Jenny Davis' Baccalaureate Speech (Full Version)
My solo spot was like Alcatraz. It was close enough to the dining hall to hear peals of laughter reverberating in the frigid air. Those peals were the interns, whom I thought of as chipper and giving rodents, constantly offering nutritional yeasty quinoa with bright smiles and eager questions. Those interns. They were warm and dry and probably playing Spit. I shook my fist at the thundering sky with spite, vowing that once I left this wretched place I would never be cold again. As I lay sobbing under my sleeping bag, rain drenching my food supply and clothes, I resolved to go home at once. I hated Woolman. I despised my roommates, from whom I sensed hostility and resentment. It was cold and I didn’t understand how to light a fire. I didn’t know how to get to the dining hall. I was terribly lonely. I missed my parents and my friends. I even missed my sister. This was the beginning of the semester.
If I’ve learned one thing at Woolman, it’s that, as spoken word poet Tanya Davis always says, lonely is healing if you make it. Being alone is often frowned upon in our culture: it implies shunning or ostracism. Instead of pariahs, though, loneliness turns out people who are aware of the boundaries between the self and the community. At a place like Woolman, when one is enveloped in the community constantly, we must learn to make room for physical aloneness as well as mental space. Here, we learn to create a cognitive realm that is wholly separate from the group. We are unique, it seems, but also a collective. The poet Maya Angelou professes that each person has his, her, or their own inviolate space. At Woolman, I learned to cherish my own inviolate space as well as the precious collective space of the community. These two spaces—my own and the group’s—coexist peacefully.
“Woolman is really about (dramatic pause) love,” Jane said before drifting off to sleep one night a couple of weeks ago. She was out like a light, but I lay awake considering her words. Woolman is about love? It seemed so far-fetched and absurd. Sure, I LOVE Woolman, but how is Woolman ABOUT love?
But when I thought about it more, I realized that Jane had spoken sage, if delirious, words. At Woolman, everything we do is centered around love, for both our own inviolate space and that of the community. It can really be that simple. We are encouraged to love, and not judge, each other and ourselves. That’s NVC in a nutshell. We are invited to love what we do, from homework assignments to goat herding to pottery. We are urged to love Earth and people and medicine, and appreciate all of these things on Thursday night dinners. It’s about taking the time to love the intersections of many selves, and finding the space to love yourself. Such is the stuff of Woolman.
On that first fifth Sunday when we were all required to go to meeting for worship, Karen Olsen said, “You don’t have to be perfect, you only have to be whole.” It was the moral of a story about a mouse, but these words stuck with me throughout the semester. I thought about these words on my solo, while crying under my increasingly sopping sleeping bag, and later here and there—on the global issues trip; in environmental science class; in NVC. Another tidbit that I’ve picked up at Woolman is that we can’t get to be whole by making achievements, be they academic, athletic, or artistic. We can’t get to be whole if we focus on only what we DO. The only thing we can do, really, is love. If we love ourselves, if we love each other, if we love what we do and if we love what surrounds us, the pieces come together. If we love our personal realms and our group realm, we are bound for success in all senses of the word. Jane was right: Woolman is about love. Once you open yourself up to it, it’s easy to find the love. Right now, standing here, I can confidently say that I love all of you and have complete faith in the combined power of our separate mental realms. Because although lonely is healing if you make it, community—the collection of many lonelies—is unstoppable.