Stories including resistance

On a Mission

It’s easy enough to become complacent here. I know I’ve spent too much of my short time here just enjoying the ride, and who can blame us? Vassar’s probably one of the most beautiful places we’ll ever live, we get to read cool books and party away the days. Many of us here have been told since day one that we’re special, destined for great things; Vassar is supposedly our just reward.

But great things never came from being complacent, and there’s nothing special about people who just absorb this privilege without at least questioning where it comes from. The truth is we’re not just here to go into debt in order to have a great time for four years-at least that’s not what it says in the mission statement. We’re here to do more it says, including to develop “the individual imagination to see into the lives of others” and form “independent thought and an attendant resistance to irresponsible authority.” So let’s use the great minds that got us here, think about the people around us and more importantly the people not around us. Can we, if even just for a moment, see into their lives? Have we been resistant to “irresponsible authority” lately?

Our institution is a complex one with an interesting history. We taught women science when it was still popularly believed within the medical community that lady-knowledge made your womb start wandering, but we are also a place which only had six black students in the entire class of 1971.

These sorts of paradoxes exist today on this campus, as well as within the greater society. To those who have yet to graduate, I urge you to use the power and privilege of this institution to speak out when you do stumble upon these paradoxes. Vassar provides a fairly safe place to try out new ideas, to practice using your voice and has endless resources to learn more about how and why these paradoxes exist. Don’t even for a moment think that you are powerless or that no one would listen to you. For better or for worse, just being in a place like this connects us to more power and money than we probably deserve. Think about it this way, how much money do students spend just on alcohol here every weekend? Probably somewhere in the tens of thousands, maybe more. Cash is lying around this campus by the bucketful, just waiting for the right project. What if we could have that money right now? What could we do with it? How could it be better channeled? How many problems could we solve? And remember many problems don’t need money at all; they just need brains, some knowledge and a better attitude.

Obviously questioning “irresponsible authority” isn’t always super easy, even at Vassar. It’s hard to know sometimes who’s right and who’s wrong-things are often shades of gray. Sometimes you might speak up only to say the wrong thing, and probably more frequently you’ll remain silent when you know you should have said something. The times when you know you’ve got it right will feel threatening to those who know they’ve gotten it wrong. Some people will think you’re “ridiculous” or “snobby” for even caring. But so what? Mistakes come with an education, and there’s nothing wrong with being just a tad disillusioned-it certainly doesn’t mean you love this place or this world any less. In fact it means the opposite. It means that you take your commitments seriously, that you will support the contract you signed as freshman with the mission statement on it. It means that you want to give back to an institution which has provided you with so much-great memories and friends, new ways of thinking about the world and a degree that says that you’ll forever be connected to Vassar, to that power and prestige, to all of its successes and to the most depressing of its failures. It means you accept the fact that you are responsible not just for yourself, but for the actions of your fellow students and for the administration your tuition pays for.

So be sure to enjoy the ride, to lie on the well-manicured grasses, to meet new friends from all over the world, to learn about something which has no real significance besides the fact that it’s super cool. But don’t forget that complacency didn’t get us to where we are today and that we owe it all the folks that got us to Vassar and to all the kids who have yet to come here to make the very most of our experience here. Congratulations to the Class of 2010, I can’t wait to hear about the big changes and projects you’ll go on to work on. And best of luck to the Class of 2011, may next year be the year that you form an “increased knowledge of oneself, a humane concern for society and a commitment to an examined and evolving set of values.”

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