Speech by Susannah Parkin, '13 Hamilton College graduate
and recipient of the James Soper Merrill Prize
Thank you. I am truly honored to be standing up here speaking today. So many of my classmates deserve great recognition for their accomplishments. I take pride in saying that I belong to the Hamilton College Class of 2013. And I know that I speak for everyone seated in front me when I say that we could not have made it here without a great deal of help. Thank you to our professors, the administration, as well as the staff of Hamilton College. And of course, thank you to our family and friends. All of our accomplishments are a testament to the support and encouragement that you have provided.
It is an honor to have been chosen for this prize, but it does come with a small catch. The recipient speaks at commencement – which I think would make most people scared, even if they did not speak with a stutter. But fear can be helpful. There are many things in life that we should be afraid of – tigers; poisonous frogs; falling off of a cliff. For these situations, fear means survival. However, for other situations, fear just means that we are facing something new; something intimidating. For example, we might be afraid of going to college for the first time, taking a higher-level course, or studying abroad for a semester. For these situations, fear simply means that we are facing a new challenge.
My first message is something that we have all heard before, but it is a message that deserves to be repeated on this special day. It is important to do things in spite of our fear. We know this to be true because this idea – doing something in spite of being afraid – has characterized our experience at Hamilton. Hamilton has presented us with challenges. For many of us, it was our first time living away from home. We had to make new friends, choose a major, and meet exceedingly high academic demands. These challenges were scary. No one sitting here today can truthfully say that they experienced no fear during their time here. But this fear is not important. What is important is that we did leave home; we made new friends; we chose a major; and we met the demands.
Today is proof that we succeeded in spite of our fear.
My second message is a slight revision of the first. I believe that we should do things in spite of our fear, but I also believe that sometimes we have to go even further. We have to do things because we are afraid. We have to see a situation, recognize our fear, and do it because it scares us. We have see fear as an opportunity for growth. We have to seek out challenges. Facing our fear with a sense of purpose makes us stronger because it puts us in control of the fear. This is a lesson that I have learned at Hamilton. When I was choosing my classes for last fall, I came upon a public speaking course. As I read the course description, my palms began to sweat. It seemed like my worst nightmare – a course dedicated to developing, delivering, and critiquing speeches. But I also knew that it was a quintessential Hamilton course and used to be required for graduation. Hamilton prides itself on its students’ abilities to communicate their ideas successfully. I was afraid of the course, but the fear meant that it was important for me to take the course. It was something new; something intimidating. It was also an opportunity for growth. And today – speaking at commencement – I am thankful that I made that decision.
I will be the first to admit that thinking about life after graduation is scary. We feel comfortable at Hamilton. We have friends; we know how things work; we know what is expected of us. Life after Hamilton is less certain – we will be going to graduate school; working; traveling – we will be facing new challenges. It is okay that we are afraid, but we cannot let the fear stop us. We need to let the fear fuel us and do things because we are afraid of them.
Congratulations, Class of 2013.
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