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Remarks by Kenneth Miles ’07, Spring Convocation, May 1, 2013

Thank you to the President, the faculty and staff, the alumni association, my parents, and you, graduating seniors

When I was asked to come speak to you today I wasn’t quite sure what I should speak to you about. Like some folks who may not be in attendance here today, I didn't make my own senior spring convocation. Graduating a semester early, I couldn't swing getting off of work that day. So as I sit here among the graduates of 2013, participating in this convocation for the first time, I want to thank you for the opportunity. Truly, this day could not have been possible without the hard work and dedication you and your classmates have put in these past few years here at Vassar. 

I also want to make these remarks brief. It’s not because I couldn't keep you here with a long speech, but when I reflect on my time at Vassar I wish I could’ve had more time with friends and classmates. Four years goes by quickly while you're here, and four years goes by much quicker afterwards. This may come as a surprise to you, even in such a hyper connected world, but you won't keep in touch with all your classmates. You are brought together for these four years and then ushered off to fulfill your own dreams, your own destinies, remaining connected by your time at Vassar. It' can feel a bit like the final scene from the movie ‘The Sandlot’ playing out in real life.

Just a few years removed from where many of you sit, it's a bit daunting to reflect on personal accomplishments and solid advice I've received over these past few years. I haven't started my own company, haven't invented anything, haven't gone to graduate school yet like so many of my classmates, and yet I am here standing before you. In many ways I am still experiencing some of the same thoughts, concerns, fears I did graduating, but I have a few years of exposure under my belt now. I've found spaces where I've seen a glimpse of my purpose and continue to look for opportunities to delve more deeply into it. Finding purpose is arguably one of the greatest challenges we as a society can discover. Some meticulously plan theirs out, while others stumble into theirs. It's a journey of understanding that is shaped just as much inside the classrooms at Vassar as it is shaped outside of them.

Usually purpose is identified by a strong desire to leave a mark. To varying degrees, the thought of leaving a mark flows through the minds of many Vassar alums I've come in contact with. As a special group, connected to an institution like ours, the belief is that as you graduate and come to explore the world beyond these Main gates, you are to create a legacy that, in part, will leave the world better off than you found it. But where do you begin?

This is no small feat, and the world is vast. How long did it take each of you to decide what you wanted to major in? It is not an overnight process. For most it is a lifetime objective, to understand the deeper meaning behind what we do and why we choose to do it. I am still on that path, as are many of my classmates. And that's okay. There is no roadmap to life, and no matter what advice you receive you still will find yourself having to discover the path yourself. In the words of Vassar alum Edna St Vincent Millay "I am glad that I paid so little attention to good advice; had I abided by it I might have been saved from some of my most valuable mistakes"

Stay connected. It may seem counterintuitive to say this to students like yourselves who are active through social media, and are constantly within arms reach of a smart phone, tablet of laptop; some of you may be on Facebook messenger right now. Quite literally before coming here I had to sprint over to CIS so I could login to wifi and sync my speech on Evernote. Connection isn’t simply digital. To be connected is as much in relation to others as it is to one's purpose. For some that may mean socially connecting with others to better understand what motivates them, for others it may require isolation to discover what it is that makes you tick, makes you believe you'll wake up in the morning and discover something worth doing for the rest of your life. Reconnect with the thoughts you had growing up, what made you interested in them, explore those thoughts, question those thoughts, believe there is a reason for them

 It's important to start where you are, and to build upon that foundation, or, in some cases, to rebuild that foundation based on what you have come to discover about yourself. There will inevitably be roadblocks in one's life which will impact you in some way. The thing about roadblocks is that few are inherently bad or good. We value them based on the impact they have on us. Some stumbling blocks can become opportunities and some opportunities can become stumbling blocks depending on how you perceive them. In an age of information overload, drowning out the noise and deciding which path you choose amongst many options can be as challenging as if there was no path presented. That is why exercising your judgment and being assured of your purpose can be crucial. 

As an alum, there are many skills you will use, and other skills which you may seemingly start to neglect. Don't lose your gift of writing, and critical thinking. Continue to exercise those muscles. After countless papers, you may look forward to a day where email slang is the norm. Don't settle for that. Your words and your voice will help distinguish you from your peers and provide clarity that can help you strengthen and align your purpose with whatever it is you do today, in this moment.  Whether it’s a public website, a private blog, or a physical notebook, you'd be amazed at how much energy (and subsequently stress) goes into recollecting something we told ourselves to do. Whether it's a vision board, or a strong circle of friends, find yourself accountable to someone or something else, a belief larger than yourself in your in your attempt to extract that purpose you're searching for. Seek out advice, but make your decisions your own. Decisions can be both frightening and empowering. Also, not all decisions have to negatively impact someone else's. Your path, doing the work you look to do, does not have to come at the detriment of someone else's. Begin the work of discovering yours and trust the rest will come into focus.

Without perhaps feeling as though you have done anything, you have already accomplished something wonderful. Soon you'll be Vassar college graduates. And for every rung of the ladder you climb, there is a community of people; family, friends, loved ones, faculty, staff, supporters, who have helped you get to this point. Share that experience, share that value. Use it to help illuminate opportunities for others. 

In closing, I'd like to leave you with quote from author Earnest Hemingway 

In going where you have to go, and doing what you have to do, and seeing what you have to see, you dull and blunt the instrument you write with. But I would rather have it bent and dulled and know I had to put it on the grindstone again and hammer it into shape and put a whetstone to it, and know that I had something to write about, than to have it bright and shining and nothing to say, or smooth and well oiled in the closet, but unused. 

Use the tools you have acquired here at Vassar and beyond these campus walls and classrooms.  Pay it forward for others. In the small towns big cities, and countries you are from, and the small towns, big cities, and countries where you may wind up. Live an examined life, never stop discovering, never stop taking the risk, and never stop looking to understand. Cheers to the class of 2013

Posted by Office of Communications Wednesday, May 1, 2013