2008 Honors College Commissioning Ceremony
Congratulations to the SMBHC Class of 2008!
The Honors College Commissioning Ceremony Speeches for the graduating Class of 2008 are included below.
My-Linh Dinh Ngo’s Welcome
Shad White’s Address
Faculty, family, and friends,
On October 10th of last year, a team of biologists and researchers from England published a groundbreaking study that confirmed an ecological “urban legend” of sorts. These researchers found that two organisms on this planet keep and maintain pets: humans and ants. According to their research, several species of ants form a unique mutualistic relationship with aphids, tiny lice that live on plants. The ants keep the aphids confined to a certain portion of a plant and maintain them, ensuring that the aphid’s source of nourishment is protected against predators. In return, the aphids secrete a honeydew-like substance on which the ants feed. What is unique is the fact that the ants seem to care for the aphids, not out of love, but necessity, essentially domesticating them and becoming the second species on the planet to join the ranks of pet owners. Hold that thought.
My charge in this final address of our college career is to reflect on the role that the Honors College has played in our lives, and, in doing so, to thank those that have afforded us an education. To do that, I want to talk about ownership. Each one of us in this graduating class understands ownership of ourselves. You have clearly recognized agency over your own life, as it has required a great deal of personal responsibility to attend class, write a thesis, and ultimately graduate. Congratulations. The type of ownership that I want to talk about today, though, can provide a reflection of our journey in the Honors College and is applicable for the next phase of our lives. This type of ownership is ownership of our own ideas and our world.
Back to the ants. What makes our ant story noteworthy? Though the aforementioned ants exhibit several behaviors we will all want to avoid in the future like hive-mindedness, an aversion to complex thought, or an unending obsession with honeydew, there is something we can learn from the ant-aphid relationship. Again, this relationship is not simply a symbiotic one. The ants do not merely benefit from the aphids; they have taken ownership of the aphids and, in doing so, taken ownership of their own destinies and well-being.
Why is this relationship reflective of our Honors College experience? College in general is a time for self-exploration. When we arrived at the shining palaces of Stockard and Martin, most of us had lived for eighteen years under the roofs of our parents. Inescapably, our ideas were probably still largely shaped by cultural relativism. It is impossible to fully think for yourself and form your own ideas having never lived outside of your native community or your family’s domicile. College, of course, changes this fact, but the Honors College goes farther than that.
First, the Honors College humbles us. In the words of my Honors 101 professor, Dr. Denley, “Most of you were probably the smartest person you’ve ever met up until the first day of Honors 101.” The question is: What happens when you put 13 people who are convinced they are the smartest people they’ve ever met in the same room together? The answer is humility.
Second, the Honors College teaches us to explore our assumptions about the world, not only from the liberated standpoint of a person living on his or her own for the first time, but from the perspective of other cultures and in the context of important literary works. For fundamentally changing the way we view ourselves and others, we owe the faculty of the Honors College a debt that can never fully be repaid. Join me now in momentarily thanking the faculty and staff of the Honors College.
These two goals of the Honors College – humility and self-exploration – have marked our last four years at this university, but on this day, we must attempt to envision what the Honors College means for the next few decades of our lives. Our Honors College experience has allowed to us develop new and exciting philosophies about how hypothetical “lives” should be lived. We have had four years to formulate conclusions about appropriate lifestyles from remarkably broad contexts. You are informed. You have come to conclusions. You are ready to live. And the point of my address to you today is this: All this discussion and learning will have been a waste if you do not take ownership of both your own ideas and of this world.
Just as the ants take ownership of the aphids for their own survival, you too must acknowledge that the conclusions you have made about the world – that is should be fairer, that it should be cleaner, that it should be more tolerant, that it should be healthier – require you to live a life congruous with those conclusions. Our very livelihood and worth as human beings depends on it. The practical decisions of our lives – what kind of car we drive, our professions, the way we treat those less fortunate than us on the street – determine whether or not the philosophical conclusions we stumbled upon at the Honors College were actually worth the time we spent formulating them.
