by Andy Leshovsky
September 2, 2009
Welcome to the 171st
Commencement ceremony. I’m so glad we were fortunate enough to be able to do this outside. It is so beautiful out.
Thank you campus services. You do such a great job to make this campus absolutely pristine. Thank you to the rest of the great staff we have here, to the equally great faculty, to President White, and the members of the Board of Trustees in attendance.
Without all of you, none of this would be possible. I would also like to thank the three honorary degree recipients and all of the families and friends that were able to make it whether residing right here in Crawfordsville or from the far reaches of the globe. Lastly, thank you to all of my fellow classmates with whom I have had the opportunity to spend the last three years.
I want to start by telling you about my Wabash journey for a few reasons. First, I don’t think what happened to me happens very often and, yes, I can say that I am slightly proud to be standing here today relative to where I was three years ago. Second, I think one of the reasons I was selected to speak is because of my story. Since my story is not one that happens every year, I feel it is my duty to inform you of how I came to stand here today as a Wabash soon-to-be-graduate. In doing so, I hope to let you in on three important lessons I have learned along the way.
The journey starts with a flyer from a “liberal arts college for men” in the quaint little town of Crawfordsville, IN; the school is called Wa-Bosh College. Don’t ask me how the admissions office got my address, but I’m sure glad they did.
Anyway, after some research into Wa-Bosh College, I decided to apply and set up a visit. The next thing I knew I was on a plane to Crawfordsville, IN for a little something called Honor Scholar weekend. One of the first things I learned was that “Wa-Bosh” was actually pronounced “Wa-bAsh,” but that weekend also proved to be the reason I decided to attend Wabash and, therefore, marks the beginning of my journey away from Minnesota.
The first two years flew by not because I was constantly busy with my schoolwork, but actually quite the opposite. Academics were at the bottom of my priority list. Partying, playing video games, and sleeping in were more much important in fact. As a result, at the end of my sophomore year, I was invited to meet with the Dean of Students (no, this meeting was not like the one Duncan and I had when we found out we were selected as Commencement speakers). Instead, I found out that I was being placed on academic suspension for an entire year because I did not gain enough credits or maintain a high enough GPA to progress from sophomore to junior status.
So while the rest of you guys were starting on your Wabash journeys as freshmen, I was a college fail-out living at home and in serious need of direction.
Luckily, during my year off, I did some major soul-searching and decided to seriously pursue medicine. While I wasn’t at Wabash at the time, this led me to the first big lesson I learned while during my time here: live up to your potential. Every one of us has some sort of potential or we would never have been accepted by Admissions in the first place. I realized that I had the potential to do so much more with my life and was simply wasting everything away the previous two years. I did not want to do that anymore and I knew that graduating from college was the only way to take that next step in my life towards gaining acceptance into medical school. I felt Wabash was the best place for me to do that (yes, the admissions staff convinced me to come to Wabash, not once, but twice). I reapplied and that next fall was fortunate enough to be able to join all of you guys – the class of 2009 - as sophomores.
One major difference I saw in myself during my second sophomore year was my attitude. I made a vow to try to live up to my full potential each and every day so that I could gain acceptance into medical school. That reminds me of the rude awakening I got in my very first class back. It was Physics 111. 8:00 AM. I sat in the front row, stomach full, well rested, with the August morning sun shining through the window of Goodrich hall (right over there).
Even though I had been out of school for a year, I felt ready to do Wabash right when, boom, there it was: an exam on the very first day! Even though the test was just one of those feelers to see how much physics the students in the class already knew, I performed miserably on it. I remember that day distinctly because it reminded me that I had to make serious changes in my life if I wanted to achieve my goals and live up to my potential. And I did just that from that day forth by giving Wabash my all.
One of the ways I did so was by essentially reversing all of my bad habits from my first stay at Wabash. I lived by myself in Wolcott Hall. I went to bed at 11. I woke up at 7. Every day. Even on weekends. I read my textbook before class. I rewrote lecture notes after class. I even made my own Cornell-styled note paper (yea, it was pretty intense). You could say that if I was focused primarily on my social life during those first two years at Wabash, I definitely found myself on the opposite end of the spectrum that first year back when academics was all that mattered.
