This time last year a couple of us English people at Guelph were organizing a grad party with profs and students. I volunteered to be our valedictorian. People kept telling me that I wasn’t in fact the valedictorian because that’s a position that is voted on by your peers. I ceded to their logic and just called myself a speaker (but in my head I still said I was the valedictorian). Anywhos long story short, these past weeks I’ve been trying to rid some insidious nostalgia. The type that washes over you in heavy waves, blurs your vision and rationale. In one of those periods of rose-tinted memories I dug out the speech I wrote for the party. Beyond the nostlagia factor, I was proud of it then and I am proud of it now. So in memory of the past and in celebration of the future …
I’ve been asked to say a few words tonight on behalf of the English Students Society for us … the graduates. That’s a nice way of saying I volunteered myself. I know that not of all of us are here tonight … it tends to be difficult to get English students to participate in pretty much anything. Even if it is their own going away party. Anyways … in trying to write this I went through a few drafts, most of them were riddled with unnecessary bouts of cynicism. They were banal ramblings that tried desperately to articulate our collective experience as eloquently as possible, through caustic wit and self-deprecation. Needless to say they kept falling short. See, I didn’t want to fall into some overly sentimental trap that eulogized the end of our times spent as undergraduates. What could I say that wouldn’t generalize or trivialize our time at Guelph?
This is the end of something special, that might be the understatement of the year but it’s true. I’ve often said, rather cynically, that most of your education in university is outside of the classroom. But that’s a short-sighted comment, which comes from being prematurely jaded and an inability to see how invaluable and exciting studying English has and can been.
Correct me if I’m wrong but, the Study of English itself is grounded in the simple desire to comprehend the human condition through the written word. As students of that study, you sometimes feel lost or silly for being part of what has been described to me as “the most expensive book-club in the world”. But being an English student has allowed, for us, the ability to say something and mean it. It sounds trite but being able to construct an argument of substance isn’t always an easy feat nowadays. But that’s what has driven us over the past four years – a desire to learn, to learn how to decode and appreciate the human narrative – from Chaucer to Hip Hop – using whatever means necessary.
Throughout our respective experiences at Guelph we’ve engaged in what hasn’t always been the most coherent of discourses – introductory literary ramblings might be a more fitting description of the plethora of pages we’ve churned out. We have spent hours plodding away on essays that never quite attained perfection, constructing presentations that attempted to deconstruct but never sent anything toppling down, pages turned and margins noted … no matter what our task may have been we were rife with ideas. Aspring for something, whether it be originality or profundity, that was perhaps far more grand then we were capable of. But that didn’t stop us trying.
Maybe I shouldn’t be so essentialist but as English Majors we have, hopefully, attained a set of skills that aren’t flashy or overt – you might not be able to build a house or save the world with your close reading skills … but we’ve all become impassioned readers and critics of our respective environs. Critical thinking might be an intangible, specter of a skill-set but ideas and the passion that drives our individual ambitions are invaluable – after June 15th we’re all going to go our separate ways … with English Degree in hand we’ll face that inevitable question we’ve most likely already heard a million times: “What are you going to do with an English Degree?” and the answer is anything our hearts desires.