Senior farewell, message to graduates and underclassmen

Neil MacDonald

In the sphere of great speeches, there are few distinct genres. This time of year, as the semester wraps up, commencement speeches might come to mind. But an oft-overlooked category is the farewell speech, in which the speaker conveys his accumulated knowledge and advice to a group or place he is about to leave behind. Most prominently among this genre is Washington’s farewell address upon his leaving Philadelphia in 1796 and Lou Gehrig’s speech to fans as he ended his baseball career. In both cases, the speaker shared an experienced perspective on a world they had watched grow and change. Whether we like it or not, the class of 2017 is in a similar position. We have the unique advantage of being on the verge of leaving a place we have lived in for four years, and we are now qualified to take on the role of the speaker in a farewell address. 

Most farewell addresses include a cautionary note or acknowledgement of the challenges one has faced, and this is no exception. In the flurry of graduation preparation, it is easy to feel like the last four years “flew by.” But did they? It is important to take a serious look at both the positive and negative memories of your college career. Avoiding the tendency to brush the challenging times under the rug allows for a better reflection on one’s college experience. Sure, storming Lancaster after a national championship victory will be a story I tell about my time at Villanova for years to come. But what about those first few weeks of freshman year? Eating meals alone or feeling disconnected from the campus community are very common issues freshmen encounter, but we don’t dwell on them like we dwell on the good times. “Community” is drilled into each and every Villanova student, but that does not mean that each and every student instantly feels like a member of the campus community. Moving forward, as the University grows in both size and reputation, remember that just saying the word “community” does not automatically create a community. Community and conformity are often muddled on this campus, and that presents a real danger to the unique “feel” Villanova has. It falls to those with a few years left at the University to maintain and strengthen the campus community. 

But enough about the pitfalls. It is also crucial in any farewell address to highlight what was worth one’s time and effort, those things that we are confident will outlast our own residency on this campus. At the risk of being incredibly obvious, my involvement on The Villanovan has been among the most rewarding of my experiences on campus. I can honestly say I will never forget when a friend causally quoted me back to me after he read one of my columns. I have been lucky enough to write about transitioning to Villanova, campus involvement, mixing engineering and the liberal arts, a pair of LSD arrests and the despicable condition of Bartley Hall. In addition to the mass-media approach, I have also found great satisfaction in volunteering with underclass students. Leading retreats and RUIBAL groups has let me be a role model for fellow students at all grade levels. I have met countless visiting students considering Villanova from all over the country and provided advice as they discern where they want to spend their college careers. 

To those who are lucky enough to have more than a few weeks left on campus, I implore you to use my experience to better your own. There are so many things I never made the time to do, but you still can. If you are in a science-intensive major, like me, break out of that bubble. Sign up for something that doesn’t ever require a calculator. Get involved with organizations that are as far away from your discipline as possible. I was able to do this to a degree, but there are endless opportunities to connect yourself to a full cross-section of campus. Conversely, if you swore off the sciences in high school, it is time to reconsider. The world is increasingly technical, and knowledge of even the basis of scientific research and publication is essential for a well-rounded college graduate. 

If all that sounds too difficult, then at least make some little changes. Look up from your phone when walking through campus. Take 10 extra minutes at lunch with a friend. Because if you do, it might just make waking up on graduation day a little less difficult.