As the seniors prepare to embark on the last leg of their collegiate journey, it is time once again to choose the senior who will deliver a speech during commencement. Faculty nominate students to prepare essays, from which 10 are selected to present their ideas during the annual Senior Colloquium. Of the 10 speakers, three will ultimately be selected to speak on Founder’s Day, and from there, the finalist will address the graduating class at commencement in May.
The 2020 Senior Colloquium took place at 5 p.m. Feb. 7 in Pugh Auditorium. To provide a brief introduction to the evening, Provost Rogan Kersh sympathized with the seniors by explaining how he was in their same shoes just 34 years ago, eager to speak about a topic of community building. He continued by reflecting on the vast history of orators who have spoken at commencement since the university’s establishment on the Reynolda Campus in 1868.
The first speaker was Dylan King, who is studying mathematics and computer science. King, whose oration was titled “Camaraderie in the Lounge,” spoke to the process of community building on campus and advocated for finding spaces that are conducive to growth. He reflected on how, after completing a major assignment, the alleviation of pressure is an incomparable feeling. Likening friendship to “the spice of life,” King recognized that graduation will bring immense changes. His final piece of advice to seniors looking for new friends after college involved “finding new lounges.”
Isy Duffy took the stage next to read her oration, “The Traveling Village,” which demonstrated how the trials in our life influence our character and ideals. Reflecting back on a childhood of academic struggle, Duffy explained how teachers and role models surrounded her with support and developed a virtual “village” around her. Duffy explained how each and every one of us have developed a village of exceptionally special figures in our lives.
“Wherever life takes us, the village stays,” Duffy said.
Third was Grace Franzese, whose essay, “Building Community,” depicted the challenges of coming to campus from a small town. For the first time in her life, Franzese was alone and was forced to extend her comfort circle before finding a home with the university’s comedy troupe, the Lilting Banshees.
“It’s not luck that I’ve stayed friends with the people in my life,” Franzese said.
She conceded that friendship takes dedicated effort and loyalty, but communities last a lifetime.
Then, Omar Pasha provided a unique twist on a traditional circus in his oration, “Cirque de Forest.” Relating students to performers, he explained how the desire to obtain a high grade forces students to fight for the grade, instead of for themselves. By feeding into this environment of competition, Pasha argued that we can never truly address our own mental health concerns.
The next speaker, Lucy Porter, incorporated her comedic skills to deliver a speech that was heartfelt and humorous. Titled “Knowing No,” Porter reflected on her college experiences and how the word “yes” can often misguide students by giving them a false perception of success.
“‘Yes’ is great, but it’s the ‘no’s I’ve received that galvanize my character,” Porter said.
Wubetu Shimelash was next to the stage, delivering his oration, “Opportunity is the Foundation of Success.” Reflecting on his childhood in a remote region in the Ethiopian mountains, Shimelash learned the entrepreneurial skills that would carry him to the United States and to the university. After years of caring for sheep, cows and horses, Shimelash took advantage of the opportunities before him, eventually finding a home within on campus.
In Samantha Smart’s speech, “Finding Myself in a Whole New World,” she sought to tell her story through the theme of dance. Smart explained her excitement upon arriving at the university and highlighted how her struggles have shaped her into who she is today. After finding the outlet of Zumba, she was able to discover a passion that was only brought to the light through her proactive search for new experiences.
In her oration, “Finding Light in the Uncomfortable,” Rita Venant offered a fresh perspective on the topic of the college transition. Hailing from Haiti, Venant described the importance of her college education, considering her grandparents received no formal education. Through her focused efforts and determination, Venant found herself at the university, only to discover the challenges posed on campus. Venant closed her oration by inspiring the crowd to take advantage of their college experiences.
Celia Zhou’s oration, “Living and Loving the Questions,” expressed how consistently answering the same questions allows us to reflect on our values and motives. As a student of Asian descent, Zhou is no stranger to the question, “where are you from?” However, it was through this prompted self-reflection that Zhou has been able cultivate a spirit of intentionality.
Last to the stage, Coleman Greene openly expressed his past struggles of self-doubt in his oration titled “The Work in Front of Us.” Greene, having previously questioned his potential, described how the advice of one professor reshaped his evaluative outlook. He emphasized how the work in front of us matters more than the end goal.
“Some days our work will be storming the castle, other days it will be sweeping the porch,” Greene said.