Dartmouth College Convocation, September 10, 2012
Suril Kantaria ’13
Thank you Dean Johnson for that kind introduction. President Folt, trustees, faculty, alumni, distinguished guests, upperclassmen, trippees in A48 psycho hiking, and most importantly the great class of 2016.
I’d like to begin by thanking the Dartmouth administration. By asking me to speak at Convocation this year, they have bestowed upon me not only the greatest honor of my Dartmouth career, but the daunting task of imparting wisdom at the tender age of 21. This job has several benefits—stress, insomnia, and weight loss. I can’t think of a better way to begin my senior year.
Men and women of Dartmouth: for 243 years, students have gathered to mark the start of a new year and reflect upon the legacy left by Eleazar Wheelock, who founded this college in the woods. While the college has evolved to reflect changing times, the spirit of this place has endured. It is a small college where knowledge is created and flows freely, where beliefs are challenged and refined, and where students are prepared for a lifetime of learning and leadership.
Class of 2016, you join a long legacy of Dartmouth classes, each arriving with the same feeling of endless possibility and abundant energy. Like generations past, you come here with a diverse array of backgrounds and with a lengthy list of accomplishments, already distinguished by your past but more so by the promise of your futures.
But in a society where the extraordinary receive the lion’s share of praise, it isn’t enough to be promising, to be accomplished, to be just another class in the Dartmouth succession. So I ask you, how will you be different? It is no secret that here, you will receive perhaps the ultimate gift—that of knowledge. But it is your obligation to do something with that knowledge that benefits our community.
Several students before you have already left their mark. The Class of 1888 celebrated a basketball victory by collecting wood and building a bonfire at the center of the green. This event began the great tradition of the Homecoming Bonfire. Members of Dartmouth Outing Club launched the Freshmen Trips program in 1935, which led to the groundbreaking discovery, as you know, of the Canadian ground fruit species and barbecue sauce as a mosquito repellent. Since then, students have founded local businesses, like Boloco, and organizations, like Grassroots Soccer, and some have even invented liberating activities to ameliorate academic stress: namely, the Dartmouth Seven, the Ledyard Challenge, the Dartmouth Decade, and of course, pong.
For me, the people at this school have been my passion. Creating a first-year peer mentoring program, which will benefit one third of you in this inaugural year, allowed me to invest myself in this institution, using Student Assembly as the vehicle for change. I challenge each of you to harness whatever your passion may be. Extend your shadow beyond your own silhouette. Leave your mark at Dartmouth.
Fellow students, today my goal is not to tell you how to live your Dartmouth career, for Dartmouth will teach you just as it has taught me. But I would like to share with you one lesson that I would have benefited hearing when in your seats.
You will fail here. Learn to embrace, not fear, failure. Some of you may be driven by a fear of failure as much as by a desire for success. By virtue of your admission to great university, most of you have experienced few failures up until now. Or perhaps you are so ambitious that your perception of failure is the average man’s success. In a community overflowing with drive and talent, we cannot escape failure. Not you. Not I. Not even the great Achilles. It is written into our fate.
My first big failure came unexpectedly, as it often does, at the end of my freshman year. After devoting the majority of my first year serving as class president, I lost my re-election bid to a complete newcomer by a sizeable margin. Stripped of my title and my one activity on campus, I felt a deep void. The beauty of failure is that no matter how grave the circumstance, you feel that you’ve hit rock bottom. If you looked at me the morning of the election result, you would have thought I lost my newborn son and my house burned down. After coming to terms with the grim reality of defeat, I acknowledged my mistakes as a leader—a lack of transparency and inclusivity. I now credit much of my recent success to this experience of failure and assessment. We all strive to learn from failure, but only fools romanticize failure itself. I ask that you be foolish—embrace failure.
1,371—remember that number. That’s the number of days you have before you walk across the Green on Commencement morning. Today, you all represent boundless potential. But your time to fulfill that potential is finite. Before you fully come to appreciate the stillness of a New Hampshire summer night, the beauty of the fall foliage on the Green, or the bliss of a lazy winter morning skate on Occom Pond, you will find yourself crossing the Ledyard Bridge one last time, leaving the granite of New Hampshire behind. As you file out of this arena today and join the parade of classmates marching up Wheelock Street, take a moment to reflect upon your aspirations for these four short years. Amidst the clutter of papers, games, meetings, and parties, try to keep sight of your ambitions.
Class of 2016, the greatest debt you will carry with you after Dartmouth is not a financial one—it is the burden of making something of your Dartmouth education that benefits our world. As you overcome failures and find your path through Dartmouth into the limitless chaos of our world, let the weight of this heavy burden guide you as it has guided men and women before you.
’16s, on behalf of the entire student body, I welcome you into our community.