Where am I going to find a friendlier, more accepting, cheaper beer every Friday afternoon at 4:30 than the Wardroom? Sorry, that’s not technically part of my speech — it’s just been on my mind lately.
This is the beginning of the speech.
With my breath held and my fingers crossed, my eyes drifted to the final question, of my final exam, of my final year of University — the question to end all questions. My last chance to test my academic mettle, and utilize the full scope of the education I had acquired during the past four years: Plato, Dante, George Orwell, Stanislavski, that jellybean experiment I did in that one psych credit I took in second year, I vowed I would somehow cram all of them into this ultimate answer. And then I read the question: “What school do you go to?” Not exactly what I was expecting.
Now, I should clarify a few things. The question actually read “à quelle université allez vous?” It was an exam for my first-year French class. A bizarre culmination to my Post-Secondary education — but I had put off my compulsory language credit to the last possible moment. Like many people I know, I had held out the vain hope that, in my case, they’d make an exception. First-year French? It didn’t seem fitting. What a worthless way to end a degree, when it had began so nobly — with the immortal Epic of Gilgamesh. It just felt so useless, taking one year of a language. Then I thought — wait a minute. I’m griping because, instead of taking French and learning a new language, I wanted to learn something useful. Like the Epic of Gilgamesh. What the hell has the University of King’s College done to me? And, brainwashed as I am, where else in the world will I possibly be able to fit in?
King’s has instilled in all of us the dangerous idea that reading a lot of books qualifies us to do things. Take the KTS. Any given year, hundreds of students unabashedly step-up to direct and act in some of the most challenging plays ever written, scripts many seasoned professionals shy away from. Macbeth? No big deal. Equus, sure, I’ll play a horse. Marat/Sade, yeah, I think I can squeeze that in between EMSP and Rugby. If I can get through Luther, I can get through anything. We just don’t know any better.
Or look at the Wardroom — largely staffed by students with absolutely no bartending experience whatsoever. I worked there for two years, and, only now, as I’ve landed a serving job in the real world, have I realized I’m expected to know how to make drinks which don’t have their recipe in their title.
And we’ve never questioned entrusting the safety and security of our campus to our peers. Any potential projector thief is bound to stop in his tracks if they see a second-year HOST student starring them down, right? She’s got a red shirt and a walkie-talkie, plus I heard she got an A+ on her final oral exam! Better do what she says before she explains to us how they made beer in the 18th century.
We’re great at becoming things — often at a moment’s notice. Because, though King’s has taught us a lot — how to think, how to write, the proper etiquette when drinking in the President’s house — mostly it’s taught us how to talk. Mitch Hedberg, a comedian whose untimely death devastated my Bay in first year, has a joke: My friend said to me, “I think the weather’s trippy.” I said, “No, man, it’s not the weather that’s trippy, perhaps it is the way that we perceive it that is indeed trippy.” Then I thought, “Man, I should’ve just said, ‘Yeah.'” We’ve all been this guy. We’ve all launched into long-winded, tenuously-relevant discourses on the most trivial of subjects, when a simple “yeah” would have sufficed. Walk into the Wardroom, or a King’s party, and it’s just a room full of people — talking. Having really long, in-depth conversations. And everyone looks so… interested. It’s a little frightening.
We’re taught in FYP to analyze the world around us, and question the ways things are. And we do. Relentlessly. When George Bush visited Halifax, the entire Quad went to greet him. Our numbers at the rally far exceeded those from Dalhousie — as they did at last year’s Day of Action against rising tuition fees. But as important as these causes were, we’re even more vocal and inspired when rallying against something trivial. One of my fondest memories from first year was when a fellow resident student planned a Bay party, during our very first FYP weekend. Worried people would feel inclined to fulfill their academic, rather than their social duty, he printed up business cards, and placed them on every place setting in Prince Hall. Their message was simple: “Essay? What essay? Come party this evening in Chapel Bay!” Just two weeks into first year, and we had already realized that we could turn our liberal arts education in rhetoric against itself. Nothing shows King’s respect for its students’ ability to argue their case than its incredibly benevolent late policy. I won’t ask how many of you sitting before me still have outstanding papers… but our Honorary Class President Sharon Brown has told me she will be leaving the Church by 4:30 sharp.
The courageous spirit that this University has instilled in all of us isn’t something that will evaporate the moment we leave the quad. King’s has made us all stronger people, comfortable with and confident in who we are — and I don’t think we could say good-bye to that if we tried. So just what are we leaving behind? What will I miss? I won’t say I’ll miss each and every one of you — because, contrary to what we were promised during Frosh week, we don’t all know each other. We’ve all spent a large part of this ceremony sneaking glances around the room, and wondering just who some of these people are. But we’ve each gotten to know a large percentage of our graduating class, and what University can boast better than that?
King’s is truly a University which is defined by its student body. We’ve all watched the climate of the school change, as each class graduates, and a new year of FYP begins — and we’d be lying if we said we didn’t take some small satisfaction in the idea that King’s, as an institution, will notice when we’re gone. But in another way, it’s also comforting to know that, when we come back and visit, we will find the school pretty much as we left it. In a quest to visit the most mysterious corners of the quad before graduation, I went on a tour of the library archives a couple weeks ago. It’s remarkable what they have preserved down there — posters from past KTS shows, old FYP papers, every single back issue of The Watch. But whether I was staring at an army enlistment photo from World War I, or flipping through a yearbook from the ’70s, everything felt vaguely familiar. I recognized things — be it an inside joke about Heidegger I thought our year had started, or a ridiculous moustache I’m sure I’d seen pass by me in the Quad. There’s something about this place which keeps asserting itself, year after year, in the kinds of people it attracts.
Personally, it’s this common ground that I’ll miss the most — the fact that, for whatever reason, King’s seems to draw a shocking number of students who have a passion for playing board games, watching Woody Allen movies and learning how to make almost anything from scratch — from feta cheese to harps. I’ll miss being surrounded by a community of people who recognize the importance of the archaic. We’re all hopeless retro, whether we’re performing Ancient Greek plays on the library steps, debating Cartesian philosophy, listening to music from the ’60s, or dressing in an eclectic fashion style which merges Woodstock with the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. I’ll miss the pranks — which were always good-natured. The time when someone temporarily stole the campus flag, and then posters appeared announcing that it had been “captured,” or the night we filled the bar with thousands of balloons. I’ll miss the King’s library — the one place you could go if you wanted to make sure you wouldn’t get any work done. And yes, I will dearly miss Early Happy Hour in the Wardroom, where you were always sure to find a dose of King’s patented brand of “interesting conversation,” with fellow students, and, more often than not, faculty members.
Like the Epic of Gilgamesh, maybe none of what I’ll miss can be described as particularly useful. The term “education for its own sake” gets thrown around here a lot, but I really think it fits. I guess what we’ve all earned can’t be called a “practical education”, not in the traditional sense. But wasn’t that sort of the point. Most of us came to King’s because we weren’t ready to label ourselves as part of any specific profession. (Unless you did the journalism program I guess, in which case, congratulations on your employability; the rest of us will be crashing on your couches before you know it.) But regardless of what program we did our degree in, our time here — not just FYP, but our entire experience — has been a foundation: one which has strengthened us all in ways we may never fully appreciate. King’s has been, not the means to some all-ready mapped out future, but a wonderfully valuable end in itself.
Mitchell Cushman graduated with a Bachelor of Arts with First Class Honours in Theatre and English, with the University Medal in Theatre.
Click here for Claire Guyer’s portion of the Valedictory Address.