Tanu Kumar ’12, DeAlva Standwood Alexander First Prize Winner, delivered the student address, “Beginning from Home,” at Baccalaureate, held Friday, May 25, 2012, in Sidney J. Watson Arena.
President Mills, members of the College and guests. I am very honored to have the opportunity to speak in front of you today. I will be talking about something that I have been thinking about a lot all year. At the end of last summer, a close friend of mine was working on an art project. She sent me a postcard, and instructed me to convey my own sense of home on it – whatever that might be. We could use words, drawings, photographs, anything. Think about it for a second. How would you respond?
As we leave Brunswick and Bowdoin and move on even further away from our childhoods, the concept of home will become increasingly confusing and undependable. It’s already a little strange. When we were younger, most of us thought of home as a place to return to after school, vacation, camp – a place to rest and be with those who knew us best. Growing older, becoming a bratty teenager, and entering high school made the relationship with home a little more difficult. It became a place I had to return to even though other places may have been more exciting. I wanted to meet new people and visit different cities. And yes, I wanted to party a little bit.
Obviously, the meaning of home changed drastically after we arrived at Bowdoin. At the beginning of freshman year, home was Coleman, Appleton, Winthrop, Maine – the rooms in which we slept and hung out with our friends and ate pub pizza on late weeknights. Slowly, as Bowdoin began to feel like it was actually ours, the entire campus– the athletic fields, the union, the sweaty basements of social houses – became a sort of comfortable home that we rarely left. This year, as I have spent more time venturing down Maine Street and exploring what are now familiar sights – Lilee’s, Flipside, the Fort– the entire town now feels like a place where I belong and feel secure. Coming to Bowdoin and learning to love all of it made me think, at first, that maybe my home could be any place where I had lived for a long enough time to make it feel like it was mine.
But what did this mean for the places and people – the bedrooms and families and friends we had left behind? Had they become irrelevant? It certainly seemed so at times. I remember that winter break during my junior year felt endless. Five weeks is such a long time and lying in bed watching Arrested Development and eating Cheez-Its gets old, fast. I missed my classes and my friends and the way my residence at the time –Mac House – smelled after a particularly fun weekend. One day I accidentally let slip that I couldn’t wait to go home, to Bowdoin, and my mom looked so hurt –claiming that Bowdoin wasn’t my home. My home was in Maryland, with my family, and always would be. I disagreed at the time.
Arriving at the beginning of my senior year made me realize exactly how much I had taken my home in Maryland for granted. We would be leaving Bowdoin in ten short months, after which who knows where we would be going? Graduation would mean moving, making new friends, finding new places to eat and shop and, once again, setting up a new home. And this would be temporary as we switched jobs and went to graduate school and moved again. Individuals in our generation will have, on average, about three jobs by the end of their twenties. Based on my plans and the experiences of my friends, I think the number will probably be larger. The point is, at the beginning of last fall, I was imagining the next ten years of my life as a never ending sequence of settling down somewhere for a year or two, packing up, and moving again. And maybe my angst was heightened by the fact that my parents would be moving out of the country, across the Atlantic, and to Zambia. I would not, for a very long time, be able to picture home as a specific building or even a town where all of my friends and family lived. It became really clear to me that I would need to be able to create something that would make me feel at home, no matter where I was.
And then I realized that I already do carry something like this around with me. Since I have been at Bowdoin, I have slowly accumulated a small collection of books that I bring with me whenever I go somewhere. These are books that I brought with me from Maryland, books I have used in my classes, and books that I have read on my own time since I have been here. Whitman, Keats, Rilke, Seeing like a State, An Introduction to Logic, and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay are part of this collection. These are books that have spoken to me in moments of need. These are books that have inspired me, that have shaped the way that I now think, and can remind me, with just the opening of a page, of what I am truly passionate about. I read or even just flip through them whenever I feel lost or lonely or defeated, or you know, just lazy and unproductive – basically, when I need home the most. Last summer, when I was asked to describe my image of home on a postcard, it was pictures of these books and lines from their pages that I thought of. For me, home is no longer a place or a group of people or even an idea, but a feeling, even if for a moment, that I know myself and what I care about.
The offer of the college promises to allow you “to be at home in all lands and all ages.” In my past four years here, this promise has been fulfilled by another piece of the offer—the guarantee that we will be able to carry the keys of the world’s library in our pockets. I have found that I can most easily return to my passions and myself through books. But of course, this will not be true for everyone. Maybe you reclaim yourself in nature – on a hike with the outing club, on a run through the commons, or on a boat during crew practice. Or maybe both creating and appreciating art – playing in a band, working on a photo project, watching movies is what makes you feel most like yourself. In any case, I truly believe that at Bowdoin, we have all experienced moments during which we have felt complete comfort in our surroundings and ownership of our actions, moments that we can access somehow through reading, swimming, walking, or any number of methods. As long as we know and keep with us ways to recall these moments, we will be able to recreate a feeling of home in the times we need its comfort the most.
Sometimes change makes me believe that not a lot of things last, but I think that at moments like these, it’s more helpful to think about what does endure. This is what I know: I arrived at Bowdoin with a passion for the written word and a love for meeting new people. These are the parts of myself that have stayed with me and that I think Bowdoin has nurtured and made even stronger. And of course, I have discovered new things about myself here, too. I came to Maine convinced that I knew everything, that I was the smartest and most special human being who had ever graced Earth with her presence. But over the past four years, I have been humbled. I have been stunned again and again by how dedicated and innovative members of this class are. I have learned that it’s not enough to be good at logic and analysis – it’s important to be creative and assertive too. I have discovered how much I depend on my family. I have learned what it means to be a friend, and that the ones you’ve known for years can still surprise you with their compassion, ideas, or just a really good dance move.
So as you walk across the museum steps tomorrow, I urge each and every one of you to ask yourselves: What have you brought with you through your time at Bowdoin? What have you learned that you want to carry with you after you leave? These beliefs and ideals are the pieces of ourselves that we can’t lose, even as other beloved items and places get left behind in the journeys that lie ahead. I’m not saying that it will be easy to leave Bowdoin. How could it be? I’ll miss my professors, I’ll miss making up pepper flip dares at dinner, and most of all, I will miss knowing that we are all living here together, with any single person on campus at most a ten minute walk away. All I am saying is that while we will all miss the home that we have created here together, we can carry its essence – its most important lessons with us anywhere.
T.S. Eliot once said “home is where one starts from.” Maybe that’s an obvious statement, but for me, that means knowing home can allow us to begin and venture out into the world. So, first and foremost, thank you to the friends and family who have supported us and allowed us to reach this important point in our lives. And to the class of 2012: I want to thank you for an incredible four years, and I want to wish you the best of luck in all of your future endeavors. And now, it is time for us to explore! Thanks.