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My Oberlin Commencement Speech

May 14, 2023

Aishwarya Krishnaswamy ’23

So I'm finally a week away from graduation!! It's wild to imagine how time flies. A few weeks ago, I applied to be a commencement speaker as way of synthesizing my Oberlin experience. Alas, there can only be one commencement speaker, and excitingly one of my friends will be speaking at commencement this year, which I can't wait to hear! If we were in a multiverse, this would be my speech, and I wanted to share it with all of y'all ;) 

Hello, Class of 2023!! Wheeew, we made it! Who would've thought? I was convinced our freshman year when we all went back home was the last year of college for all of us. And here we are in 2023, graduating for REAL! Since I watched the movie Everything Everywhere All at Once at the Apollo, I have been obsessed with the idea of a multiverse. Before I tune into the joy of the present, let's imagine the multiverse for a second. Our college life ended our freshman year, and there was no coming back to college, no sweet-smelling magnolias to sniff, no Wilder Bowl disc tossing, and no discussions about decolonization and dismantling the patriarchy. Oh my god! I don't even want to go there! I feel so lucky that we all get to be here today to fondly look back on our sweet memories and look forward to our brewing futures after Oberlin. 

Let me start with my little Oberlin journey far, far away from here. I still remember the exhilaration I felt four years ago, almost falling out of my bed in Mumbai, when I saw the 'YOU ARE ACCEPTED' glaring on my laptop. I had never visited Oberlin before I committed to going here. My dad, who has relentlessly supported me along the way, is a big reason for being here today! Thank you, Dad! 

Coming to Oberlin from Mumbai, people always asked me, 'So why did you come here?' 'Why did you come so far?' most times with curiosity and sometimes with downright shock. Boy oh boy, did 18-year-old Aishwarya make some poor choices. We have all been there, but choosing Oberlin for my undergrad was one of her most compassionate and wisest choices. 

Now for a moment, I invite you all to close your eyes. What comes to your mind first when you think of Oberlin? (pause) When I think about Oberlin, 'community' pops into my head first. I've been in Oberlin for four college years, three summers, and multiple breaks, some out of choice and others out of circumstance. I was in Oberlin during the Zoom College era and participated in the experimental summer college like most of you here. The class of 2023 (yes, YOU!) has shown immense resilience during one of the hardest times to do college. We leaned back on a lot of hope and love from the community. We weathered through this shitstorm that enveloped us for about 50% of our college experience. 

Now, I'm telling you all this to emphasize that there is no way I, and frankly many of you, would be here if it weren't for Oberlin's loving community. Loss has been a big theme during our time here, yet with love and compassion, we slowly blamed our communal mourning.

Freshman year, two months into college, it was Thanksgiving break, and I slowly saw my hallway trickle down until I was the only one left behind. I sat in my empty dorm room in Kahn, back hunched, head down, swallowing the empty feeling of loneliness creeping through. The next moment, 'ting' my phone chimed with a message. Professor McMillin texted me to ask if I wanted to join her family's intimate Thanksgiving dinner. With that single text message, I knew that this community cared about me! I felt safe, welcome, and seen in this space. This was just one example, but I am sure all of you can remember when someone in this community showed you in small and big ways that you BELONG. I think of all the times I was reassured that if anything went wrong, 'you can stay in my house for a bit,' the time when my RA stayed up late into the night to talk me through a challenging situation, the big birthday party that the staff member at work threw me, times when I sucked at throwing a frisbee but could still hear a little cheer in the background, and all the times when my fellow co-opers would share sweet smiles and back rubs. Who knew I'd feel at home so far from home? 

Most Obies are skeptical about our motto, 'Think one person can change the world?' Am I wrong? Even now, I'm not sure if one person can change the world, but at Oberlin, I can say with fierce certainty that there is at least one person who can change your world, if not a whole tribe that will rock your world. 

Junior year, I shadowed an Obie alum as a premed student, and for the first time I saw a woman die in front of my eyes screaming in pain. The experience had a profound impact on me. The pandemic left us all questioning the meaning of our lives, and then this existential experience reminded me to be immensely grateful for every day I get to experience. I made sure to talk to the trees in Tappan, smile at the moon, sniff the sweet-smelling magnolias. There is so much to be grateful for today. You are alive! You are alive here at Oberlin, this land, this college, and yes, these people. Yes, YOU, I am talking about all of you and us together, collectively as a team. The integrity, compassion, passion, and commitment born out of love form the ethos of my community, this community, Oberlin. 

Once again, congratulations on graduation. We did it! 

Aah! with this I have only have a few more weeks of blogging after which this author will kindly bow out. Thank you for following along thus far! 

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