Sam Sharp's Valedictory Address

Delivered May 25, 2023

Hi. Good afternoon everyone. Thanks very much to the honoured guests, to everyone on stage today, for all the speeches and to everyone who helped put this day together. Thank you to every professor, to everyone who travelled to be here today –and congratulations to everyone who has come up on this stage today, you have GRADUATED and it is almost time to leave this auditorium and begin the ‘real’ party.

But before that, as your valedictorian, I’ve been nominated to come up here and say a few closing words for your time at university. In writing this speech, I found myself struggling to say something that really felt like it could somehow relate to everyone’s university experience. The reality is that there is no ONE way that we all arrived at receiving our degrees today. Beyond the standard ways that university experiences often differ between people, we also were one of the lucky classes who got to experience Zoom school during the most wide-spread global pandemic since the Spanish Flu. We are different than we were before university, at the very least I know I can say that.

We also came to King’s during a time of ongoing institutional change. This university has very publicly had to grapple with its history and acknowledge the ways in which King’s culture is not always safe or inclusive. But where there is negative, there is also positive. Some of you may have had the best years of your life so far at King’s. Others may be ready to grab their degree and run out the door.

And as such while I’m up here today – I know I cannot speak for everyone, nor do intend to. Instead, I want to take this time to encourage personal reflection amongst you all, and to say thank you to the community and the people I met here, that I am going to miss very much. I feel very honoured to be up here, and I am thrilled that this day has come, and I am even more thrilled that I get to see all of my classmates in person. It is remarkable to look around the room and see where all of us have ended up, even though we may have started in similar places.

I’m sure many of us recall hurriedly reading the Epic of Gilgamesh the morning of the first FYP lecture, trying to understand what exactly it was that you were supposed to be getting out of this book? Or maybe you read it a week early and had already taken detailed notes on it. Regardless of this beginning, you have somehow ended up here, not at an ending, but something more akin to a checkpoint. I am amazed at the vast amount of ways that people took this book from ancient Mesopotamia and somehow jumped into widely different areas of study. Where else in the world can you get from discussing Enkidu and Gilgamesh’s sexuality to knowing everything about bad-ass proto-feminist nuns? To critically analyzing the performance of girlhood on the internet? To journalism reporting in Mi’kmaw communities? To EU migration or sci-fi movies or library disability studies, or curing diseases?

People find these passions through a community that prioritizes encouragement and conversation, through a professor or two or three and some friends who actually care about what you have to say. At King’s, when someone starts to talk your ear off about something they care about, they are received with a warm invitation – “tell me more.”

In most other places, trying to tell someone about 17th century French costuming might make them run in the other direction.

This community is made better by the students and faculty who see enthusiasm and create opportunity. They let people be as weird and bright as they could ever possibly want to be. This community spirit rests on many years of tireless work done by students and student organizers. You all have created this atmosphere, together.

The point I’m getting at here is that the Class of 2023 cares, a LOT. About some of the most diverse things in the world. That’s proven through the big wins we’ve gotten with the university, even just in our time here, like the hiring of wonderful equity, accessibility and sexual health and safety officers, the creation of the Disabled Students Collective, the new racialized students’ collective room, and the King’s Food Security Initiative! You have made this university better because YOU care, about your own interests, sure, but also about each other. These are each huge strides undertaken by people in THIS graduating class, and you should all be very proud of yourself for the systemic changes you’ve contributed to King’s.  I thank the members of the graduating class for the work they have done to make things better.

On that note, it is exciting to me, that the people in this room will go to the ends of the earth about the things they care about, and you will certainly find them in some very weird, but necessary places. We need more people in the world that care, that are smart, compassionate, and who can write a twelve thousand word essay in an hour, if they really had to.

I have no doubt in my mind that many of you will go off to do wonderful, incredible things for the benefit of yourselves and your families, but also for the benefit of others, who may need assistance more than you do. You are all smart, well-read people. I implore you to use your gifts for good.

You may not know where your talents or “gifts” are going to go exactly – and that’s okay. It’s been a great comfort to me in my life that my own dad still doesn’t know what he wants to do when he grows up.

You may not know where you’re going, but you’ve got to get there anyway. Your time at King’s has hopefully already been a master class in jumping off the proverbial deep end. Here! Read 50 books! Here, do a journalism intensive or write a book! Making it to this stage today is proof that you can handle some ridiculous circumstances. You experienced a global pandemic. Some of you learned ancient Greek. Some of us even had to read Hegel.

If that isn’t proof that you’ll be okay, I don’t know what is. I hope we can all find what we are looking for. I think that some of the best joy I found in my degree was finding other students and profs who would help me feel like I was just where I needed to be.

The future might be bright, but I want to bring us back to the moment, right here for a second. This celebration today is important on so many levels. You are DONE the hard and often thankless work of being an undergraduate student. Your friends and families and faculty are here, because they care. Or at least because they might get free sherry later.

Today we celebrate together, but there’s also something to be said for each of your own personal achievements. Today is the product of many years of your hard work, and of the people that came before you. I am reminded of something I was told once – the idea that “you are your grandmother’s prayers.”

It’s a powerful but meaningful idea, that you are not alone in your path and that all that you have achieved is so great, that it could have only been imagined as a dream by those that came before you. Some of you are the very first in your families to hold a Bachelor’s or a Master’s degree. Some of you may have been the first people in your families to graduate high school. While we should all celebrate each other as individuals, take some care to thank all those who may have come before you in some way. Take a look at your degree and realize – YOU. DID. THAT. And that’s a huge deal! Sure – the real important lesson might have been the friends we made along the way – but it also definitely was the degree, so don’t understate that.

I realize that my time is nearly up – and I do have to let you all know that I am really bad at endings. I tend to get weepy. But these last few weeks I’ve felt better by being deeply present in the moments that I am in. There is a part of my brain that acknowledges the ‘last time’ for every little thing. But I can’t be sad at this one. A good friend of mine once told me – when you know a community is coming to an end, remember how it felt.

And remember that you can bring all of the good that you felt then – all the love, all the motivation, all the joy – you can take that with you to every other aspect of your life. There is no reason why the rest of your life should not build off of the good that you created and that you felt here. Maybe for you it was a certain level of intellectual challenge, or of friendship or companionship. The feeling of meeting your first love. The memories from these experiences don’t go away easily. From this perspective, there is nothing to mourn.

I’d like to leave you with a final note of overwhelming gratitude. My life is forever changed by so many of you in the graduating class, from dear friends to acquaintances – whose small passing conversations still stayed with me. I hope you can take some time to thank each other for what you’ve shared, and to give each other a hug, to pour each other an extra glass of Prosecco later, or to linger in the doorway just a bit longer, until you really do need to go home. What a special thing this was, for better or for worse.

May we continue to learn, and may we continue to appreciate each other while we’re here. Keep in touch.

Thank you for your time and please enjoy your evening.