By Elizabeth Trenary, Graduating Senior
May 7, 2011
Welcome, Class of 2011, to the day that, sitting in the library at midnight during midterms, or finals, or ordinary Tuesday nights, we thought would never come—the day that as freshmen seemed too far away and last week seemed far too close. That’s right: today is the day that Furman officially kicks us out. They do it with love in their hearts, with faith that we can handle our lives, and with the expectation that we’ll make good models and leaders in a new world—one that seems a little terrifying right now.
In the coming months, some of us will work our way through graduate schools; others will have jobs. Some of us will have families; others will split rent with friends. Some of us will be here in Greenville; others will be scattered across the world. But all of us have the skills, the support, and the love to make it. Just think about how far we have come from our freshmen selves, trying to figure out where Furman Hall was and who this James B. Duke fellow was that everyone seemed to have a date with.
Peggy Noonan, speechwriter to President Ronald Reagan, once wrote that she had a three-stage reaction to working in the White House. Stage One: “I hope no one figures out how stupid I am.” As a freshman, I was sure my stupidity and my naïveté were tattooed on my forehead. Daunting tasks included figuring out professor’s often-peculiar expectations; trying to be a balanced, sustainable, and “engaged” student all at once; and locating the UC, the DH, and all the pesky acronyms essential for student life. At times, I was absolutely positive I was not going to make it.
But a professor that I had met during Summer Scholars in high school, Dr. Glen Halva-Neubauer, asked me one day how I was doing. After two hours in his office and a box of tissues, he learned not to ask again. Dr. Halva-Neubauer talked to me about the adjustments that would come and gave me the confidence that I could and would succeed at Furman. I went that day and made him my advisor. I would have made him my therapist too, if I thought he would take the job.
So Stage One, the art of hiding your stupidity, slowly disappears into Stage Two: “Hey… I’m just as smart as everyone else here!” This stage never actually happened to me, but I’ve heard rumors about it. Furman is filled with the absolute best and the brightest. Sometimes you wonder if you are just a tiny flickering candle in a room full of luminescent light bulbs. But it is the professors here that make you feel brilliant. They bring out the best in their students, while still keeping us humble. Furman has taught me to think critically and with confidence. I, along with four other Furman students, travelled to Japan in November, as the student delegates representing the U.S. at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings in Yokohama. If you had asked me as that little freshman if I could have gone to a foreign country where I did not speak a word of the language, and then walk up to some of the top business leaders in the world to ask an intelligent question, I would have laughed, or passed out in terror. But that is exactly what our delegation did—not the passing out, mind you. And even though I was, admittedly, a little intimidated at first, I was able to dive in, ask questions, and learn, confident in my ability to represent Furman and our nation well.
Now my fellow classmates, we are at Stage Three, entitled, “Oh my God, we’re in charge?” Yes, we’re in charge. We have the experience. We are ready to take on the world. Some of our parents are a little nervous about this, looking down at us and seeing their babies dressed in graduation gowns. But don’t worry Mom and Dad—we promise to take care of you. But give us a few years first, please.
We are in charge in this, the “Year of Global Citizenship.” We gained a more global perspective. We learned to empathize with those suffering around us. We were taught to be self-less, and to think about our impact on our society, on our community, and on those around us. These are the skills that will serve us well as we go out into the world to take charge and advocate for change. Our parents, our professors, and our peers have given us the strength and guidance we need to confidently take our place in the world.
There are going to be many challenges in the coming days. As we start our new careers and our new paths in life, we are probably going to find ourselves back at Stage One, many, many times. But when we find ourselves looking around, hoping no one figures out how stupid we feel, I hope you remember that there is a Stage Two and a Stage Three, and that we can, and will, take up our own pen and write our life story. We know what it means to be freshmen friends and to be senior scholars, to be global citizens, and to succeed individually. And it is these experiences that make Furman proud. Thank you parents, thank you professors and advisors, thank you friends and classmates. Today is the day Furman opens a new door for us. And today, class of 2011—“Oh my God. We’re in charge.”