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Mark Dance & Adam Casey’s Valedictory Address

Mark Dance & Adam Casey's Valedictory Address

Adam: Poi kai pothen.

Mark: What?

Adam: Four years ago, on the day I arrived at King’s, I sat in Alumni Hall, inheriting the seats of my distinguished scholastic predecessors, and President Barker greeted me into the hallowed halls of academia with those ancient immortal words. And I said —

Mark: What!?

Adam: Thankfully, President Barker quickly realized that, in the four hours that we had spent at King’s, none of us had yet mastered ancient Greek, so he did us all the favour of translating the phrase into English.

Mark: Where are you going and where are you from?

Adam: And so I sat and thought about it. And I said to myself —

Mark: Meh.

Adam: Those words of Plato’s seemed rather unremarkable. After all, I had come to King’s expecting to be inundated with profundity and constant wit. This quotation was just some clichéd mumbo jumbo about origins and the future and all that other crap.

Mark: But we are glad to announce today that our time here at King’s has made us recognize the importance of origins and destinations.

Adam: Who knew that Plato could be so insightful?

Mark: I now feel like I’ve gained a greater appreciation for what it meant to arrive at King’s on that day and what it means to go forth from it on this day. Between those two days, we have done a lot at King’s. John Dewey said that education is …

Adam: “The process of living and not the preparation for living.”

Mark: And he could easily have been talking about this place which we are now leaving. King’s has been more than preparation, more than a training montage from Rocky that comes just before the big bout. Fellow graduate John Adams, when he heard that we’d be doing this speech, said —

Adam: “That’s great. Can you do me one favour, though? Don’t tell me to get ready for ‘the real world.’ I don’t want to hear any of that bullshit.”

Mark: His point is a good one, and to present King’s as a training ground for the real stuff would be to ignore the substance of what we have experienced.

Adam: That’s not to say that King’s isn’t distinct from the “rest” of the world, but it’s just this separation that makes its influence so real. It’s distinction as a rich and vibrant community in itself is what has made our education so potent. My experience has been both exceptional and extra-ordinary and this is what made it so effective.

Mark: But it is equally unsatisfactory to simply call King’s a good time while it lasted. Great by itself, but nothing more?

Adam: I hope not!

Mark: We have done something transformative here, something that must in some sense be a forging of our minds to ready us for what is yet to come. Whether that preparation involved looking to things that were written 2000 years ago, or scribbling furiously at a press conference, it is something that we have all engaged in. To paraphrase the words of a great karate master from The Simpsons:

Adam: “First you must fill your head with knowledge. Then you can break bricks with it.”

Mark: King’s may not have forced us to pay any mortgages, fight any wars, or feed any dependants, but nevertheless I have little doubt that we will be able to break stuff with our heads because of what we learned here.

Adam: If we’re going to follow Plato’s words and think both about what we’ve done and what we’re going to do, it is probably thanks to the portion of our education that we complete here today. We have learned that knowing where to go from here involves knowing where we are and how we got here. We’ve found that a quick survey of the ground beneath our feet is not sufficient. In order to understand ourselves and what we can do, we must first understand what has come together to place us here (and continues to slap our asses), compelling us forward. Book eleven of the Odyssey recommends that we summon forth a ghost to speak of the future; we have encountered many such ghosts at King’s.

Mark: But, regardless of how much we are determined by our situation, it is advisable not to become too narrowed by what our past looks like or what our future seems to have in store. As far as I’ve been able to tell so far, the biggest difference between a person who is both happy about what is and hopeful about what could be and someone who despairs about both is their passion and their openness. Breathe in as much of the world, as much of the whole thing, as you possibly can. Ask yourself, are there fewer possibilities as I grow older? Is my course fixed now, must I settle down after my time at King’s? My recommendation is that you answer ‘Oh, hell no!’ to these questions that threaten to cut us off from what we can do and what we can change. King’s has taught me act as though the world is as astounding and perplexing as it really is.

Adam: My college years have enabled me to become more fully inebriated by everything that I encounter. I thought the world was pretty neat when I arrived here, but I think it’s even neater now.

Mark: So learn everywhere, but always learn generously and don’t be afraid to teach while you learn. Most of you have probably been asked whether you’re planning on going into teaching. My answer is always:

Adam: “What do you mean, aren’t I already there?”

Mark: As we have learned here at King’s, teaching is not something that you can turn on or off. It is a way of living, a way of sharing and a way of engaging. We are made greater by always being ready to give away our techniques, our ideas, and our stories.

