Elected by his classmates, Omari George Matthew ’14, of Bronx, N.Y., gave the class speaker’s address at Colby’s 193nd Commencement, May 25, 2014.
Welcome, everybody. Welcome, friends, staff, faculty, family, family of those friends, friends of those friends, and everybody in between. Welcome to the long-awaited, often-dreamt-of, and sometimes-doubted graduation of the Class of 2014. Give it up!
Before I start off the speech, I just wanted to give a quick thank-you and a quick shout-out. I want to give a shout-out to Bro Adams for having the greatest bling I’ve ever seen in my life. The only thing that comes to mind is “Does your chain hang low?” I also want to thank everybody who voted me into this honored tradition and position. It helped me realize who my true friends are because nobody will put their friend through two weeks of anxiety and nervousness like this. So as we speak, deleting people off of Facebook. This is happening now.
“Graduation in its finest, in its essence, is the culmination of everything your faculty, your parents, your friends have done for you.”
I think what’s important, to this speech at least, is the process that went into creating it and writing it. Once I first figured out I’m going to do this speech, I got to figure out what I got to do: first things first, take a shower. The shower’s where all good ideas happen. I’m pretty sure Newton, when the apple fell on his head, it was raining. So, I started taking showers twice a day, up to three times a day, trying to figure this out, and nothing came to me. I was just a little dumbfounded. So I decided to go to the people who inspire me the most: my friends, my family, peers, professors. I started going to office hours a little more. I’m a senior; I had to get it in at some point. So, I started going to these, trying to, hopefully, these people, these muses, would bestow upon me a great idea for the speech. Consequently I got nothing from them. Now, this is no fault of theirs at all, but in that moment when I got nothing from them, did this kind of speech, did this speech happen, and it will make more sense later.
I’m going to start kind of far back, way far back. When I was a kid, a young lad. When I was a young lad, when I heard the year 2014, I was like, “Man, there’s going to be flying cars, teleportation. I’m never going to be late. It’s going to be amazing.” And then I woke up one day in 2014 and was like, “We have none of that. I’m still late to class. I’m not in the sky driving.” The point of that is that from a small child I always wanted to be in the future, and I realized later in my life that only Kanye West can exist in the future, and I just wasn’t allowed that right or privilege. But this idea of existing in the future kept on coming up. So when I was in elementary school, all I wanted to do was be in middle school. When I was in middle school, all I wanted to do was be in high school. When I was in high school, all I wanted to do was get into college and get it over with. So I finally made it to college, got a scholarship—woop, woop—Posse, you already know, shout-out. You already know CP9, you know what it is.
So I’m at college now, and it’s my freshman year, and—you’re going to see a pattern—all I wanted to do was get to my sophomore year. Because as much as I enjoyed coming to Colby—I thought it was an amazing place—I also hated it here. And this might seem weird—I love it now; I bleed blue. If anyone asks, I love Colby, it has this very special place in my heart. But during my freshman year it was really tough. I felt uncomfortable. Coming from New York City to semi-rural Maine was very hard. Having things close at 4 p.m. was very hard. Not having a subway system or a bodega down the street was incredibly tough to deal with. And it wasn’t easy. So then, all I wanted to do was exist in my sophomore year. I get to my sophomore year, the sophomore slump happens. And everybody knows the sophomore slump. If you had a good time sophomore year, you did something wrong during your college experience. There’s no way you could have had a good time sophomore year. Sophomore year is the worst year for any college student. It just happens to be like that. We don’t know why; nobody knows why. I have a team of scientists actually working on this, trying to figure it out. They’ve come up with nothing so far.
So, I just wanted to get to my junior year. And my junior year, I would say, is the greatest year I’ve ever had in my life. It was the year I got a girlfriend, a beautiful girlfriend, Alex Jackson—she’s sitting over there, you can peep her over there. Hey babe! It’s the year I started coming out of my shell and really embracing everything Colby College had to offer, everything Colby College wanted to give me, ’cause realistically your college experience is exactly what you make it. So I started embracing this, started doing a lot more things on campus, and that’s when I started to love it here. I was like, “This is sick. I’m a college student, I’m really enjoying this, I have friends, I have family who love me. This is awesome. Yeah.” And I like high-fived myself mentally and kept on—
This tassel is ridiculous. I don’t know who invented tassels, but we need something that like kind of just stays where it is and you can like clip it on to the next side. Anyway, let’s not digress.
So I move on from my junior year, enjoying Colby, enjoying everybody here, and, even then, I was like, “Man, I can’t wait till senior year. This is going to be awesome. I cannot wait till senior year.”
