Eileen Bunch ’21 delivered remarks during Transylvania University’s May 29 commencement ceremony for the Class of 2021 students in the Fine Arts, Humanities and Natural Sciences and Mathematics divisions. She is a writing, rhetoric and communication major from Fort Thomas, Kentucky. Watch the video of her address above. The text, as prepared for delivery, is below.
I’ve been thinking about the famous first assignment of the year from elementary school — well-represented in book, movie and TV classrooms — the essay that begins with the prompt “What I Did on Summer Vacation.”
It’s an interesting question — I guess the idea is that asking what someone does when left to their own devices, with all sorts of opportunities laid before them, is meant to let you get to know that person better. At its core, really, the question cares less about what you did and more about what you care about, what you prioritize, what brings you joy — in short, who you are. It’s also a transitional question, marking the sometimes painful shift from summer to school year. It’s the first assignment, but it also marks an ending.
Here we all are, likewise, at an ending. So what about the last assignment? What do we do with the prompt “What I Did in College”?
It feels too simple a question for so complex an experience, but, nevertheless, it’s worth asking: “What did I do in college?” Or, rather, since we are all here together anyhow, “What did we do in college?”
Because although the initial question is one meant for individual expression and reflection, I think beyond that it can function to illustrate the character of a group.
There’s something significant about the fact that we have all been here together and that we are all here together today for the last time, on this picture perfect postage stamp of a campus. There’s power in that proximity — the proximity of hearts and minds and ambitions. It’s not an idle thing — it’s fruitful, dynamic, productive. It progresses. It creates.
And what we’ve created, and the ways in which we’ve progressed, I think, can be found readily, even prophetically, on the coins given to us in our first days at Transylvania. The back of the coin, reverse of our university seal, proclaims a quote from Henry Adams: “Chaos was the law of nature; order was the dream of man.”
At the core of education and the act of learning is the push and pull between order and chaos. One cannot survive without the other — one cannot teach without the other. We have, in our time here, with our efforts here, brought order to chaos; in equal measure, we have made chaotic that which was ordered. That is to say, we have made sense of that which we had never dreamed of understanding, and we have boldly challenged that which we thought we understood. No matter your interests, your disciplines, your passions — here, we are all in the business of sorting things out and shaking things up.
To misquote “Walden” and play on our institution’s name in one fell swoop, “We went across the woods because we wished to live deliberately.” We come to the liberal arts, we come to Transylvania, to ask questions. We ask why things are the way they are — both to comprehend the nature of the world, and to dare to imagine that it might be different. Accepting things at face value has never been our strong suit — but that’s our greatest strength. We come to Transylvania because we know that anything is fascinating if you ask the right questions about it. We come to Transylvania because we know that the right questions will disrupt order, tame chaos and make us better citizens of the world.
So what of that final assignment? What do we say? I will hazard an attempt on all of our behalf:
What We Did in College
By the Class of 2021
We asked questions; sometimes we got answers. We had successes; we made mistakes. We forged on triumphantly when we could; we muddled through when we had to. We got to know one another; we got to know ourselves. We walked the tightrope between order and chaos — and only fell occasionally. We had the light passed to us — and now we pass it on.
Now, I don’t know about you, but that’s more valuable, more formative, more thrilling than any summer vacation I ever had. I’m so grateful that I had the chance to share it with you. And I’m so grateful that we’re all here to celebrate it today, together.
Congratulations, Transylvania Class of 2021, and go Pioneers!