Steven A. Tatko, May 23, 2010
Good morning, and welcome to each and every one of you. I can truly say it’s a pleasure to be surrounded by the people that form the heart of the Colby community—the faculty and staff, the family and friends and alumni, and, of course, the Class of 2010 of Colby College. I want to congratulate each and every one of you. It’s been a long way, but we made it.
I also can’t describe to you in words how honored I am to be here with you today as we go through this process. I must admit that I was shocked when I heard that I had been elected to speak today, and as a result I spent the last few weeks trying to talk with as many of you as possible to soak up your stories and reflections about our time here at Colby. This process has shown me a little bit of what lies within each of your hearts. I asked a lot of you, “What should I write about?” And almost everyone without even thinking said, “Just be yourself and speak from the heart and the rest will follow.” Easier said than done, I thought, but after awhile I began to realize that perhaps within that simple statement lay one of the founding principles that has defined our time here on the hill. And that is the idea of being true to who you are.
For that past four years we have had a unique opportunity unlike anything found elsewhere in the world. As college students we were given the chance to create a community in our own image. And unlike nations or towns, Colby rejuvenates itself annually as new members arrive and old ones leave on their way to wherever life takes them. During our stay in this community of opportunities, we were free to use our hearts and minds to shape the microcosm of the world in which we live. And how we have done so. Each of us has helped weave the fabric of this community as the threads of life that run within us form the tapestry of our time here. I believe that it is the diversity and splendor of every unique thread that gives the final creation its beauty. In that light, I would like to propose that it has been your commitment to who you are that has made this community great.
This distinctiveness came into being long before we ever set foot in Foss or spent our nights studying in the warmth of the Miller Street. Indeed, the unique nature of each and every one of you was shaped by the factors of your lives before Colby. In the midst of our last year of high school, if you can remember such ancient history, we put our souls on papers as we applied to be students here. Our efforts evidently paid off, for someone over in Admissions recognized through the maze of test scores and transcripts the genuine goodness that’s inside each and every one of you and decided to take a chance on us.
Four years ago, after having found out that I had the privilege to be admitted to this the Class of 2010, I graduated high school and went to work over the summer. That was a strange summer, as I’m sure it was for many of you, as we all in our own way tried to envision what Colby, let alone college, would be like. One moment of that summer has stuck with me through these years and taught me one of the most important lessons of my life.
As many of you know I come from slate mining family in northern Maine. Family and work are simply inseparable to us, as we depend on each other and Mother Nature to make a living. After graduation I went to work, as I’d always done, for the family, repairing machinery and making slate sinks and kitchen countertops and a multitude of other products that we make from the slate which we mine. It was in mid-July of that special summer when I learned a valuable life lesson while at work with my father.
I was underneath a large dump truck, as it were, that had sprung a leak in one of the brake lines and, imagine if you will, myself dressed in brown work pants, blue suspenders, and a T-shirt, capped off with a hat so covered in rock dust and motor oil that it was more rock than cloth. Obviously the picture of high fashion. Now drench this person you have in your minds with grease, sweat, and slate dust, and you will have a fairly accurate picture of what I looked like. In short I was filthy.
Just as I crawled out from beneath the truck, a rather stylish lady dressed in white capris and a striped shirt complemented by a summery sweater draped elegantly around her neck walked in to the mill. Talk about a culture clash. She had come to look at the countertops and sinks that we make, but little did she know that a custom kitchen would require a trip to a slate mine. That poor woman looked at me as though I had every disease known to man and two spare arms sticking out of my side. After a few awkward moments, it became clear to her that she had in fact come to the right place, and that not every aspect of kitchen design is clean and pleasant.
As the conversation developed she started to relax and she became more inquisitive. She asked what I was going to do with my life, as if clearly someone as filthy as me had a singular vision. With all the pride I could muster I said, “I’m going to Colby.” And the look of shock returned to her face as she wished me well.
