Greetings to the Class of 2005. I am very proud of you. The degree that you are about to receive is a physical symbol of your intellectual, emotional and spiritual accomplishment. Our society values college education because a college graduate is not simply someone who has learned a set of skills, who has converted a brain from State A to State B. And surely the skills you have built at Three Rivers, in research, critical analysis, trouble-shooting, problem solving, synthesis, and expression, are valuable to you and to society. But college graduates have also proven their ability to select a long-term goal, to arrange their lives to move toward that goal, to make choices and sacrifices, and to make a vision real. College graduates have lived by certain values, including open mindedness, intellectual honesty, reasonableness, skepticism, creativity, and tolerance for the beliefs and values of others. Your college degree will be words on paper, but words that summarize the effort that demonstrated your achievement, vision, and values.
While reflecting on what I would say here today I thought about my own college education, and on what you and I have in common because of that education. Statistically, we are likely to earn more money and have greater satisfaction with our jobs. We can expect to have nicer homes that we are happier to live in. On average, we can even expect to live longer. But those are statistical abstractions. What is the same in our experience? It occurred to me that most of you, sometime over the last few years, have pulled an all-nighter.
Why would someone stay up all night? Well, in my case, procrastination. The semester always seems so long, until time runs out. Then there is one more paper or one more exam, and if only there were 8 more hours in the day. I remember one particularly poorly planned semester in my college education that I ended by staying up two nights in a row, working around the clock. I lived on nothing but coffee, carrots, peanut M & Mís and adrenalin. For some reason, that seemed like a good idea at the time. I finished my term paper as a golden sunrise ended the second long dark night. Walking home from the computer lab I was a different person than I had been two nights before, just are you are different people sitting here than you were when you sat through freshmen orientation.
But procrastination is not the only reason to pull an all-nighter. Perhaps a college education is literally worth losing sleep over.
Finishing college is like an all nighter. Itís usually longer and harder than you expected. There are some cold, dark moments when you question the wisdom of what you are attempting. You change your routine, temporarily leaving behind family and friends who have kept their routine, or just gone to sleep. You find yourself in an unfamiliar state and are pleasantly surprised by your ability to succeed there.
Perhaps completing a college degree is a longer and deeper version of the transformation that comes from an all-nighter. After both, you are exhausted, yet pleased with your accomplishment. Your perspective is different than before. In both cases, you have had to choose what to give up, what to accept, and what to work to change.
One question to be decided in any all nighter is when to stop calling the coming day "tomorrow" and start calling it "today." The technical or literal minded might point out that strictly speaking, tomorrow becomes today after midnight. Still, if I go to bed at thirty minutes after midnight, I think I am setting my alarm for sometime tomorrow morning, not sometime later the same day. The new day comes gradually, and we need an event to mark the change.
Graduation turns yesterdayís school work into todayís accomplishment. You will not become educated in the moment you are handed the degree on this stage. The process was gradual and continual, but this ceremony marks that transformation. You officially start your life as a college graduate today.
What do you do after an all-nighter? Well, not just go to sleep, though you certainly deserve to get some rest. Do not seek simply to restore what you have given up over the last couple of years. You can never really make up for lost sleep. Embrace the metamorphosis won by your sacrifice. Accept my congratulations and gratitude on behalf of the faculty of Three Rivers. Delight in the handshakes and hugs of those who share in your accomplishment and who have also sacrificed, maybe even lost sleep, so that you could be here today.
Anthony Benoit is a professor of Environmental Engineering Technology at Three Rivers Community College in Norwich, CT.