Commencement Address: Class President Harry Jones '06
Story posted May 27, 2006
"Why Not Me?" It is Not a Question -- It is an Ethos
by Harry Jones '06
May 27, 2006
First, I'd like to apologize to Alex Linhart for not speaking about the benefits of the Free Market Economy. (As hard as I tried I just couldn't see a connection.) Given that "problem," my main focus was looking for a common denominator for all of us. Not just my classmates, but to the faculty, staff, parents, and guests, and what that denominator meant for all of us going forward from Bowdoin. When I thought about it came down to our mutual appreciation for the College. Some might call it love, respect, gratitude, and perhaps two weeks ago during exams angst, it remains the same -- we all appreciate what Bowdoin has given us. For parents and siblings, you respect and are grateful to the College for the intellectual and social challenges that Bowdoin has given your children or brothers and sisters, transforming them from adolescent teens to men and women. But, what does that mean for our futures.
Experiencing the gamut of emotions is par for the course at Bowdoin and more than anything has prepared us for the unknown -- the undiscovered country that is our futures. I think about Allie likening us to the boat in the ocean and often wondering if we could brave the tumultuous waves. Three weeks ago Erin Turban locked herself in Kanbar Hall for a week and cranked out what would eventually be her honors thesis in history. She'd type for hours on end, take a nap under the tables, wake up, brush her teeth in the bathroom, and go at it again for few more hours. The important thing to take away from this is that in face of academic adversity, which in a Bowdoin sense may be the most pressing of all, she found a way to succeed.
Erin's example is not the only type of emotional test people experience at Bowdoin. Many of us experienced the joy of making the winning play for our sports teams or giving the performance of a life time on the stage after conquering a midterm exam. Bowdoin has thrown it all at us, and even though we have sometimes felt overwhelmed, we have excelled and marched to this point -- our graduation -- the culmination of our Bowdoin career, and the first steps into the unknown. Reflecting back on all these moments, I'm sure we all have memories that make us smile, laugh out loud, and even cry. For that reason, though some of us may hold it in, we appreciate Bowdoin, we love Bowdoin.
Since we have found success at Bowdoin, in so many fields, we must proceed with confidence. Our parents and friends expect it, our alums have done it, and we will continue the tradition of excellence in all things, as we leave Bowdoin. Which brings me to the real message that I wish to share with everyone hear today. When you step forth into the real world today step forth saying: Why not me?
This is not a question. It is an ethos. Some of you may look me on this stage and say "that's easy for you, Harry; you are the same man who wrote Living Icon on his track spikes." But I believe it is in all of you. Donny Deutsch, the bad-boy of the advertising industry and TV talk show host, calls it the self-entitlement injection theory. I see it as owning your past, good or bad, and attacking your future head on. In his book, Often Wrong, Never in Doubt, Deutsch lays it out:
In order to pitch $10 million dollar accounts, you've got to say, "Why shouldn't we be pitching." Whenever I say those words to people [why not me?], they laugh. They hear their own wheels turning, they realize how far they are from acting on that kind of [statement], and they laugh.
Fellow graduates, friends, I ask you, better yet I dare you, not to laugh. Bowdoin has given you a past overrunning with triumphs and failures, and we are here today as one community to celebrate our learning from that process. Dave said that we should not let political ideology decide our friendships. When I here his message I also see a broader yet equally powerful message: do not let that which you cannot control, things like the past, dictate your future. So why should we not embrace this ethos: Why Not Me? We are more than prepared and we are more than capable. The hard part is owning this mantra and earning what we want.
Andrew Combs said "Why Not Me?" from the moment he stepped foot on to a Bowdoin Track and ran his way to multiple All-American crowns. I can never recall a time when Andrew did not believe he would win a race. While competing in the mile his sophomore year, Andrew took on organic and inorganic chemistry, spending sleepless nights cramming reviewing and eventually earning the high marks he so deserved, all the while running a 3:52 1,500-meters in track. He was injected with the belief that he could do anything and while Bowdoin is not the sole reason for his confidence, I do believe it helped crystallize it. Andrew has taken on so much at Bowdoin, that he could not help but feel entitled to win from his hard work in all areas of his life.
It is funny being on this stage talking to all of you right now. I remember being on the top floor of Hyde dormitory during the commencement ceremonies my freshmen year. When I heard Barry Mills introduce the then Senior Class President, it hit me more than ever how badly I wanted to represent my class. On that day I told myself I would be right here. I owned losing the election my freshman year, and continued to own it when I lost my junior year, but all the while my confidence never wavered, and though I did not know it, I was owning "Why Not Me?"
Quite simply if you think you should be trading the hedge fund book at a prominent investment bank, running the campaign to get to people to see political issues in a new way, taking on the challenge to mold young minds in foreign countries, changing our nation's health practices, or pursuing any dream, you should own the ethos: "Why Not Me? Why shouldn't I be doing it."
Graduates, I'm asking you not to be afraid of what seems like the abyss of the real world; you will succeed, but you must own "Why Not Me?" I know some of us may not have jobs but if you have gusto and the attitude to know that the path or job you want is yours, then you will succeed. You will not falter in the face of closed doors; you will simply knock them down. (I mean, really, c'mon you're the same class that found a way to cram for your Con Law exam and still make it down to Seadogs for one of Sean's free cocktails.)
Faculty, Guests, and even Parents I challenge you to live a "Why Not Me?" lifestyle, as well. Professors, believe in your work: the books, experiments, essays, and, most importantly, the students. And tell yourself: "Why shouldn't I be the one to take academic discourse to a higher level?" Guests and parents, everyone, let us pick our dreams and not let them go. We are not dreamers. We are visionaries who will realize our goals with grace, class, and uncompromising confidence in our abilities.
The next time you are at a crossroads in your life, whether it is a job interview, starting a new business, or just standing in the face of utter chaos when everyone around you seems to have lost their head, stay calm and proclaim: "Why Not Me? Why Should I not Succeed?" This re-creation of yourself will give you immense power and allow you to take on anything. It will make you better; it will make Bowdoin better, and your positive presence will strengthen all those who have the pleasure of knowing you. Thanks you for your time my friends, and I will never forget you or this epic journey that we have braved together.
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