Moses O. Utomi MFA ’15:
President, Graduate Student Senate

Moses UtomiThank you, President Lawrence. And thank you Dean Babbitts, and the trustees, alumni, and faculty in attendance today.
How’re you all doing? Good? Here we are. Here. We. Are. After thousands of pages of reading, after hundreds of hours spent writing and interning, after dozens of performances and events and seminars and productions, after two years of diligence—here we are. Just fifteen speeches away from getting our master's hoods.

From what I’ve seen, these sorts of things often talk about how this is just “the beginning.” They discuss the previous years only in relation to how they prepare us for the ones to come. I think there’s a lot of value in that perspective, but I want to focus on here and now and discuss how this NOT a beginning.

Most stories start with the protagonist—in this case, you—at the bottom. You’re new to the neighborhood, or unlucky in love, or a little boy who doesn’t know magic. You have to work hard to make any progress and everything in the story is actively trying to ruin you. Or, worse, the story begins when your life is perfect, just before the aliens invade. Who wants that? Beginnings are terrible. So, instead, I prefer to think of this day as an ending.

There’s a quote about endings that the writers will recognize. It’s attributed to about ten different people throughout history and it says that the ending of a good drama should be “surprising, yet inevitable.” “Surprising, yet inevitable.” When we think back a couple months to when our thesis projects were unfinished, or unreadable, or unfinished AND unreadable… uh...I think a lot of us are surprised that we made it here. And, for many of us, it gets more surprising the further back you go. Perhaps back to the birth of a child and the presumption that our dreams were now officially out of reach. Or back to an underwhelming undergraduate career and a struggle to get recommendations, or further back to our own childhoods, to teachers with low expectations of your racial or socio-economic status or to the diagnosis of a learning disability or simply to a town that most never leave. For me, and for a number of us I know, we can go back to before we were even born, to parents who crossed an ocean with ambitious dreams and modest prayers, only to suffer the injustices and indignities that are so common to life in a country that didn’t request you. There are over a hundred different stories in this room, but I believe that, for all of us, in some way, the fact that we’re sitting here is pretty surprising.

So what about the inevitability? I think this was inevitable because of the surprise. When all those things were working against us, we responded with resilience. When people told us to pursue another field—something that we were better at or something more practical, something that would actually get us a job (the genetics students have no idea what I’m talking about). When we were tempted to reconsider, we doubled down. We were aching and sleepless, but we rehearsed that choreography anyway. We were exhausted and frustrated, but knew that those children and patients depended on our smile. With resolve like that and with the sacrifices we were willing to make to get here—whether it was leaving a well paid job, or spending time away from our families, or abandoning the sunny beaches and divine weather of Southern California to endure two APPALLING winters—with those sacrifices, it was INEVITABLE that we’d be sitting here.

But it wasn’t just our own determination that made this inevitable, of course not. We were going to get to this point, no matter what, because of all the people with us today. And I mean everyone. The tech wizards in the A/V department, the maintenance staff and public safety officers who so tirelessly work to keep this campus intact. The graduate studies office—Alba, Leslie, Denise, Manny, Pat, Amparo—who answer the same question fifteen times a day and pretend we’re each the first person to ask it. Our program directors and our truly world class faculty—faculty such as Mary Morris, David Hollander, David Ryan, and Porochista Khakpour, without whom I would be functionally illiterate. And our friends and families—most of all, our friends and families—who have been with us the whole way, both physically and in spirit, and who believed in us and loved us when we couldn’t believe in or love ourselves. Without them, we wouldn’t be here today, but with them—this day was inevitable.

When I was seven years old, I became obsessed with puzzles, specifically those 3D puzzles that you could turn into room ornaments when you were finished. I bugged and begged my parents until they got me a puzzle version of St. Peter’s Basilica. It had eleven hundred pieces and was designed for adults, probably actual architects. After a week of failing to make progress on my own, I caved in and asked my dad for help, and three nights a week, we’d spend an hour working on it, building from the ground up and the inside out. After three months, my dad handed me the final piece—the cross at the very top of the dome—and I placed it there. And I waited for about ten seconds, then I started feeling around for more pieces and I said, “Is that everything?” And my dad said, “Yep, that’s all.” And I was kind of disappointed, I said, “What do we do now?” And my dad leaned back in his chair and said, “Nothing. You did the work, now you get to enjoy it.”

Now… I’m a fiction writer, so none of that story was true. I made it up because it fit the theme of this speech. My dad was probably like, “I don’t remember any of that.” While that story is too perfect to be real, the message of it still stands. We’re done. We did the work and now we should enjoy it. This isn’t a beginning, not yet. This, right here, is the end of two years of hard work and a lifetime of worrying about what we wanted to be and what others told us we should be. It is a BEAUTIFUL, MOMENTOUS, INEVITABLE surprise and it deserves to be savored. Give yourselves a hand, Graduate Class of 2015, and let’s celebrate a good ending. Thank you!