This brings me to a second important lesson I learned while at Wabash: maintain a healthy balance. Even though I wanted dearly to live up to my potential, I went from one extreme to the other and neither was healthy. Sure, the GPA looked a lot better during my second try at Wabash, but not having a social life can have detrimental effects as well. Trust me, it’s not “cool” when you say good night to your friends at 10:45 on a Saturday night because your “bedtime” is approaching. Over the past three years, I have struggled to find a happy medium between those two extremes. I think this is a problem all Wabash men face at some point. Am I right? Maybe it’s not as difficult going to an all-male school where sometimes studying is the only thing to do, but in the real world, the one actually filled with women, we are all going to have to find a healthy balance. Slowly, I think I am developing a healthier balance, but I know I still have a lot of work to do. I’m also sure this is something I will battle for the rest of my life no matter what I am doing, just like all of you will have to do at some point in your lives, if you haven’t already. I think this happy middle is something everyone, the class of 2009 and the rest of you here today, will have to discover eventually. I know this is something I plan to continue to work on and no matter what you all end up doing or wherever you find yourselves in the future, remember to try to maintain a balanced life.
Looking back at the last six years collectively, I realize that not everything turns out the way you plan.
As a high-schooler back in MN, I did not think I would end up in the middle of Indiana for college. I never could have predicted that I would fail out of that same college after only two years and that it would be a day after my 24th birthday before I eventually graduated, let alone be a commencement speaker! I had no idea I was going to major in Chemistry and Spanish (heck I didn’t even like Spanish in high school). I could not have imagined that I would be able to say I have travelled to Ecuador and Spain during my time here at Wabash. I did not know that I would apply to medical school, not get accepted anywhere, and then have to take a year off and reapply. I have no idea where I will end up going to medical school but I like to think that someday I will be accepted into and graduate from one, and eventually be able to call myself a physician.
Did everything turn out the way you guys planned it? Did you guys know you wanted to attend Wabash back in high school? Did your GPA end up exactly how you wanted? Did you end up majoring in what you thought you were going to major in? How about the study abroad, immersion trip, or volunteer experiences? Did you have those all planned out when you first stepped foot on campus? Are you all headed where you thought you would be headed back when you were freshmen? To that job, that internship, that volunteer opportunity, that graduate school?
For many of these questions, the answer is likely no and that brings me to a third lesson I learned through my Wabash experience that probably applies to everyone in attendance here today: be flexible! No, I don’t mean being able to do the splits although I’m sure that probably would be a sign of good flexibility too, but rather in terms of your journeys through life. Sure, it’s great to have goals and a general sense of direction, but guys, life throws you curve balls. You have to ready for them and be flexible.
A longitudinal study by U.S. Department of Labor found that the average American between the age of 18 and 38 will undergo 10 job changes during their lifetime. I know I am no mathematics major, but the average age of retirement minus the average age one starts their career divided by 10 comes out to be, on average, a job change every four years.
Will we be ready for that kind of variability in our lives?
I think so and Wabash is one of the reasons why.
I believe that no matter what happens after we leave here, we will be prepared because we have struggled through the rigors of a Wabash education (those 3-lab semesters, those 40 page research papers, the week-long studying for and two days straight of comprehensive exams). We will be prepared because we have been challenged by faculty and peers alike both inside and outside of the classroom (those C&T discussions, senior Colloquium, faculty-housed dinners, and study abroad and immersion trip opportunities). We will be prepared because we have each gone through our unique Wabash journeys… because we have learned to think critically, act responsibly, lead effectively, and live humanely.
Although I came here as a young and frivolous boy, I leave an older and wiser Wabash man… ready for whatever life throws at me and I know you, Wabash Class of 2009, leave here not just as college graduates, but as Wabash men and are ready to do the same. Do not for one second forget to live up to your full potential and in the process, try to maintain a healthy balance, all the while remembering that life is dynamic and if you want to succeed, you are going to have to be flexible. Good luck to everyone as we embark on yet another journey.