Be sure to check out Sarah’s Senior Speech:
When I was in middle school, I read a short story by Sandra Cisneros titled “Eleven.” The story starts something like this: “What they don’t understand about birthdays and what they never tell you is that when you’re eleven, you’re also ten, and nine, and eight, and seven, and six, and five, and four, and three, and two, and one. And when you wake up on your eleventh birthday you expect to feel eleven, but you don’t. You open your eyes and everything’s just like yesterday, only it’s today. And you don’t feel eleven at all. You feel like you’re still ten. And you are—underneath the year that makes you eleven.”
On a day like today, I can’t help but agree with that story’s eleven-year-old narrator. What people never seemed to tell us about college is that when you’re a college senior, you’re also a junior, sophomore, and freshman…and all the ages that came before then. As I reflect on my varied experiences in the SAS Honors Program and at Rutgers at large, I can remember feeling like a 3-year-old running after the ice cream truck back in freshman year — except for the fact that the ice cream truck was a Weekend 1 bus leaving Scott Hall in less than one minute. I can remember feeling ten when I found myself sitting in my first college class: an SAS Honors Interdisciplinary Seminar. Feeling proud after flawlessly navigating the bus system to get to College Ave, I soon realized that I was the only freshman in the room and could barely even get my name out when it came my turn to speak. The year after, I found myself in another SAS Honors class, but that time, I had developed more of my own voice. By then, I had been to countless office hours, learned from the wisdom of my Honors faculty mentor, badgered my peer mentor with question after question, experienced the joy and chaos that is King Neptune Night to give me the fuel to keep studying, and developed a new group of friends after living in the McCormick Suites for a year. I felt more like a mature…sixteen-year-old then. And then in my junior year, as I stood alongside other HP students in the Gardner Fellowship presenting our independent research projects that we had labored on for months, I finally felt twenty, or perhaps even twenty-five, as I soaked in these larger-than-life moments that this program helped to create.
Now, as we find ourselves in this liminal space, on the brink of entering this whole new world of #adulting in which we sometimes assume that we have to act like a put-together 20-something-year-old all the time, this short story reminds me that it is okay to feel three or ten or sixteen or twenty all at the same time. Our moments of childlike excitement (like when we tried every last flavor of ice cream at Brower, or donned our Big 10 shirts to cheer on the Scarlet Knights at our first football game, or discovered that college meant you could get Cookie Rush delivered to your door at 3 in the morning) and our moments of courage and resolve (like when our fellow students organized marches to advocate for the rights of undocumented Rutgers students, or shared their own MeToo stories in the wake of the movement, or defended their honors theses just a few weeks ago) — those moments are what make us the soon-to-be-Rutgers-graduates who will be able to take on the world with wide-eyed wonder.
Personally, I can’t help but think of just how much I’ve changed and grown, despite how nonlinear that growth may have felt in the moment. For that, I am grateful for mentors who challenged me to do things like take a percussion Byrne seminar at Mason Gross, friends who made sure I made time to rest and therefore discover the beauty of quiet spaces on Cook, and individuals who went out of their way to do things like encourage me to apply to be a FIGS Peer Instructor so that I could eventually teach my own college class on public policy topics.
So as we reflect today on all that the SAS Honors Program has provided us with — from the honors housing communities, to the mentorship experiences, stellar academic opportunities, and so much more, let us not forget how much we’ve been given over these last few years on the banks. We will undoubtedly feel like confused college freshmen a few more times in our lifetime, but this time, we’ll be armed with all of the lessons and memories that have come with being an SAS Honors Scholar. What they never seemed to tell us about college is that when you’re a college senior, you’re also a junior, sophomore, and freshman…except now we have all we need and more to go out and change the world. Thank you.