Adam: We don’t want to suggest that this transfer of ideas was easy. My time here was full of laborious hours gawking at thousands of pages of excruciating text and countless mind-numbing late-nights spent staring bleary-eyed at a computer screen with my head in my hands. I tortured over sentences and sparred with individual words. It often felt unsubstantial—spending so much time absorbing works of brilliance made my own meagre attempts seem as insightful and articulate as bathroom graffiti outside the wardroom. But, now that my undergraduate career is finished, I can look at what I’ve done and recognize it as a substantial body of work.

Mark: “Finished, it’s finished, nearly finished, it must be nearly finished.”

(Pause.)

Grain upon grain, one by one, and one day, suddenly, there’s a heap, a little heap, the impossible heap” [Samuel Beckett, Endgame]

[As Mark reads the quotation, Adam makes a pile of all his papers, assignments, and notebooks. It is a large pile.]

Adam: I wrote all that! All those essays and all those notes came out of me! I have shelves lined with books that represent hundreds of hours of my life, and, having kept all my essays, I literally have boxes full of my ideas.

Mark: Some of them aren’t half bad.

Adam: Standing here today and looking at the work that’s behind me—and not just the academic work, of course—I’ve done a remarkable bunch of stuff during my time at King’s. And everyone sitting here has created a pile of stuff just as substantial as this one.

Mark: Just ask Pat Dixon and Sharon Brown.

Adam: All this work was part of an experience that we understood from the beginning to be a remarkable period in our lives. We stamped our feet and shouted on move in day knowing that a few years later we would be sitting here, albeit much less rambunctiously, bringing that clamour to its inevitable conclusion. From that first Moosehead Monday, we knew that the time we spent together in the Wardroom would eventually give way to different places with different people and more expensive beer. We expected it to be vibrant, edifying and short. It was.

Mark: Franz Fanon writes in the Wretched of the Earth [quoting Ahmed Sékou Touré] that “In the realm of thought, man may claim to be the brain of the world; but, in real life, where every action affects spiritual and physical existence the world is always the brain of mankind;” For it is at this level that you will find the sum total of human relations added together. When I consider what Fanon has to say about the world being the brain of mankind I look out at the quad, and I can’t help but think:

Adam: “Damn—I love my brain!”

Mark: Together we have embodied our ideas in space. In the pit, in the Wardroom, and even, sometimes, in the library or the J-school we’ve been fortunate enough to see our thoughts come to life and spring into motion. We have done all this through collaboration with each other.

Adam: I remember once at a meeting of the Middle Bay Gentleman’s Dining Society, Dr. Wayne Hankey spoke at length about his time at King’s. Even though he is a perfect example of academic rigour, he nevertheless described his education in terms of the people he shared it with and the things he did with them. He said that the reason that so many alumni become premiers or other prominent members of their communities is that King’s teaches the importance of living in a community and actualizing ideas together. Which is why it makes me sad to say that there are almost certainly close friends sitting in this cathedral who you will never see again after your goodbye hug later this afternoon. This loss won’t be intentional, and I know that I will try to see many of you again. The fact is, though, that here at King’s I have been surrounded by so many incredible people, shared insights, and unexpected adventures that it will be impossible for some of it not to slip through my grasp. This realization has formed many a lump in my throat over the past few months, but it nevertheless reinforces my gratitude at having lived this opportunity.

Mark: Our impending dispersal reminds me of something that was said by one of the finest philosophers I encountered at King’s.

Adam: Who by the way, is sitting right there in our graduating class.

Mark: He said, “You know a place best when you’re leaving it”. He’s right. It’s at that point that you have an intimate knowledge of that place, but you must also begin to imagine it without you. You’ve been inside of it, worked with it, but here you are, walking away.

Adam: You see clearly the part that you’ve played in its construction, but you’re distant enough to imagine it without you. This is how we know King’s right now.

Mark: When we first arrived at King’s, the places that we were from were all different. During Frosh week we gathered to celebrate the unity of the place we were going to, and now we gather to celebrate the unity of what we’re leaving behind.

Adam: It’s an interesting inversion, and both occasions deserve celebration. It’s a process that has been long, difficult, and profoundly fun.

Mark: You are now all part of the place that I am coming from, and I think the places I am going to will be better because of the stuff we did together.

Adam: Now King’s is where we’re coming from rather than where we’re going.