Sadie Rose Zavgren '17 & Lesedi Ntsele '17:
Co-Presidents of the Senior Class

Sadie Rose Zavgren ’17

Sadie Rose Zavgren '17Congratulations to the largest graduating class in Sarah Lawrence history! We did it!

What an incredible honour and privilege it is for me to stand here today representing the sensational class of 2017. To begin with, I would like to thank our outgoing college president, Karen, for her dedication and love for this school. Thanks to our distinguished guest, J.J. Abrams for being here today, thus fulfilling many of my classmate’s dreams.

And my wholehearted gratitude to our incredible loved ones. I don’t think I’m alone when I say that my mom has endured a series of phone calls over these four years: Joy. Tears. Frustration. Excitement. She’s been there. We wouldn’t be here without our loved one’s support and encouragement and they deserve all the worshiping.

And we are eternally indebted to the world class professors who promoted deep thought, close examination, encouraged challenging discussions, and who ultimately changed our lives for the better. Thank you. And one last thank you is in order to the unseen workers who fix our pipes, prune the trees, clean the bathrooms, and cook our food. Their tireless work keeps this campus functioning.

So a few days ago, I was walking home from class, and I passed a row of parked cars in Andrews lot. And I noticed a purple bumper sticker on the back of a Subaru. It had a quote by the eccentric and daring dancer Isadora Duncan written out in bold white letters. It read: “You were once wild here. Don’t let them tame you.”

This quote made me think about the various reasons each one of us chose to come here. To a school that prides itself on graduating world citizens who take intellectual and creative risks. Many of us decided to enroll here due to the amount of freedom we are offered to shape and mold the education we wanted to receive. We came here because each of us has a mountain of passions. And at Sarah Lawrence you can embrace your diverse interests and integrate them. Maybe you become a film animator who takes Economics and Chinese history in the same semester. Or write a conference about the ravages of global warming on female farmers of sub-Saharan Africa, pen the next great novel, and take physics, anatomy, and dance to look at how the body moves through space. You can be different. You can be complicated and multi-layered. But most importantly, we came here because we did not want to be tamed. We wanted to push the boundaries, to set the rules.

From the beginning, our class has been an electric force. From the #BlackOutSLC demonstration our sophomore year, to pressuring the administration to employ union labor our senior year. To advocating for the undocumented. To raising a Black Lives Matter flag on the PAC building. To leading a campaign in support of a faculty member.

We saw you at the JFK airport protesting the Muslim ban, and then a few months later marching in the streets against climate change denial. This class, particularly women and femmes of color, made this a better place for all of us. The time and labor that you have put into making this school a more just and respectful environment for the next generation of Gryphons, is worth a college degree in itself. This happened because Sarah Lawrence students do not accept the status-quo. We are inventive and creative.

And most importantly we are game changers who are resistant to being tamed by a world that often functions on complicity and sameness.

The future is in our hands. We must have the courage and an untamed will to do something meaningful with the knowledge we cultivated here. As President Barack Obama recently said in a speech, “Courage, requires something more than just the absence of fear. Any fool can be fearless. Courage, true courage, derives from that sense of who we are, what are our best selves, what are our most important commitments, and the belief that we can dig deep and do hard things for the enduring benefit of others.” And while most of us are still quite young, we have an opportunity to have courage to do something for this world we inhabit. If ever there was a moment in our lifetime to fight back, it’s now. Now is the time to use our research skills, the ideas pondered during round-table seminars, and thoughts shared over a Bates meal, to fight for our future. A future that depends on our willingness to be bold, brave, and maybe sometimes a little wild.

And while this task may be daunting, remember that you made it through eight semesters of conference week. We can do this. You have grown here. You have struggled here. You have evolved into brilliant problem solvers. For instance, I saw your problem solving skills most visible at our class BBQ a few weeks ago. At one point there were ten different pairs of hands trying to keep the fire from going out, flipping burgers, and giving astute grilling advice. I was thinking “wow, how many people did conferences on BBQing? Y’all seem like experts. What are the political implications of grilling? What are the gender and race relations connected to BBQing?” Sarah Lawrence students really go all in, and honestly the world is so lucky to have your sharp wit and quick problem solving.

