Distributed May 28, 2001
For Immediate Release
News Service Contact: Kristen Cole
Senior Oration: ‘Ready to be Lost Again’
Joshua Levine was one of two senior orators who addressed the 2001 graduating class during the Undergraduate Convocation Monday morning, May 28, 2001, in the Meeting House of the First Baptist Church in America. The text of his address follows.
Friends, family, and guests, in the Meeting House and on the Green: I am honored to stand before you to speak to, and in some ways speak for, my class – our class – the class of 2001. We are all together to share this momentous May morning, but please allow me to take you back to 1997, to a sunny July afternoon at my home in Los Angeles. That day, I went out to the mailbox, sifted through the junk mail, the offers to help pay for college if I only paid them a tidy sum first, and then I found it – what I had been waiting for since I sent in that crucial postcard to Providence in late April: my room assignment. I was placed in “Perkins Hall” with Matthew Amdur from Massachusetts. Finally, I had a name to match to my hopes and fears – not to mention someone who could bring the fridge. But where was Perkins? I looked in the new student guide that I had received a few weeks earlier, flipped to the page that had the map of first-year dorms, and saw that speck of black on the corner of the page – seemingly miles away from the other, more concentrated areas of black that signified first-year dorms. I knew that lone speck was Perkins before I even looked at the key.
For me, this news was devastating. You see, I do not have a good sense of direction. In fact, it is appallingly bad. And it’s not only navigating a city or campus: when I received the university course announcement a few weeks earlier, like many incoming first-years I was swimming in course codes, an exotic language of academic departments and numbers. ES 11, PS 11, UC 11 – hard choices indeed, like a brain freeze from a slurpee drink from 7-11! I was overwhelmed with choices, not to mention terrified that I wouldn’t be able to find my dorm.
When I finally arrived at Brown in late August, I walked to the Green from my dorm in a herd of wide-eyed newcomers, to register and begin orientation. As we walked over, we talked, exchanging hometowns and handshakes. I was trying to absorb the flood of new names and faces, but I was drowning, and in the meantime paid no attention to where I was going or how I was getting there. The next morning my first-year unit went to the “Points on the Compass” class meeting in Pizzitola Sports Center, and I walked in the pack. I never needed to know where Perkins was. But on the Monday before classes, settled and comfortable after a good first few days at Brown, I found myself at the bookstore alone, and I had to walk back to the dorm – all by myself. It was raining, I was hopelessly lost, and I knew I was in trouble when I started heading downhill. Living up to the male stereotype, I never thought to ask for directions, but I finally arrived back at the dorm, drenched in a T-shirt and shorts, and resolved to do two things: check the weather report before going out, and never get lost again.
I may have since bought a rain jacket, but I soon realized that what Brown offered me – what Brown has offered all of us – was an opportunity to get lost. Thoreau says that “Every man has to learn the points of the compass again as often as he awakes... Not till we are lost, in other words, not till we have lost the world do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations.” In certain guides for prospective college students, Brown is ranked as having one of the happiest student bodies in the country. Who knows how this was measured, but the reason for this happiness, I believe, is that we students have the resources and permission – even the encouragement – to disorient ourselves and blaze new paths for ourselves and others; it only gets old if we let it. The curriculum, the place, the people – there has been more than enough here to keep us excited about learning, working, and living. And slowly, over time, as we cheered together for Bruno at athletic events, laughed late into the night in dorm lounges, learned from each other in rigorous seminars, and volunteered in the greater community, til finally we walk through those gates together, we have become Brown.
On behalf of the class of 2001, I express our heartfelt thanks to those here and not here today who helped us to arrive at this point: we thank you and we love you. But now it is time for us to leave. For us, Brown has become too familiar. As we go down that hill one more time, let us tuck the map away – we are ready to be lost again. We can do it; because we have Brown, we can do it all. We can even go beyond the call of Brown’s charter to “discharge the offices of life with usefulness and reputation” – we will redefine those offices, to be of our generation and for our time. And if we ever awaken one day to realize that we have become too wedded to our paths of life, we must remember what Brown has given us: the ability to disorient ourselves, the wisdom to embrace such confusion, and the faith to know that we will not only survive, but thrive. Like Brown graduates from the past 232 years, we will not be tempted by the easy paths or goaded into rashly choosing between what are really false dichotomies: ends and means, faith and reason, success and honor. We are complex, we are capable, and we are ready. And we will always have Brown on our compass, pointing us home. Now, let’s get lost.
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