from.
A very personal example of this and memory for me stems from my undergraduate experience here. 9/11 happened when I was an undergraduate student. I remember that morning vividly. There was confusion. Students walking around not really knowing what was going on or what to make of what was happening. Students were congregating in places, gravitating to each other trying simply to make sense of what was going on. There was a great deal of uncertainty, sadness, anger. The gambit of emotions was vast. I had a 2 o'clock class that afternoon and at the time, I'm not sure why but I went. Certainly this was a day that no one would begrudge a student for not being in class. But for some semblance of normalcy, I went. And amazingly so did most of my classmates. We all showed up and then so did our professor. We were there, together, in that classroom, in that place. We needed to be there. Together. Our professor showed up to be present with us. We talked for what seemed like hours at the time. I think we were there longer than our class typically would have gone. And through it all our professor was there to be our leader, our friend, our counselor, our sounding board. To facilitate a conversation that has become a seminal moment in my life. She was there to be real and present with us.
I think we've all had moments like that in our lives. And it hasn't always been a professor. Most likely in your time here, it's been a friend. A friend who showed up to you're a capella concert, your dissertation defense, or your audio adventure. A friend being present to celebrate with you when you finally finished that honors thesis or to be a shoulder to cry on when tears needed to be shed. Maybe in your time here it's been an administrator or a staff member, or a parent or mentor. No matter who was present for you, we've all had those moments when what we needed most were people around us. To laugh with us or to cry. To celebrate or to grieve. Nothing more than just being there for each other. Being present. I think that is what community is and especially for us here at William and Mary. It's about showing up for each other.
Professor Sonn, thank you. Thank you for showing up to class that day. For being present with us.
Throughout the weeks leading up to graduation, we all probably began the process of saying goodbye. And I'm certain that in saying goodbye there have also been many thanks expressed. Whether it's thanking our friends for the times that we have shared, thanking our professors for the wisdom they have imparted, or thanking someone like Stewart Gamage who has worked tirelessly behind the scenes for the betterment of this institution; what is it that we are really thanking these people for? We are thanking them for showing up. For having the courage, steadfastness, love, and charity to make this journey with us.
Today is a significant and momentous day in our lives. Whether you've been here for only one year, four, or even 41, today is an incredible day. Today we celebrate and revel in the achievements that have us brought to this packed Hall. And as we leave this place, our lives will be forever changed. That is inevitable. But nowhere has it been written that we cannot take this sense of community that we have learned here and take it forth. When you get to DC or Baltimore, Pittsburgh or Minneapolis, New York or LA, wherever you go from here, take this notion forth. That often times the strength of community lies in showing up for each other. Being present when a friend needs you.
I've been asked several times why I wanted to do this. Why I would want to be speaker. Here's why. I have lived in Williamsburg for seven years and have been a part of the William and Mary family for eight. I lived, breathed and bled green and gold for four years as an undergraduate. I left for a year and then came back and upon my return I had the opportunity to work for the College and my love for William and Mary only grew. And for two years now I have been blessed to work in this place in preparation for the career that inspires me. I vividly remember about a month into my freshman year as I was walking back to my dorm room in Dupont, I was talking to my Dad on the phone and he asked me what I was doing. I told him I was walking home. Home. It was the first time I had called William and Mary home. And truly, this place has become just that; my home. For five years, I have lived with my best friend in this place. I met the love of my life while I was working for the College. And I have found countless mentors who have been present to guide me every step along the way. Why did I want to be Commencement speaker? Because each of us has our own William and Mary story that in someway speaks to the essence of community. And for me this is an opportunity to say farewell and most importantly to say thank you. Graduates, thank you. Thank you for showing up. For being present with each other throughout the years. And for being willing to embody the sense of community that makes William and Mary what it is.