Climbing the Mountain
by Greg Strodtman ’07
August 30, 2007
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.
I realized, however, that this story is part of my past, not my future, and the comparison, by extension, is also part of our collective past. Today, I am sure that we all will look back on our own pasts and the trials we have survived here on these sacred grounds. Remembrance is a worthwhile and important endeavor, but it is for each and every individual to conduct in their own way. Even as a novice historian, I recognized that my speech would be relegated to our collective pasts if I focused singularly upon our remembrances. As a result, rather than speaking of climbing the mountain, I want us to think about where we all are today: on top of the mountain.
From the top of the mountain, what do we all see? We see our past, as I’ve already noted, but we also can see our futures. There are many paths for each of us to follow. As we made our way down Mt. Kitahdin that summer after our freshman year and moved on to other sites and trails, my friend and I abandoned the fear of failure that we had first felt climbing the mountain. We had, like all of us here today, already achieved some degree of greatness and conquered the most challenging path that either of us had ever taken. We knew also that we could do even more than we had ever believed because of what we had already done.
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.
Around the world, they are needed. They are needed in schools and in churches. They are needed in town halls and state governments. They are needed for non-profit organizations, businesses, and to protect the weakest amongst our society. Wabash, can we choose the path to become those 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.
We all know that Wabash has challenged us in innumerable ways. On the fields, courts and tracks, in the classrooms and laboratories, in fraternity houses and residence halls, we have each dealt with our fair share of issues, making us the men that we are today. Yet, is this enough? Do we dare rest on our laurels for too long? I hope not, because the world will not stop with us on this Mother’s Day, it will not stop for us to pretend that this alone is sufficient. Instead, the world will move on. If we, the Wabash Men of the Class of 2007 do not continue to do what has made our class so great, then we will ultimately have failed ourselves and this place. If we fail to think, act, lead and live as gentlemen, then what has this all been for?
Some of you undoubtedly think at this point that I am calling for all of us to join non-profit organizations and solve all of the world’s problems. This is far from the truth. I know that many of us will go on to be outstanding bankers, doctors, lawyers, businessmen, and teachers. Yet, in each of these, we can still make a difference. Bankers can ensure that fair housing policies are followed to ensure equality in housing. Doctors can dedicate a portion of their time for the treatment of the poor. Lawyers can work to ensure that the innocent are not proven guilty because they can not afford legal aid. Businessmen can ensure that others around the world are not exploited in order to shave a tenth of a cent from whatever widget they manufacture and market.
I do not call upon you to sacrifice any dreams that you might have for yourselves; indeed, I hope that each of us will always dream bigger things. Rather, keep in mind that the things that have made our experiences at Wabash great, the brotherhood, the challenges, the sense of community, can and must be extended when we reach the wider world.
Gentlemen, we join today what seems to be a world gone mad. Denying the problems around us will only allow them to grow deeper and more dangerous. We can sit back and watch as our society and world self-destruct around us, or we can set out to make a difference. We may only be 160 some odd men, but we are 160 some odd men that will hold positions of power and authority sooner than any of us can imagine. We can, each and every one of us, make a difference, if only we chose to do so.
We look back today over four years, but what path will each of us take tomorrow?
We each know where we have been for the last four years. We each know what we have managed to accomplish. Can we save society by ourselves? Certainly not, but if we can offer an example of what a small group of men dedicated to benefiting the world around us can do, then maybe we can help the process. We each will make choices every day for the rest of our lives that will affect those around us in ways which we might not then even understand, yet because of what we have been granted here over the last four years, we must, each and everyone one of us, try to make those choices which will best serve all of those around us. Today, and every day here after, we will have choices to make; will we choose the path of least resistance, or will we, in the best traditions of what Wabash really means, choose the path to become leaders of a world that desperately needs leaders like us?
Choose wisely Wabash, as we inherit a world beset by problems. It is up to us to tackle them head on.