Not only are we required to take ownership of all these ideas, but every graduate in this room is required to take ownership of this world. If you hear nothing else in my address to you today, hear this: Without hyperbole, I earnestly believe the fate of the world depends on our generation. Preceding generations have left us a world that grows increasingly warmer and dangerous by the year, an economy dependent on a dwindling natural resource, and a world population where some enjoy opportunity but many do not. In the words of Percy Cerutty, “Think deeply and separate what you wish from what you are prepared to do.”
What are you prepared to do? We stand on the precipice of the greatest decision of our individual lives: How will we live our lives? I challenge you today to take the body of knowledge that you have earned, take ownership of it, make the small, practical decisions of your life based on it, and finally lead. Some may call it arrogance, but I call it realism: We are smart. God blessed us. Each graduate in this room is not merely called to live a life that is amenable to incremental solutions to problems; we are called to lead. We are not just called to install energy saving light bulbs in our homes; we are called to invent energy saving technologies. We are not just called to make a Christmastime donation to the Salvation Army; we are called to found new non-profits that deliver goods more efficiently to the needy. We are not just called to support the doctors and lawyers who give their time to charity; we are called to be the doctors and lawyers who travel to Haiti to fight TB or work pro-bono in inner-city Jackson. We are not just called to write a letter to our Congressman; we are the ones called to run for Congress. In short, we are called to take ownership of our mother Earth, because if we do not, the relationships, the livelihoods, and the prosperity we have come to know will disappear in the twinkling of an eye.
In closing, I would like to finish the final moments we will enjoy together as a class in a way that is befitting of any good Ole Miss student: with a little Faulkner. Class of 2008, we may never solve all of the world’s problems, but in the words of the Count, “The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.”
I have thoroughly enjoyed living, learning, and laughing with all of you. Live happily, do good, and leave this world a better place than you found it. Congratulations.
Brandon Russell’s Charge
When I found out I would have the privilege of giving this charge, a friend of mine gave me a piece of advice. He told me, “Remember, it’s not about you. It’s about others.” The more I thought about those words, the more I realized how appropriate they are for this occasion. For one thing, we recognize that today is just as much – if not more! – for family and friends as it is for students. Beyond that, however, this event marks an important transition. Brace yourselves, my friends. In a few weeks or months, you’re going to discover that, in the real world, it isn’t about you anymore. It’s about others.
This is going to come as a shock for most of us, because college makes us believe – often rightfully so – that everything is about us. This is most obvious when you look at how much we are given, and how much we take. Let me give you some examples. On the first day of class when you were a freshman, your professor gave you a syllabus. Midway through the course he gave you an exam. And on the last day of finals he gave you a grade. In all of these exchanges, the responsibility was with the professor to initiate contact. The system was designed around you. And when it comes to taking, as honors students we all deserve a degree in it, because we have become experts at benefiting from the immense generosity of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College.
Believe me my friends, things are going to change. And if you think I only mean that figuratively, you may want to check your missed calls when we get to the reception. The Alumni Association would like to have a word with you.
So, exactly how are these massive and literal changes going to manifest themselves? Regardless of where you’re going from here – the corporate world, graduate school, or to start a family – they’ll come in two major shifts.
First, you’ll be giving a lot more. For those of you going into industry, you’ll be expected to give profits and results to your bosses. For those of you going to graduate school, you’ll be expected to give your life – or at least 80 hours a week of it – to your advisor. For all of us, we should strive to continue the Honors College’s tradition of giving back to our communities. In all of these cases, the responsibility will fall squarely on us to initiate and sustain these interactions.
The second major shift is that people will start taking from you. Now I don’t mean you’re going to get mugged frequently – unless you’re moving to New York City. What I mean is that the Honors College has helped make each of you a uniquely gifted individual, and the people around you – coworkers, lab mates, students – are going to recognize that. They’re going to need your direction, your encouragement, your friendship.
How do we tackle these changes? The way the Honors College has taught us to tackle every challenge we encounter. Passionately. Seize every opportunity you can to show the world that when it comes to being a self-starter, no one beats an SMBHC Scholar. Give your talent, knowledge, and wisdom freely and generously to those around you. Give thanks to all those who have helped make you the person you are today, and give respect whenever you are taught something, because learning doesn’t end with a bachelor’s degree. When people seek you out, be humbled, and treat it as an opportunity to touch a life the same way the Honors College has touched all of our lives.