Ceremonials

Have you ever stepped outside to see everything in high definition? The leaves on the trees in glorious three dimensions? The fractures in the asphalt, the oil stains in thirty shades of grey, and the skid marks like brush strokes painted upon the road? Or the sunlight shining through every blade of grass and the diffractions of shadows cast from the heavens onto the ground?

Today’s been one of those days.

Yesterday was graduation. Commencement. I got to give a speech at the beginning, but for me the beginning came three years ago when I first started at Guilford Tech. I’ve come a long way since then, and it has been amazing over the past few days to be recognized for this growth in the many ways I have been congratulated, thanked, and awarded. It’s incredible.

At first I wanted to write a post, sappy and poignant, about the ceremony itself. How nervous I was when I stepped into the arena and yet the amazement at all the people I saw and the smile–the genuine smile–that I could not keep off my face while we approached the stage. Or the way I trembled slightly as I approached the podium, but with confidence was able to say every word exactly as imagined–only because I could see the faces of the graduates before me and I knew that I meant every one of them. Or perhaps the hours on stage, reading through the program, until I got to tell everyone to turn their tassels? It was all so unreal, surreal even, but it’s not what I’m going to talk about today.

My second idea for the post was to reflect on all the time I’ve spent at Guilford Tech these past years, all the things I have learned, the people I have met, the places I have gone (and, oh, the places I will go). But all of that seems too superficial, too transitory. It would be too easy, and haven’t I been doing that all along? There’s a reason why “school” is one of my most popular tags. It has shaped me. It has changed me. It has transformed me. But all of that isn’t my goal today.

Instead I want to give thanks. Not to the teachers or to the staff directly, but to the institution. One could say an organization is only all that it is because of its people, and that is true, I won’t deny it, but sometimes the whole really is only the sum of its parts. The people work in teams, in miniature bureaucracies in the original sense of the word, and together, like organs in a human body, life is brought to the entity until it’s as living and breathing as you and me.

Today I can look at the sun shining through the grass and know all I’m seeing is electromagnetic waves and it looks green because of the molecular makeup of the plant, of the chlorophyll especially. I can say “diffraction” and actually know what it means. I can see the porous structure of the roads and determine fractal elements–and the trees, they’re fractals, too. All because of what I’ve learned at GTCC.

Even these words would not be possible if not for these three years! I have been in more classes than I can count that demanded my attentiveness to writing, and because of these courses, I have been given the instruction to learn how to write well. I’m not merely a collection of mathematical and scientific formulas and theorems. I am also a well of knowledge of English and the humanities. I have studied the myths and religions of people around the world and this global literacy has only added to all of me. I have a sense, an appreciation, for history and literature that I never had before. I have gained interests in philosophy, political science, and leadership. I have grown more than I thought education could make one grow. And I have changed. I am changed.

I cannot credit any one student, professor, or staff member for this change. I can’t even credit myself. It has been the work of the institution, through its opportunities and initiatives, its programs and its missions, its values and its core beliefs. They have influenced me and they have shaped me. And because of this, because of this, I am who I am today, and nothing can change that.

So instead of storytelling, instead of reflection, today I bring you only this: gratitude.

Thank you, GTCC.

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