Kurt Santana '16 & Toya Singh '16:
Co-Presidents of the Senior Class

Kurt Santana '16

Kurt SantanaHow many of you have been told “these are the best years of your life?” I started to meditate on what it means to hear this come from someone with considerable life experience. To when do these years refer? Is it the time in our life when we have the least responsibility? If that’s true, then why don’t I feel like my actions are inconsequential? How can you make a judgment like that without knowing what the rest of your life has in store for you? And why would you let anyone make that judgment for you?

Implying that there is an appropriate time to be doubtful means once that time ends those doubts need to be settled. Let’s say you haven’t come to any conclusions at that point, then you’ll know for certain that you’re just settling.

I’d like to propose a radical notion to you. These are not the best years of our lives.

I understand that whomever says they are is simply trying to extend an olive branch. But, I don’t have to remind you that our experiences don’t exist in a vacuum. The context has definitely changed. What we value today is far different than what those in past generations valued. It is likely then that we don’t want to accomplish the same things.

I understand that one of the goals of this speech to quell at least some of your anxiety about what happens after today. While I proposed that these aren’t the best years of our lives, that doesn’t mean they haven’t become the most important so far. We’ve made the most meaningful relationships at this school: with students, professors, our work, even theorists, both alive and dead. And those relationships have become pivotal to how we interact with this new historical period.

As this country continues to emphasize an expedient civil society, one will notice that we aren’t asking ourselves what’s the meaning of life anymore. Instead, we are trying to figure out what our calling is. Perhaps that’s where some of your anxiety lies. But, When I think about how much effort and passion went in to not only producing our work, but also in keeping ourselves sane, I’m reminded that students here do not need to aspire to be anything, because they already are something. Understanding what that something is surely cannot be determined now, and since we’ve established that time only complicates this discourse, just take it out of the equation.

I realize that it might seem asinine to many of the parents in attendance today that I’m telling students to reject standard values, things that you probably have and still attest to, but that is literally what we were challenged to do everyday at this school. We’ve been taught to scrutinize, deconstruct, and synthesize. Truthfully, I’m leaving here more uncertain that I’ve ever been, but trust me: that’s a good thing. I haven’t the faintest idea about what will happen to us. Isn’t that exciting?

Now back to this notion. When I say that these aren’t the best years of your life, what I mean to say is those are still to come.

Toya Singh '16

Toya SinghDear class of 2016, done! Or as my mother would say, “Toya, you’ve done what 70 million other people have, so get over it”

Not so fast, mom.

They say with that the trick with speeches is to choose someone in the audience to focus on. Choose someone who barely ever smiles, always looks cynical, and give the speech looking at them. I’ve already chosen one of you to be that person, so strap in unsmiling student number 45, I’m looking at you.

I was informed by people in my year that they didn't want any cliche childhood quotes. But we still want quotes, so I chose Oprah. Oprah once said: “You’ve got a car! You’ve got a car!”

You have... also got a car. No, I’m kidding. But what Oprah did say was, “Make the life you want to have happen.”

This is the cumulation of a dramatic year: one where students of the school rose to protest systematic oppression, where they occupied a building on behalf of campus workers, this is a year where what Sarah Lawrence is - and what is integral to Sarah Lawrence -  came into question.

And as each of these events happened, we talked. We picked sides, we mulled over events, and we decided for ourselves, individually, the values that mattered for us.

We actively engaged, in a progressive, mature way; which, as we know, is more than you can say of America’s current political behaviour. But seriously, Sarah Lawrence values values. We value opinions, we value personality. Which is why you’re always going to have a home here. A little community of about 1500 students ready to support whatever radical things you go out and fight for. 

Or don’t. You don’t have to.

We're told that the conference system here, and the way in which we shape our education, is going to help us “curate” a life for ourselves. We’re told we’re going to be able to shape a uniquely individual path for ourselves—we’re going to be dancers and scientists and doctors all at the same time, revolutionizing the world. Which is funny, because I don’t for the life of me know what I’m doing after this speech. 

Make the life we want to have happen. The truth is, I think totally different. You don’t just leave this tent, and suddenly change the world as this big abstract concept. You don’t get to pick every aspect of a gorgeous new age brooklyn creative life.

But we do get to be gutsy. Sarah Lawrence gives you the nerve. The nerve to ask for things to be different during the everyday grind. The nerve to stand up and fight, like we did this year, for a world that wasn’t even going to affect us. That’s what Sarah Lawrence gives to you: the guts to engage with power.

Now Oprah never said “make the life you want to have happen.” I made that up. she would never say something like that because - like other great women in our lives like Kim Christensen, Beyonce, Shahnaz - Oprah knows that life isn't about sitting about and choosing: it's about engaging and negotiating. You don’t change the world as an abstract concept; you change people through individual conversations.

We started off snarky, sassy little first-years, only to have our minds blown open; we’re leaving snarky, cycnical, now humbled seniors, consious of what's out there. Sitting in a hall with all of you Monday, that difference was palpable—we’ve aged.

But as we go out there, all I can ask is: keep the zing in you alive. The part of you that does occasionally bizarre things, that pays no heed to hierarchies. The part of you that questions, and analyzes, and looks at the world empathetically first, and logically after.

Good luck class of 2016! Lets graduate and make that 70 million figure a little bit bigger, and a whole lot wilder.