Close up of Jennifer standing in front of a treeI am honored to speak to you all today, but at first I didn’t want to do this. I’ve never given a speech before, and I’m horribly awkward in front of the camera. But then I thought, this is what Marlboro is all about: challenging yourself to do something you’ve never done before and have no idea if you can pull off. So here I am.

I’m a pretty pragmatic person, and I can’t give a rousing graduation speed. But I will try to give a truthful one.

It’s hard to leave college and join an uncertain world. I graduated from Marlboro and a few months later 9/11 happened. It was a scary time. I wasn’t sure how to process it or how it would change my plans. The world I was joining wasn’t the one I’d expected.

As an alum, I welcome you into the world of being a Marlboro alum. Joining this world means people will ask you about college and, when you answer, they’ll furrow their brows quizzically and ask “what is Marlboro college?”

And then you’ll struggle to find the right words and it will all spill out as run-on sentences about how…we are up in these woods, and we study a lot, and do this giant two-year project, and all gather to eat together in this one dining hall…and, no, it’s not a summer camp…oh, and we also govern ourselves.

And you’ll keep adding words and yet nothing quite captures it. What you’re trying to say, what you want to communicate is that this place shaped you.

At Marlboro, you accomplished something you didn’t think possible. You came close to giving up but your friends and faculty and staff encouraged you to push through. And now there is this small, hard rock of pride you carry with you.

Marlboro is that tiny pebble that you can hold in your palm or place in your pocket as a reminder that you are resilient, that you are capable of big things, and that you will continue to question the world and learn from those around you.

We don’t know the future—predicting it is messy. Fortunately, Marlboro produces inquisitive, resilient folk. I see that in this graduating class. I’m impressed with the ways you all adapted your Plans—which were years in the making—in the final months; how you supported your peers; how you shared your fears and successes.

You’ve made art even after you lost access to studios. You continued writing while separated in your homes. What you did is a model for all of us in these upcoming, uncertain months. Marlboro asks a lot of its students, and especially asked a lot of you this year. And you delivered.

Take that with you into the world. Don’t be afraid.