Nedda Alammar MFA '11: Graduate Student Speaker
Thank you, all. Thank you President Karen Lawrence, Board of Trustees, and especially Graduate Studies and my fellow graduate students who have given me this honor of representing them today.
Last week, an undergrad asked me, "How does it feel to graduate, again?" Again? I didn't get it. I don't if it was the fact that during this questioning I was working an event at the school gym, number one, and that to my right there was a moonwalk, to my left were plastic square thermoses of virgin sangria, and all around me was pizza. But he was right. I had done this whole graduating/transitioning thing before. Surely, I have something profound to say. And so I began thinking about how I've moved on. And wondering if I ever did. After all, I was in a school gym with a moonwalk.
My first place after graduating college was a tiny room in the Bronx that I rented from a guy who owned a bar. And each night that we happened to eat dinner in the same space, I would see him remove his front tooth and set it on the tv. He'd talk about how he was an entrepreneur, a businessman. I remember my parents moving me into that apartment; trying to disguise their disgust, surely my degree from a fancy college didn't translate to a room with hardly a view. I moved home. My second apartment was yet another sublet, in a shady part of Queens. I moved home. This time my roommate was a treadmill-a plus!-and a cat-a negative. It gave me fleas. My third apartment was a studio in Manhattan where I learned the art of washing dishes from my bed while brushing my teeth. I thought I hit the jackpot. My mother did not.
"Why can't you just settle down!" she would plead with me.
"But I am!" I'd tell her. "I've decided I want to be a writer!"
"Why can't you just settle down!" she'd say. "You can still be a lawyer!" As if law school was the great career that got away.
When I moved out of Manhattan and into this town for grad school last year, I didn't quite know what I was getting into. I knew I lived near a gas station. I knew that there was no 24 hour anything like I had in the city except the 7/11— and unless I had a craving for relish pasta, that basically meant nothing. I knew that my bank was a million miles away as was the grocery store to someone who didn't have a car. I was a city girl who'd been demoted to pedestrian. My father suggested I get one of those little carts to wheel everything. I told him I'd rather die.
Anytime someone would ask me where I moved from, I'd say say, 'Oh yeah, the city,' they'd just look at me oddly. Being that I have a knack for picking up weird vibes, I tried to explain my position against commuting, that I was just 'over' the city and all it's noise and filth. They'd continue to look at me oddly. I was a walking oxy-moron. Literally. What am I doing here? I asked myself. Had I regressed?
But then classes started. And I made friends—which is not that difficult for me—but these friends were different. They were like me—just a little bit off. They were willing to talk about our work over relish pasta from the 7-11. You know those friends, who understand you in ways that your other friends and family—sorry, but it's true—probably don't. And you meet professors. Professors who treat you like equals. And they say all the right things when you need to hear them the most, like 'keep doing, keep creating, just get up each day and work.' No world I had ever been in before was like this. So when I'm in my apartment here in suburbia and I hear the cars pull into the gas station, or I'm walking home from the Metro North train and there is no one on the street, I actually don't mind. Not as much as I probably should.
'Moving on' may not look like what it's supposed to look like, but that doesn't mean it isn't happening. Isn't that what we learn at this school—that nothing is supposed to 'look like' anything? I definitely had a hard time with this idea at first, but after a few years, I get it. And so when that random person asks you what it feels like to graduate, again, or better yet, what are you going to do, and you're like me, just sitting there in your own school gym with a moonwalk, trying to come up with something deep and profound to say to show that you've mastered the art of moving on and yet your mind is drawing a blank, just remember, as he's staring at you, waiting for that answer, the only person you really have to answer to is yourself.
Thank you and congrats to the Class of 2011.