After applying and interviewing for the opportunity to be the student speaker at my fall 2013 commencement from Michigan State University, I was honored to deliver the following remarks before graduating with high honor (for a GPA exceeding 3.90) on December 14, 2013 with a degree in arts and humanities, a French minor, and Honors College distinction.
When you think of a bridge, you probably think of a structure manufactured to go over an obstacle, creating a connection between two places. You have probably traveled across many bridges in your life without even thinking about it. From family trips to the Mackinac Bridge and building monkey bridges in Boy Scouts to crossing the Red Cedar on campus and walking across a bridge to class every day when I studied abroad in France last summer, I know I have used many bridges in my lifetime to help me get from place to place.
Today, as we prepare to cross from college to the “real world,” I’d like to talk about a few other kinds of bridges. Just like those constructed from steel or rope, they too make connections that get people past obstacles; however, they’re a little less literal. As you move forward in the world, these bridges will help you reach your destination even if you don’t yet know what’s on the other side. They are the bridges between people, ideas, and skills — bridges that connect you with your network and with the knowledge that you have gained as a student at MSU.
Throughout my collegiate experience, I have built many connections to the array of subjects I’ve studied. I majored in the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities, with great professors and mentors like Chris Scales, Joanna Bosse, and Eric Aronoff; but I was also a French minor, a trombonist who performed with the Jazz Orchestras and Spartan Brass under the direction of John Madden, and a student heavily involved in writing, social media, and web development. As my studies continued, I began to notice more and more bridges between my areas of study, like when I researched jazz history in an RCAH writing class, or when my experiences working at the Writing Center in Bessey Hall helped me work with middle school students at the Refugee Development Center in Lansing. And if there is one widely-applicable skill I have learned as a jazz musician under the guidance of Professors Rodney Whitaker, Etienne Charles, and Michael Dease, it is the importance of being able to improvise at a moment’s notice. Remember what you have learned and done during your time here at MSU, and a few years from now, I am confident that many of the skills and ideas fostered in class will appear when you least expect them to — in the workplace, with family and friends, or in other areas of your life. Making connections to what you’ve learned and the knowledge you have will make it easier to overcome the obstacles that will inevitably appear later on.
Additionally, continue to build bridges between the other people in this room today: your fellow graduates, your professors, and all those who helped you along the way to this celebratory occasion. Keep in touch with your friends and colleagues even as they spread out, joining the more than 500,000 Spartan alumni worldwide. Network and reach out to contacts that might be able to help you, and return the favor for others in need. Most importantly, don’t burn those bridges: being kind, open, helpful, and friendly will only help you succeed — in any area of your life. In the same way that bridges allow people to cross over rivers and railroads, your personal network of connections can be the bridge that assists you in moments of need down the road.
Finally, consider this: you don’t always know where a bridge will lead you. For example, in a piece of music, the chorus is often considered the best part of the song, the part that makes you tap your toes or sing along and gets stuck in your head. Leading up to this chorus is, yes, a bridge that connects it to the earlier verse. When you first listen to the bridge of a song, you can’t always tell how the chorus will sound until it arrives, but it is often well worth the wait. As you leave Michigan State today as a new graduate, you probably share the same trepidation for the unknown. But remember the journey you have been on as a student. You have amassed knowledge and met many new people: other students and your professors. Keep in mind these bridges that you have built, with every step you take in “the real world.” When the time comes, use your bridges to cross over troubled waters and don’t forget to enjoy the fruits of your labors when you reach the other side — and maybe stop to smell the roses too. Congratulations to the graduating class, and Go Green!