And this is in the midst of enjoying wonderful Posse, enjoying the wonderful friends and more or less family members that Students Organized for Black and Hispanic Unity has given me. I hung out with my two best friends, Devon and Luke—and unfortunately Jeremy Goodin’s not here, but everybody knows Goods Gatsby, got to give him a shout-out. If he’s watching this, I love you, dude. And, I’m hanging out with all these people, and all I want to do is get to senior year, and now I’m in senior year and I’m just anxious, incredibly anxious, because I am as unemployed as possible. It is ridiculous. I cannot be more unemployed right now. It’s insane, and I’m like, there is no way I can get back home and have exactly no money in my pocket. I’m just like, New York—you know how much it costs to leave your door in New York? About twenty-five dollars. It’s ridiculous.
So this is what I’m anxious about all through my senior year. And you know what’s happening during senior year? Does anybody know what’s happening during senior year? Anybody? Anybody just shout it out? Nobody wants to shout out what happened during senior year? The greatest things happen during senior year. Some of the last chances I get to hang out with the people I love. Some of the last chances I get to take the classes that I love, Poetry II. It’s just, senior year is in a lot of ways like the pinnacle of your college experience, the zenith point. And in that, in the emotion and the flurry of that, all I’m doing is worrying about, “Man, am I going to get this job? Am I going to move on into the future? What am I going to do?” And now I’m here, at graduation, and I’m still feeling a little anxious. And part of me’s like, “Aw, man, I can’t wait till this is over, get that diploma, peace out, Colby.”
“Graduation isn’t a moment to say how much I’m going to miss you. It’s a moment to look at them in the eye and tell them I couldn’t have done this without you.”
But that’s what I’m thinking of at graduation right now. I remember going to my old boss, and I wanted to go talk to him about something. You may have heard of him before; I talk about him a lot. His name is Bob. I told him, “Bob, I don’t know if I can do research anymore, scientific research.” And he looks at me and he’s like, “What do you want to do?” I was like, “You know, it would be kind of cool being like the upper part, where I’m actually telling people, ‘You can do this for me.’” Because, when you’re starting out in scientific research, everybody, you’re doing a lot of dirty work. Dirty work as in you’re doing a lot of looking at one thing for a lot. You ever have to count foraminifera? It’s a lot of them. Under a microscope. You’re counting thousands. At that point I was feeling really bad about it. I was like, I can’t keep on doing this. And he told me, “Omari, the reason why you’re feeling so anxious about the future”—and he diagnosed it in like a second—he was like, “Omari, the reason why you’re feeling so anxious about the future is, you really want to exist in it. You’re so ready to exist in the future that you’re messing up your present time where you’re actually existing.”
And usually when somebody gives you wise, old, sage advice, it doesn’t make any sense, but that one clicked. It made sense. In that moment, I got it. I was like, yeah, I do think about the future a lot. I do really want to exist in it. I can’t wait till I have a family. I can’t wait till I have a job. I can’t wait till I have a steady career, a house and a home. But that’s not what I have right now. What I have is just as amazing.
We’re at graduation, everybody. I don’t know if you haven’t noticed. But we are. And graduation, yeah, it’s the catapult, the launching pad into a future life, but let’s not worry about where we’re going to land right now. What we have to think about during graduation is the emotion of the moment. Exist in this moment right now. You’ll never get another chance to graduate from college. This happens only once. Don’t disrespect it by being anxious about the future. That’s not what it’s for. This moment right here is the culmination of all your experiences—and not just the academic ones. That’s great and all, and this degree’s going to be amazing. But graduation in its finest, in its essence, is the culmination of everything your faculty, your parents, your friends have done for you. The late nights that you spent eating a Spa quesadilla, just talking to your friends because you were feeling anxious about something. The amount of times you went to your professor’s office hours just to get the one problem on your problem set right so you don’t fail the class. I’ve been there multiple times. The times you went to your friend and knocked on their door at like 3 a.m. crying, trying to figure out what you want to do in a situation or a problem. Or even the happy times, you’re just literally laughing with the person, and you don’t even know what was so funny. You can’t remember it ’cause in that moment you’re just laughing, having a good time.
For your friends, for your family, for this faculty and staff, graduation isn’t a moment to say how much I’m going to miss you. It’s a moment to look at them in the eye and tell them I couldn’t have done this without you. That’s what graduation is, and I couldn’t be more proud than to be a member of the 2014 class at Colby. Thank you.