What, might you ask, can we learn from such an awkward moment? Well, I think that my father said it best. As we rode home together that evening, he told me, “Never be ashamed of who you are and what you do. People may look at you as if you are nothing, for one reason or another, but once they see the goodness inside, then they can’t help but to respect you.”
And this is how I’ve tried to live my life. And I hope, Dad, that I have been able to live up to your example.
I guess what I’m trying to say is you should live your life as a genuine person, and by that I mean a number of things. First and foremost it means being true to yourself. It is sometimes hard to have the strength to accept who you are and to let your spirit show in all you do. I believe, however, that Colby has given us a tremendous opportunity to find ourselves as we learn about the world around us and our place in it. If you can be true to yourself, not only will you find respect, but you will truly be able to use the gifts of your heart.
I fully believe that in the core of every person lies the ability to love. Certainly over our four years here at Colby there’s been a whole lot of lovin’ in many diverse forms. But to discuss them fully would require a different speech for a slightly different occasion, and so I’ll let it be at that. However, I have had the pleasure of watching all of you pour your hearts out into every word of every paper, on the playing field, and in the concert hall. We have all accomplished so much, and our deeds show the love we have had for all our endeavors as we experienced this journey of Colby together.
It is important, now, to point out that the reason we are sitting here today is because someone loved us. Those people, whether they were our parents, guardians, teachers, or friends, cared enough about us to challenge us to always do our best. Through their love we were able to succeed, and we must never forget that. I believe it is our duty as human beings to do for others what the people who supported our lives did for us. Use the compassion and intelligence you have gained here at Colby to help others. Be sure to give thanks for having been blessed by the people who truly care about you.
Now one last critical part of being a genuine person is integrity—and I mean this with the utmost level of sincerity when I say that I have truly experienced the meaning of that word with all of you. Time and again throughout our careers here, members of this class have risen to answer the call of service wherever it is needed. Your commitment to the community and the world around us has truly shown the caliber of the people that we have had the honor of calling classmates and, more importantly, true friends. I have learned so much about what it means to be a good human being from all of you, and I hope in my heart of hearts that you continue to use your integrity to better the world around you.
Now, as I attempt to bring all of these musings to some semblance of a conclusion, I have to share one of my most treasured experiences that I will always remember from my time here at Colby. Many of you know that I get up each day at 5:30 a.m. And while this means I fall asleep from utter exhaustion at 9 or 9:30, when most of you are in your prime, this regimen has afforded me one of my greatest privileges.
For four years, I have watched you all wake up each day. Now I say this in all seriousness and as devoid of creepiness as possible. Although, seeing most college students pull themselves out of bed and stumble into Dana in the pajamas they slept in may not appear to be that spectacular of an experience, I will always cherish those memories. Because, you see, there’s something about the morning and the return of light over the world that calms the soul and reassures us that our work will continue. Each day, as I watched Colby rejuvenate itself as it emerged from the darkness of the night, I couldn’t help but be filled with hope for the future.
Our time here as been dedicated to obtaining the light of knowledge and placing that flame within us as we face an uncertain world. And seeing you all emerge into the light each day reassured me that there is hope.
Finally, in conclusion, I have to address the history major within me by quoting some of our Colby predecessors. After I learned that I had been accepted to Colby, a good friend of mine back home gave me a 1905 Colby Oracle as a graduation gift. And I feel that the closing remarks of the 1905 senior class resound as loudly today as they did 105 years ago.
“And now, the final year has come. And before we are well aware of its presence, it too is gone and must we leave the fostering care of the old College. Whatever the future may have in store for us, whether fame or obscurity, riches or poverty, let us all remember in kindness old Colby and endeavor to do our duty as well as our dear old College has done her duty by us.”
With that, I urge you to remain genuine to the person that you have become and to find a niche in life that allows you to spread the goodness that is inside each and every one of you. Peace be with you all and congratulations to the Class of 2010.