V.S.A. President's Remarks, Fall Convocation, September 10, 2014

— Carolina Gustafson ’15, president, Vassar Student Association

Some of the best advice I have ever received was when my best friend told me I could not invite the boy I had spent a year-and-a-half pining for to my birthday party. Not because he would say no or because he would not be thrilled to receive such a thoughtful invitation, but because I needed to start actually trying to move on. And though I tried to protest in that moment, while tears rolled down my cheeks, that I had tried, that I was trying, I knew she was right. I wanted so desperately to hold out for him because the thought of admitting that I was waiting for Godot was not only disappointingly sad, but also surprisingly scary. It feels good to hold on to what we have had, the safety we have know, even if that safety is nothing more than an illusion we create to tell ourselves we cannot succeed on our own. The way that loving that boy made me feel: special, unique, interesting, wonderful, was never because of him. I learned to love myself when I finally saw the qualities in me that he should love. And that will stay with me, even as I move forward in life. But this does not mean the experience of knowing him, building a friendship with him, was not a wonderfully valid experience. He was incredibly nice to me. He respected me for every essential aspect of my authentic self. In many ways what could have been an incredibly self-defeating experience, instead became one of the most empowering relationships of my life. It was precisely because it never actually worked out for me how I had hoped it would, that I realized what actually matters, in love and in life, is far more complex than we all like to believe. I had been so consumed over the misconception that if he was not infatuated with me, than he must despise me, that I never realized he could love me in ways that were more complex than those simple emotions.

It is absolutely terrifying to realize that you need, or soon will need, to move on from what is known and safe. Leaving high school, I was terribly afraid of the potential rejection that could come with nourishing relationships that might not work out. Instead I chose to cut off every close relationship I had managed to piece together over the course of high school, the summer before coming to Vassar. What I failed to acknowledge within myself though, was that people are not characters in the movie of your life. There is something boldly courageous about knowing that a relationship will likely not survive and still putting your everything into it while it is there. And though it is sometimes easier and necessary to let distance grow, I have also come to realize over the course of my time here, the importance of being kind and aware in the ways you treat yourself and others. People are far more complicated than the way you will describe them in your memoirs, and it will serve us all well to remember that.

It is easy when faced with the fear of something new to retreat back into the safety of what we have known. And yet if we are never brave enough to challenge ourselves to move forward, to move on in life, we cannot expect to go anywhere. It is the promise that this is not the last step, that there are people, relationships, and places to always be going that keeps life in motion. I came to Vassar with the misconception that life was like a staircase I would ascend until I reached where I wanted to be. Now I realize life is like a walk in the woods; I am not continuing on a path to reach a certain goal, but instead to constantly appreciate not just what I have seen and what I will see, but what I am currently seeing.

It is scary to live among real people who are unpredictable and have the potential to hurt you. If Vassar has taught me anything though, it is that it is worth the risk of getting hurt to open yourself up to unbelievable goodness. For every bad, wrong, truly evil situation you come across, at Vassar, and in life, there is so much more compassion if you fight to find it. There are people, no matter who you are, who will drop everything for you, who will shock you with the pure love and devotion they will offer when you truly need it most. For all the times in the last three years that I have wanted to lay on the floor and sob that I cannot go on, there have been so many more kind people who have come along. It may be comforting to live in a false present you have constructed from the past, but let me tell you, it is lonely if there is no one there to keep you company.

I used to think that in order to move on from an experience, I had to sacrifice the meaning I had gained from said experience. So often in life it is easy to look at the past with an all-or-nothing thinking. If something was not perfect it was worthless, we either want to stay forever, burrowed up in the safety of what we have know to be good, or we cannot wait to leave, because there is nothing good to be gathered. And yet even though no experience, the time you will spend at Vassar included, is perfect, there is often something that can be taken away. It has been from the hardest moments in my life that the greatest good has come.

In many ways the thought of leaving Vassar scares me most because this is the first time I am leaving something that I am afraid to lose. There have been so many people in my time here who have been so nice to me, who have loved me so fully, and for that I cannot thank them enough. This experience, while not perfect, has educated me in ways that I did not know I needed. It has helped me grow into a person who can look further than just books and scholarly articles to find the things that actually matter in life. I realize now that things like kindness, understanding, and a willingness to be wrong and learn from mistakes are all far more important than any topic found in a textbook.

I used to be afraid for life to change, to grow up and move on, to make and lose friends. Now I am growing to understand though that change and progress are pieces of life. Growing up and growing on is not only natural but necessary. While moving on involves opening yourself up to change and accepting that life is not static, it does not mean forgetting what has happened. And that takes courage. In the coming year I hope to be brave and courageous in the face of new challenges and to tackle the questions that will arise with tact, understanding, and most of all a willingness to listen.

I have no idea what this year will hold. And yet I still have hope in the future as a wonderfully open possibility. I am ready to move on. I am ready to enjoy what will ideally be the finale to my Vassar career. I am ready to find someone to pine after who has not moved across the country. And, most of all, I am ready to tackle the challenges we will face this year, together. Change is scary, but change is the only way to bring about new ideas, perspectives, and, ultimately, better things. So let’s dive in headfirst and get to work.

To the class of 2018, welcome to a wonderful four years of growth and development and, to my fellow members of the class of 2015, let’s wrap this puppy up. Thank you and best of luck in the coming year.

Posted by Office of Communications Wednesday, September 10, 2014