Climbing the Mountainby Greg Strodtman ’07
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When I first was informed that I would have the opportunity to speak today, I felt as though I should represent our class to all of you here in the best, most accurate way possible. In that frame of mind, I wrote two different addresses, both of which I grew to hate upon a second reading. During this process I realized that my job was not to try to give the sum total experience for all the members of the class of 2007, but rather to be a worthwhile representative of the class. It is my sincerest hope that I have accomplished this in the following.
As stated in the Commencement announcement, my address is entitled "Climbing the Mountain." Originally, I was going to offer a comparison between completing your education at Wabash and climbing Mount Kitahdin, the highest point in Maine and the northern end of the Appalachian Trail. I climbed Kitahdin with my best friend and fellow graduate, Nick Gregory, in the summer after our freshman year. Initially, I was going to compare how the first year of Wabash was like the beginning of the trail, and how each mile we hiked up the mountain could easily be compared to each year of Wabash, growing progressively harder until the plateau at the end. Yes, surprisingly, we do tend to coast into the finish at the end. Sorry Mom—and professors.
Many of you, I hope, look forward to your own future in just this way. We all stand on the top of the mountain and see many paths in front of us, each leading in a different direction. Some of these paths lead to even higher paths to climb. This, then, is our challenge: we must, each and every one of us, select our higher paths. The paths we will choose each represent something about us, because we consciously chart our own future with each choice we make. These choices, in the end, will determine what our lives ultimately meant to those closest to us, but furthermore, to the world from which we cannot seclude ourselves.
This is an inescapable truth: the world we live in is growing ever smaller and evermore connected. Actions that might have only affected a small town 200 years ago now could have deep implications for the entire world. Thus, each member of the world today has a responsibility to understand how his actions will affect, for good or evil, the world around them. Ultimately, it is because of our vantage point in graduating from a place such as this that we have a deep and profound knowledge of the issues that face our world today, and, by extension, we must make every effort to use that knowledge for its betterment.
At Wabash, I, like all of you, have learned things that I had never thought of before. I gained a new appreciation for other cultures and other peoples, other lands and other nations. But, my growth, like all of our growths I think, did not beguile me with only the glories of other societies. It helped me to see the problems that haunt the world in which today we each gain a greater stake.
These issues range from some that confront us here: questions of racial inequality, quality of housing, or even the burden of debt that many students must now carry to receive a high-quality education. Of broader scale are issues like the Iraq War or the War on Terror. Whether you agree or disagree with the current administration’s plans for the Middle East, we can all recognize that the stability of this region is of great importance to us, not solely for domestic reasons, but also from a humanitarian standpoint of the most basic questions of human rights. We have heard of the toll exacted from the Iraqi people as well as our own citizens and soldiers. We have seen the destruction wrought not only by the current war, but also by religious extremists, by terrorism, and by the fear of the unknown and the other that builds within societies until tragic events such as these occur. In order to stop not only the continuation of these events, but the increase of the same, we need individuals willing to challenge perceptions and misunderstandings and willing to teach the world to move past them. In short, the world needs leaders.
We have seen the ability of a few strong, bright young people to come together to make something grow and prosper. We see it everyday in classroom experiences where older, sometimes slightly jaded seniors (we all know who we are) challenge younger students to expand the way in which they think about the world. We are challenged from day one at Wabash to live as gentlemen and to expand upon our abilities to lead, think, act, and ultimately to live. We see it in the work of the senior art majors who present their thoughts and feelings to the world. We see it in the growth of the little lost freshmen who become leaders in their living units and across the campus. Ultimately, we see it in our alumni, who have set such a high standard for the men of the class of 2007 to follow.
Choose wisely Wabash, as we inherit a world beset by problems. It is up to us to tackle them head on.