Baccalaureate Student Address - Brian Agler, A11

Agler received this year's Wendell Phillips Memorial Scholarship.

May 21, 2011

Brian Agler, A11The world was supposed to end today. Today is May 21st, and there are those who believe that today is Judgment Day, and that the rapture is upon us. But the world hasn’t ended, or at least, not yet, and as I stand on this stage, surrounded by, among others, the esteemed members of the Tufts religious community, I am comforted in knowing that they would tell me there is much more to life than death, and that the best way to spend what little time we have here is to celebrate it, and let nothing stand in the way of experiencing all that is around us, and all that we have yet to discover.

The world was supposed to end today, and I am not so naive or prone to clichés as to say that because we are leaving college our world is ending…but it is changing, and indeed, we are leaving a certain something behind. We are leaving friends behind. We are leaving this place behind, but more so than that we are leaving a sense of security behind because for the first time in our lives we don’t know what comes next. And yes, some are going to graduate school and some are going on to new jobs, so we may know what the next thing we are doing, the next notation on our calendar is, but we don’t what’s next. How could we? Because come tomorrow, we enter a world that up until now we have only seen from the outside. We are to enter this “real” world, and it is unknown to us, and that is terrifying. It’s not the world ending that frightens us…it’s the world continuing that sends a chill down our spine.

This is all to be expected, let us take comfort in our mutual chickenness. Every so often, a poll comes out, detailing what our biggest fears as nation are. The winners are usually death, and public speaking. Death, I get. Public speaking—not a problem. I’m imagining all of you in your underwear right now, and trust me, you look great. But at their core, aren’t fears of death and public speaking just fears of the unknown? We don’t know what will happen when we die, will it hurt, is there a heaven? And we don’t know what people will think about what we have to say, will they like me, will they listen? We don’t fear the question, we fear not knowing the answer.

Watch the full Baccalaureate ceremony:

We’re all scared of growing up, and anyone who says otherwise is lying. And you should tell them that, and then hit them, because lying is not ok. This university taught me so much, and not just about whatever academic discipline I happened to be studying, but about myself. This university taught me so much, but it didn’t teach me everything. It just can’t, and starting tomorrow, we will all be overwhelmed with what we don’t know. We’re adults now. What is a health insurance? Is a mortgage the same in Monopoly as it is in real life—do I just turn my property over and get half the money? If so, how do I do that? Did you know that apparently there are different kinds of wine, and that we are supposed to be able to tell the tastes apart? That’s absurd! I’m not ready for this. I once spent twenty minutes digging around a fellow student’s off-campus apartment basement, a student I had met not 4 minutes earlier…mind you, in order to find the hide of a dead albino squirrel. This was, literally, a week ago. If the world ends today, I’m going to have a very hard time explaining that one.

We’re all afraid to leave, but in my heart of hearts I’m not worried because I know that the fear of the unknown hasn’t stopped any of you. After all, you came here, and you had to leave your home to do it. You had to leave everything you’ve known, and come here, to this new place. We don’t come to college to learn. We can read books and write papers anywhere….Matt Damon’s speech from Good Will Hunting when he later asks if that guy likes “them apples” taught us that. We come to college to broaden our horizons. To experience something new. To be surrounded by thousands of people we have never met and be exposed to ideas that we never considered and would never have considered had we not stepped foot on this campus. Over the past four years I woke up every day expecting to have my ideas challenged, and have something new told to me. I never knew what was coming, and that’s what made it so rewarding.

It was easy to conquer that fear when we were at Tufts, a safe place. But now we have to venture out and we don’t know what to do with this trepidation. Fear serves a biological purpose, at least, that’s what I tell people when I see a bug in my room and I jump on bed and start screaming. Seriously, why are we all not more afraid of house centipedes? They’re fast and they’re organized. People fear snakes—because snakes are poisonous. We are hardwired to think that way because it makes us more likely to survive. Does that mean then that we fear this next step in our lives because it is a threat to our immediate safety? Are we hardwired to think that way? I unfortunately, dropped my Philosophy of Biology class earlier this year because I didn’t understand anything that was going on, so I am not an expert. I am, for another day at least, just another college senior, with no firsthand knowledge of what lies past these gates. I am in no position to offer clairvoyant wisdom as to what the future may hold. So instead, I’ll make a proposition, one that you are free to accept or reject at your leisure: Rather than fearing the unknown, let’s embrace it. I know full well that the only thing scarier than being pushed off a cliff is not knowing what’s beneath you while you fall. But in that moment, in that time of uncertainty when we are falling to the ground, we open ourselves up to an infinite number of possibilities. We don’t know what we’re going to fall on to, so it could be anything.

The world was supposed to end today, but really, it’s just starting. Our professors and presidents, are fond of telling us that commencement means “beginning.” We are starting a new journey, we are standing at the precipice, and the fruits of our travels are limited only by ourselves. If we are willing to take that first step, if we are willing to take the risk, and the leap, and the jump, if we are willing to accept that we don’t know everything, then we’ll be just fine. We fear the boogeyman because we don’t know what he looks like. But you know what, I can guess what he looks like—he’s a man made entirely out of boogers—and that’s not scary, that is hilarious.

I’ve spent a great deal of time talking about the big things, and on a big day such as today, it seems only appropriate. But I hope you all know that what I’m saying doesn’t apply to just these grand, important moments. The strength we use to conquer the unknown after graduation tomorrow is the same strength we use for those everyday fears. And, I say to you now, take the risk. Ask her out. Eat that new food. Go skydiving, it doesn’t matter. Make yourself do something where you have absolutely no clue what the end-result will be…you will be the better for it.

And to those who decided to not pay their cable bill because they thought world was ending, I’m sorry. The world is not going to end today, and you still have to pay it. Today is going to be a beautiful day and tomorrow is going to be even better. And you know what, so is the next one, and the next one. I don’t know that, I can’t know that. But it doesn’t matter. The next day is what we make it, and rather than letting it pass by, let’s do something with it. Don’t be afraid to fail, and don’t be afraid of not knowing. Just because we’re leaving school doesn’t mean we stop learning about that which we don’t already know. But in order to learn, we have to accept that—that there is something we don’t know—but that’s just a state of affairs, it’s not a reason for the apocalypse.

To our families, we love you. To our teachers, we thank you, and to the class of 2011, congratulations. If the world is indeed going to end, I am truly honored to say that my last moments on Earth were with you.

Thank you.

Photo by Alonso Nichols, Tufts Photo