ARCHIVED: Commencement 2002: Co-President of the Senior Class Joshua Riegel
The last weeks of school are a tumultuous time, work bleeds into sleep — sleep bleeds into daylight. The night becomes the platform upon which we work, producing intellectual landscapes — dreamscapes that eventually fall to earth, no longer a dream, but an exposition. As usual, this semester, my conference work came together, though gracefully, at the last moment. I spent the last three weeks in my room with my lap-top-thankfully I was not alone. Beside me were three friends, three more lap-tops, and dozens of books. Eventually, over the course of two weeks, between the four of us we produced over one hundred pages of material, meticulously well crafted, of course. My room became our war-room-this was truly conference work.
Four minds in one room, enclosed within four walls, but limitless in possibility. We were writing papers that ostensibly spoke to our own intellectual curiosities but somehow, between moments of solitude and hysteria, conversations unfolded in which our work became relevant not just to ourselves, but to one another — our individual work was not a simple transition from author to page, from hand to key, instead it became enriched through conversations, mediated through communication with one another across our own vast areas of interest and knowledge. These were conversations out of which epiphanous horizons intensified as the dawning sun ascended, out of which elegant prose struggled free from intellectual briar fields. We became resources for one another. We became each other's community, and yet this only became clear to me upon nearing the closure of this intellectual journey.
For what is community if it is not something into which we are inducted? What is community if not rooted into the ground, quietly awaiting full excavation?
Community happens between people. Community is imagined, though not a illusion. Community is where you stand and where you believe it to be, because when we support one another, when we become invested in one another, in the creative and intellectual processes of one another, community exists. When our ability to communicate difference, to live kindly and gently within disagreement, and to embrace diversity burns so intensely it demands being carried outside of the Sarah Lawrence seminar, we can viably cultivate community from the inside-out, birthing it anew and carrying it with us wherever we may roam.
Today, I am left with something very particular after finishing this last round of conference projects… and this gift surrounds an newly uncovered understanding of community, what it means to be part of community, what it means to create community, and what it means to sustain community. Community starts with us.
Malcolm X Shabazz once wrote:
"We ourselves have to lift the level of our community, take the standards of our community to a higher level, make our own society beautiful so that we will be satisfied…we've got to change our own minds about each other, we have to see each other with new eyes…we have to come together with warmth…" and it is with warmth that I would like to invite us all to step into many more years of learning, the creation of a beloved community, and to uphold a generosity of spirit which can carry us all across torrid rivers of sorrow and most importantly joy.
I would like to humbly and graciously thank: our wonderful faculty — the fulcrum of our intellectual community, holding the pieces together with renewed rigor and dedication each year. Our staff and administration who work to enrich this community with superlative strength and insight, my peers who look toward the future with hope and unending curiosity, and our parents and loved ones who first taught us the meaning of community and love.
Again in the worlds of Malcolm X Shabazz: "One day, may we all meet together in the light of understanding."
Joshua D. Riegel