Lee LeBoeuf ’17
Senior Class President Address
2017 Ohio Wesleyan University Commencement Ceremony
May 13, 2017
On a Thursday afternoon in January, I was sitting in the library alone, procrastinating on assignments I no longer remember doing, let alone turning in.
And as anyone with anxiety for the future does, I was looking at my calendar trying to convince myself I had more time on campus, more time to get my life together, and more time to waste worrying about how much time I had.
I began to panic.
I think people underestimate how nice a place for panic the library is. You can panic quietly on the third floor, you can panic loudly on the second floor with all your friends who also came to the library to panic, or you can panic at whatever volume you want in the poorly lit 24-hour section under the cover of darkness.
Thursday was my designated panic day because I didn’t have class, so I could panic all day long. And I was in the middle of my traditional Thursday afternoon panic when a new panic set in: My days, all our days, on this campus were numbered.
I flipped through my planner and wished for more pages between January and May. I marked May 13th for what I feared it was—not a celebration, but doomsday.
Doomsday in the form of uncertainty, ignorance, and the fear of both; the doomsday of the unknown and the unfamiliar.
The unfamiliar is hard to handle, because as a senior, I can’t imagine an inch of the OWU bubble I don’t know:
- I know which professors teach the hardest courses—even in departments I’ve never set foot in.
- I know exactly who on campus can’t read the “quiet zone” signs on the third floor of the library.
- I know almost everyone’s romantic history.
- I know there is no safe time of day to buy tampons at the Thomson store without running into everyone I know.
- And I know how to get onto the roof of a surprising number of university buildings.
I know this bubble, how to succeed in it, how to manage an over-involved and over-committed schedule, and even how to have fun in the process.
But when I think about the next chapter of my life, which will begin in approximately 6 minutes, I’m overwhelmed by the details I don’t know:
- I don’t know how to make friends without the shared experience of being both the opposite of ordinary and hungry all the time.
- I don’t know how to contribute meaningfully to a community larger than 1,600 people.
- And I especially don’t know how to make my own dinner—but I’m still confident my cooking will be better than what I’ve been eating for the last 4 years.
Most of all, I don’t know how to cope with not knowing. And it’s taken me four years to realize that’s OK.
I would guess 1% of the coming years can be neatly organized in a planner, the way assignments can be.
I have absolutely no idea what I’ll be doing this time next year, next month, next week.
And before, that would have scared me more than an O-Chem final—but today I, we, are all getting an expensive piece of paper verifying that we know how to learn.
After today we’ll step into a life with endless opportunities for continued learning. The things we must learn are no longer bound to what might appear on a final.
We can fill our time with things other than papers and exams. We can learn to meaningfully impact a community greater than 1,600 people.
Most importantly, we can learn to seek the answers to the unknown by ourselves, without the help of our brilliant and dedicated professors. The piece of paper we are receiving today isn’t validating how much we’ve learned, but rather assuring us we have the capacity to learn so much more.
It is embracing the unknown and feeling comfort in endless questioning that will determine our success after OWU.
We have to keep learning; we owe it not only to ourselves, but to all the people we have yet to meet but have the opportunity to influence.
Only 6.7% of the world is college-educated. 6.7%. We are a minority and hold immense power by virtue of our education, and our work is just beginning.
Graduating college is an achievement, and we should be proud, but it’s what we do next that matters; the choices we make, and the questions we ask.
It is only through our commitment to know more, by admitting how little we know, that we will eventually influence something greater than ourselves.
So thank you, OWU, for teaching me in the last four years that I don’t know a thing, but I know how to ask questions, and that’s nothing to panic about.
I would like to leave you with one of my favorite quotes by one of my favorite people, the astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson:
“I am driven by two main philosophies: Know more today about the world than I knew yesterday and lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.”
Thank you and congratulations to the Class of 2017.