Student Commencement Address

"White Pines" by Class of 1868 Prize Winner Dylan Richmond ‘24

The day I arrived here, it was raining.

The trees, dense with water, leaned an intense, crooked degree away from the sky

and I couldn’t quite look them in the eyes.


The day after I arrived here, my best friend called me.

He said be yourself.


The second day after I arrived here, a man at a gas station called me

a slur.


I walked swollen through Hannafords’ lamp lit parking lot and finally cried in front of a café donned with a rooster.


On that second day after, I feel like a net, twenty feet wide, catching every sharp edge in the air.


By the end of the week I get called by the wrong name and buy into the fact of being uncalled for and

call my dad about a ketchup stain and

buy my first snack from the C store.


It’s dried mango and I chew and chew and I’m at Costco with my mom.

As we share a free sample she says it’s like a piece of Trinidad on her tongue.

It’s the first time she’s mentioned it in years. I finish the bag like it’s my favorite story.


The next month I find myself––

eating alone and dancing (mostly dancing), sitting on swings, fidgeting with rings, trying weird machines at the gym

because if it’s there I should probably use it, right?

Poorly flirting,

poorly deciphering between being intrigued or offended,

poorly suspended on my pinky toe on the line between platonic and romantic eye contact,

poorly hovering above the bubbling pool of lava called “socialization”–– going back to my room to watch Glee.


The months after–– forming little platoons,

wearing your corduroy jacket like it is perfume, assuming an arsenal of arms who can hold my secrets

next to my love of maps and big cats and orange juice and really sweet wine

and the archipelago that is the human spine

and pushing the crosswalk sign when there are no cars because if it’s there I should probably use it right?


I spend a lot of time with the trees.

I’m splayed out, gazing up at one by the quad, and a boy approaches me.

He’s a senior I’ve seen around and he asks me if I know what type of tree it is.

I shake my head and think

oh my god,

you can't even sunbathe at a PWI and protect your peace?


But then he tells me to count the needles in each bundle— 5, like a hand. “When the wind comes,” he says, “it’s like each is waving hello.”


Yesterday, the morning pawed at the evergreens,

the light making its way through its routine like a gentle commuter–– “Excuse me, pardon me.”


The strong breeze smelled of shifting weather, falling feathers, and the endeavor of tethers about to be tested.

The tree trunks stood tall and as still as ever

but the needles…

I waved back.


Today I am here and I feel like a net,

twenty feet wide, catching every simple joy in the air.

I am flattered by everything and everything seems to flatter me:

I love how Maine Street is a pun, how blatantly the squirrels wait for crumbs, how impatiently my loved ones wait for the sun.


The late night cleaner in Pickard theater who once gave me a thumbs up,

the savers of the stunned birds and the shuttle drivers, the professors like pearl divers

and the dancers and the poets

and the people in love and the people who show it.


I love every footstep, every finger extending, every spider spared and brought to every garden, every start and every ending.


Today, I am here. Today, I am grateful.

Today, I’d like to invite you to take a deep breath with me.


Remember your body, what it has taught you.

Remember where it has brought you

and where there is still to go. And consider all of the love inside, poised.

Consider, if it’s there,

we should probably use it–– right?