Joseph Blake Beauchamp-Flynn ‘13 & Jess Edward Christiaan Unger ‘13: Senior Class Co-Presidents

Jess Edward Christiaan Unger '13

Jess UngerThey say graduation is a traditional ceremony where students step onto a stage and are handed diplomas, in the hope that they've learned enough to be able to read what they say.

Respected faculty, staff, and Board of Trustees, parents, friends, and the majestic class of 2013, we're done. After four years of seminar discussions, mornings in the Pub, afternoons in the Teahaus, nights at the library, we've finally made it to today: the day where we honor and celebrate our collective achievement here at Sarah Lawrence College.

We live in a time when the value of the liberal arts is being constantly challenged. Why do we study broadly and think critically? Why don't we learn skills and specialize right away? I'm not so arrogant as to challenge the wisdom of job training and specialization. I would only ask, “What have been real challenges you've had to face in your life?” Were they the ones you trained for, or were they the ones that caught you by surprise, off your guard, the problems that never crossed your mind? Responding to these challenges is what our Sarah Lawrence education is all about. We've learned to think on our feet, dig deep, and hold no assumptions about what the answers are. We're resourceful, analytical, and creative.

We're not afraid of graduating because many of us have already impacted the world outside Sarah Lawrence. Students have worked at New York's most reputable museums, for Hollywood directors, and U.S. Senators. And this semester, students—including seniors Teresa Phiri, Jeamme Chia, and Maria Muñoz—from Catherine Muther's social entrepreneurship course entered a business competition sponsored by former President Bill Clinton with an aquaponics business proposal that went as far as the final regional round. Their initiative brings sustainable agriculture to urban slums through an innovative self-contained aquaponic system. Congratulations again, Hult prize contestants!

It's also worth repeating that in their 2013 guidebook, The Princeton Review ranked this school's professors #1 in the United States of America. Let's give it up for our tremendous faculty. I want to share the saying that my favorite professor, and my don, Sam Abrams, always uses to open each of his courses here. “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” That embodies our approach here at Sarah Lawrence. Many of us are seeking ways to make the world a better place, but none of us have preconceived that there's only one way to do it.

To the Class of 2013: We are young and motivated. We have more life ahead of us than behind us, and after four years here we have everything we need to go out there and shake the earth. It's an honor to walk with you this morning, and I hope you'll join me in welcoming my good friend and co-president, Jake Beauchamp-Flynn.

Joseph Blake Beauchamp-Flynn '13

Joseph Blake Beauchamp-FlynnThank you President Lawrence, Vice-Chair Cooper, the Board of Trustees, faculty, and all of the friends and family of the graduates of 2013.

Margaret Mead once said, "Children must be taught how to think, not what to think." I don't know any other institution that epitomizes this more than ours.

We were allowed—and encouraged—to approach topics from many directions. Four years ago in our first conference session, I know how many of us were excited to explore a thesis, but were cringing at the unachievable goal of writing 20+ pages. And than we needed to take two other classes demanding the same attention. But we did it. And then we did it again and again and now we sit here with tassels on our heads with our parents behind us and the faculty that guided us to here sitting in front of our eyes.

No matter what we studied, from children's psychology to European History, to stage combat, we have learned that questions are equally, if not more, important than answers. We know how to dig deep, understand the history, do our research, develop our ideas, and sometimes we did it all in one night and with blurred eyes and Red Bull on our breath.

But seriously, we now know how to embrace issues that would have intimidated us four years ago and it would not have been possible without the help and guidance of the professors we have been so lucky to learn from.

I particularly want to thank three professors who have given me unwavering support and guidance—Sam Abrams, Kim Ferguson, and Fred Strype. All three from different disciplines but each went above and beyond at crucial times.

A lot of people don’t understand what dons truly are—I had friends ask me if it was like dealing with Marlon Brando in The Godfather, but I reassured them it was much more of a Good Will Hunting type of thing. Summarizing them as student advisors doesn't cut it. They have became friends and foundations of support and sometimes they invested more in us than we did. You have helped us become the people we are, and as we leave here, know that your contribution to our lives will never be forgotten.

Thank you to all the parents. We know how much you have sacrificed to send us here and it does not go unappreciated. I know how many of you moved heaven and earth, refinanced homes and juggled more than you will ever admit in order to see your child walk across this stage today. And to all the graduates who worked three campus jobs, held an internship and a full class load—you are an inspiration to me and to so many of your peers.

Human Rights Activist Al Lowenstein once said, “the question should be, is it worth trying to do, not can it be done.”

And I know that with the education that we received here, we have the tools to think outside the box, raise the bar, and solve problems that so many others have said are impossible.

In many ways, for the last four years we have had our heads down—in our books, on our computer screens, on the path directly in front of us. Now is the time for us to put our heads up—to go out and act. We need to share our unique gifts to help others—with understanding and empathy. Each and everyone of us has so much ability and talent to take on the future head on and leave our (carbon sensitive) footprints on the world.

As a class, we have been through a lot together but whether we realize it right now or not, we are about to join a much larger community—that of Sarah Lawrence graduates. It is a special group of people who share a common bond and it is an honor to join them in the world at large.

I love this class, this college, and I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. You have helped make better people for this world and the world will thank you. Congratulations class of 2013, we can do it.