Go forth my friends, and change this world for the better. And remember to live large, stay aware, and don’t let them tame you.

I love you class of 2017, and I feel so very honored to be graduating with all of you on this beautiful day. Thank you and congratulations!

Lesedi Ntsele ’17

Lesedi Ntsele '17Thank you President Lawrence. Whew, this is really very nerve-wracking. I had asked if I could play my saxophone in lieu of giving a speech; the answer was “No.”

Class of 2017, we did it! I stand in front of you this morning, at our long-awaited commencement ceremony, to offer my sincere congratulations to my fellow graduates and our families. Many parents, like my own, have traveled half way across the world to be here; others have travelled cross-country; and some of you just rode the train up from New York City. Either way, we are grateful that you could join us for this celebration in honor of our graduation from Sarah Lawrence College. 

Last week Thursday, on the penultimate day of the Spring Semester, a group of students met at the home of a professor. The gathering of 16, a rager by Sarah Lawrence standards, served as our last non-fiction writing workshop of the year. As the evening progressed a friend of mine, and fellow member of our graduating class, said, “I hate to ask you this, but do you have a plan for life after graduation?”

There it was, the dreaded question: what’s next?

As many of my peers can confirm, this question of the future has the ability to conjure up a range of emotions few of us knew we were capable of experiencing before this year. For some that feeling may be pure bliss and excitement— I’m looking at all of you with University of Oxford acceptance letters— but for others of us, thoughts of the future are synonymous with pure dread.

Perhaps this is because one never truly knows where their journey will lead them, but ours has led us here. It has led us to Sarah Lawrence College, and with that through four years of challenging seminar classes. It has led us to discussions in the classroom about the intersections of race, class, and identity, and to Black Lives Matter and Women’s Marches outside of the classroom where our education has come to life. We have traversed historical periods, danced until our feet blistered, formulated our own opinions and learned to support them with evidence, and formed some of the deepest relationships we’ve ever had with peers, faculty, and our beloved Dons.

Now we are faced with scary questions like, “how can Brooklyn function without the L train?” “Are bed bugs truly a deal breaker?” “Could I really learn to bar tend if my rent money depended on it?”

The problem with the “what’s next?” question is that it focuses on a destination or outcome, and not the journey itself. There is an isiZulu proverb that is called upon frequently in South Africa: ukuhamba ukubona, to travel is to know. Or rather, knowledge itself lies in the journey.

And, with this in mind, I would like to propose a few things to you on this, our graduation day. I’m hoping these thoughts will shift your thinking a little bit—or, at the very least, subdue some of the anxiety floating about this tent.

Let us decide, as a group, to focus on the process. Sometimes, the outcome falls short of our expectations, and if we are chasing a singular goal and neglecting personal exploration and creative outlets along the way, the destination—which may or may not materialize—promises to be bitter.

Let us commit, without embarrassment, to enjoying the drive without always knowing where each turn will take us.

Second, let us remain open to new adventures and experiences even after we feel we have “landed safely.” As we have learned here at Sarah Lawrence, one moment of enlightenment is merely the beginning of a new journey, a new set of questions. After all, Induku enhle igawulwa ezizweni, the wood carver knows that the most beautiful tree is not found in one’s own backyard. Say yes to travel, even if it is only in books, and find yourself along the way.

Finally, remember that, even if we may not know exactly how yet, the world needs us. It needs us because we are curious, it needs us because we think critically about difficult ideas, and it needs us because we can write—and sometimes that’s half the battle. But it also needs us because at Sarah Lawrence we root for the underdog. As Hillary Clinton said in her concession speech, “Please never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it,” and I know we all believe this.

Congratulations, my friends. As we say in South Africa: hamba kahle, go well, and remember that you are never traveling alone.