“Bright Lights and Deep Shadows”
By Patrick Cho, President, Student Government Association
May 19, 2013
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president, gave a response to the Class of 2013 at the 2013
Centre College Commencement on Sunday, May 19.
Senior Commencement Response
It is with good reason that Centre is known for personal education, extraordinary success. Our class has enjoyed some remarkable successes, but none of it would have been possible without the love, guidance, and support of Centre faculty, staff, and our families. They have believed in us, inspired us, challenged and sustained us, through some of the most formative years of our lives. Fellow seniors, please join me in thanking again the members of our Centre family for all of their support.
So, seniors, we’ve made it. Four years ago we sat in Sutcliffe and listened to PRoush give three points during orientation. Excited, anxious, awkward, and hopeful, we looked at our classmates wondering where the next four years would take us. In our time at Centre we’ve studied abroad, served our community, won national championships, and graciously allowed two vice presidential candidates to debate on our stage. We’re the last class to experience the cavernous storage warehouse that is Chowan, to eat in the old grill, and the first to experience the palatial Brockman Commons. Now, the walk sign is on for the rest of our lives.
I talked with many seniors over the past week about their Centre story, about what their defining moment as a Centre student is. One thing became clear: life does not always work out the way we plan. When we sat in Sutcliffe four years ago, many of us had a plan for what the next four years would be like. We thought we knew who we were and where we were going. We knew what life’s path would be: med school, law school, whatever. We had achieved in high school, and we felt confident that the next four years would only be full of more success. But sometimes, life has other ideas.
While it’s known for something else, on the Flame there is a quote by Goethe: “Where the light is brightest, the shadows are deepest.” In our time at Centre we have achieved remarkable things, had minds broadened and challenged and transformed by our professors and our classmates. But for all the bright light of our success, there have been equally dark shadows.
Everyone has difficult moments, periods of shadow. Two years ago I came home for Christmas break to be told my mother had ALS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Over the next 18 months I watched this woman who always has been strong and vibrant wither away, her light of life dimming every day as she slowly became paralyzed. As her muscles became weaker she struggled to talk, and I strained to hear her say the words we’ve heard so often this weekend—“I love you.” None of this was in my plan for my college experience.
When the light is brightest, the shadows are deepest. Thinking about our college experiences, the best ones—the most meaningful ones—are not always fun times. They are the times when life does not go according to plan. Times when the shadows are so dark they seem to overwhelm you. College is the most formative part of our lives, because the experiences we have here shape us. Setbacks are inevitable. It is what we do when things don’t go according to plan, when we are forced to confront the most raw and basic parts of ourselves, that make us who we are. Centre formed us, not just in our moments of triumph, but in our moments of anguish. The time we studied as hard as we could and still failed the test. The time when we tried to make a relationship work and it still broke up. The time when we had to rethink everything we ever planned on. When we look back, we know that it is in those moments of shadow we came to know ourselves—and know who we can depend on to light our path out.
Four years ago at opening convo President Roush talked about writing our Centre story. We might not know the ending, he said, so we take it page by page. While we didn’t realize it fully at the time, the people who would have the biggest role in that story were sitting next to us. They are the same people sitting on the stage today. I asked many of our classmates, “Ten years from now what’s the first thing you’ll remember about Centre?” Every person said, “my friends.”
All the hours sitting in Cowan, the speedway runs at 2 in the morning, dancing the night away at the fraternity houses, eagerly discovering a new country together, we were developing relationships with the power and resilience to last the rest of our lives. People who will be with us when the light is brightest and the shadows are deepest. They are the people who comfort us when we fail, rejoice with us when we excel—the people who will hold our clothes while we sprint naked around a statue dodging DPS. And if that isn’t the truest form of friendship, I don’t know what is.
Over four years we have worked hard, played hard, discovered truths about life and about ourselves, and eaten so many no-bakes. Today, just like four years ago, we sit together eager, anxious, hopeful, ready to begin a new adventure not knowing where our path will take us—but knowing that we never have to walk the path alone.
Thank you, all of you, Class of 2013, for being a part of my adventure, and for letting me be a part of yours.
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Centre College, founded in 1819, is a nationally ranked liberal arts college in Danville, Ky. Centre hosted its second Vice Presidential Debate on 10.11.12, and remains the smallest college in the smallest town ever to host a general election debate. For more, click here.