Vassar College

Convocation Remarks, James Kelly, V.S.A. President

Thank you, President Hill.

Hello again, my friends. Can you believe we are here today, already? Where did the time go?

I’d like to start with a brief expression of my gratitude to those assembled in this room. Thank you to the faculty that has educated us along the way. Thank you to our dear friends who have been with us from day one. To the outgoing executive board – Alex, Marcelo, Nate, Caly, and Camille – thank you for putting up with all of my antics. It was a fun ride. And thank you to my parents, my grandmother, and my sister for your constant love and support.

To the Class of 2010 – congratulations on becoming seniors! Welcome back to the wonderful world of standardized tests and applications, job interviews and theses, final projects and last hurrahs!

To my own Class of 2009 – today is our day of celebrate. We are now alumnae and alumni of the College. A little less than four years ago, we sat in this Chapel together on our first night and greeted the beginning of our Vassar career with excitement, anticipation, and a bit of trepidation. Today, as we look out into our future, I’m fairly certain we share those same feelings. But before we get to the point, I would like to take a few minutes to chat about all that Vassar has been for me.

A few weeks ago, I took an early morning stroll with my good friend Marcelo. As we left the TAs and walked South towards Sunset Hill, we reminisced about the three Founder’s Days that have already come and gone. As we got to Sunset Lake, we remembered the antics of the Class of 2007, which set sail a squad of rubber ducks on the lake; they covered the campus with one duck for every student. I’m still trying to find one of the remaining hidden ducks.

We walked up Commencement Hill, and at the top, I could imagine the sea of white chairs that would soon grace the hill below. I saw visions of caps and gowns, of academic regalia, and heard sounds of pomp and circumstance. Just twenty five days separate us now.

We passed through the academic quad; I remembered classes, lectures, and drama performances in the many buildings. And then we arrived at Cappy’s house. It was about 7:30 am on a Sunday morning, and I tried to convince Marcelo that we should invite Cappy out to breakfast. We thought better of it on that day, but don’t worry Cappy, we’ll be back for breakfast before Commencement.

We travelled to Jewett, and ascended to the ninth floor. The quad below had been the site of so many fun events, from the farewell to Fran Fergusson to the festivities of the Jewett Centennial.

And on we walked. The campus was empty. In our walk, we had neither seen nor heard a single person along the way.

What would Vassar be without the people? A collection of beautiful buildings, for sure. Some calming trees and mesmerizing streams and lakes. But without the people, I don’t know if I could still call this place home.

When I think of Vassar, I think of the people. As I gaze into the future, success and longetivity have their place, but more than anything, I want to be surrounded by people like those I’ve found here at Vassar.

At Vassar, I’ve met people who I’ll take with me wherever I go – onto my next destination in St. Louis, then to grad school, and on into the wonderful next steps in life. I’ll remember those that I’ve met in class and those who endured long conversations until four in the morning. I’ll remember professors that challenged me to think beyond the realms of the possible, and made me realize that even the impossible can be attainable if only we dream it to be. I’ll remember mentors who guided me not only through the ins and outs of navigating the curriculum but also provided me with some thoughts about life, admitted to sharing fears, and helped me find a certain clarity in my values and goals for the future. And I’ll remember people like Randy, the cashier in ACDC who greeted me every morning for three years with a smiling face and a genuine concern for my well-being.

I’m going to miss this place. I’ll miss the afternoons in the fall when we head to the farmer’s market in pursuit of a conversation with a friend and a cup of hot apple cider. I’ll miss the academic regalia of convocation, with all of the professors in their other-worldly gowns, the endless bumbling of three or four lecturers, and the harmonies of the chorus – “vivat academia, vivant profesores!”

I’ll miss the first snowflakes in late November. I’ll miss the first snowstorms of December, where half the campus descends upon Sunset Hill with our trays. I’ll miss the hot chocolate afterwards and the pile of work that can be ignored for another few minutes while you spend time in the good company of friends

I’ll miss the days in class – yes, even those 9am ones where I struggled to keep my eyes open after four hours of sleep - those days where we’re blessed to hear the knowledge of one of the country’s finest faculties, and where we share our ideas with the next generation of movers and shakers.

As we enter the final stretch, I keep hearing the adage that “your college years are the best years of our lives.” I think this is the biggest lie I’ve heard peddled in my time at Vassar. If life is, at the end of our days, a collection of stories we’ve collected along the way from time spent with good people, then Vassar is just the start of something good. I like to believe in life’s own crescendo; while I do not know that my last day in this world will be my best day, I’d like to think we have a constant upward trajectory – and hey, what else were you expecting from an eternal optimist? But in all seriousness, when life is about the people you know and love, and when relationships are cultivated over the grander duration of time, then where can we go but upwards? I’m not trying to peddle some insane belief that every new day will be better than the one before it, but I do believe that if we make a real effort as we embark on the next phase of our lives to stay in touch with those we love, we have reason to believe that there are better days to come.

We need that belief now more than ever. We are confronted with the realities of a global economic crisis already. Many millions of people in the world who recently escaped poverty are falling back in its clasp. In the United States, millions of jobs have been lost, and while we hope for a quick recovery, prolonged agony is all we have seen thus far. In Poughkeepsie, food pantries are serving more people than at any point in their histories. At Vassar, we have lost a large part of our endowment and face significant job cuts. And for members of my own class, we face an unsteady job market and other personal travails.

In my time at Vassar, I have seen us come together on many occasions to overcome a variety of challenges. After all, these four years were not always easy. Just days after our arrival, Katrina struck the Gulf Coast and inflicted heart-wrenching pain. On campus during that first month, our community was challenged by divisive and imperial language. We challenged the old way of doing things when Cappy arrived by introducing a new need-blind admissions policy. We challenged nooses and we challenged other hateful language. Each time we came together and imagined a better war forward.

We haven’t always made progress. But we are far stronger as a people when we bring ourselves together, when we remember the truly amazing qualities of each member of our community. We’ve always strived to find a way to be happy together, and not just with blind optimism but with wise words and thoughtful discussion. We must continue to strive for this communal strength, even as we move into the world beyond. Vassar will always be a place we call home, and we must cherish it in our years ahead.

Now, before I execute my presidential duties, I have a few closing words for my beloved Class of 2009 and for our dear President, Catharine Bond Hill.

Thank you. We truly are happy (or maybe Cappy) together.

It is now my distinct honor to conduct the final duties of my time as VSA President. I am honored today to introduce to you a devoted colleague and an amazing friend. Caitlin Ly has been a committed leader since her first year at Vassar, serving twice as the Vice President of the Class of 2010, and this year has been an amazing asset to the student body in serving as the Vice President for Operations. She is a junior political science and history major from St. Louis and has a great vision for the future of the VSA.

It is my privilege to present to you the passing of the gavel to our 24th VSA President, Caitlin Ly. Congratulations!

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