Valedictory to the College by Amanda Chen ’21
“We can all think of at least one conversation with a friend or mentor where we walked away feeling supported, or inspired, and we wouldn’t be the people who we are today if it were not for that conversation.”
Family, friends, honored guests, and of course, fellow members of the class of 2021, I am so grateful that we could all be here together to share this moment. In truth, this was a really hard speech for me to write, because no words can capture the loss that we experienced this past year. I’m sorry that I don’t have the language to convey everything we’re feeling today. We are still trying to make sense of all that has happened during the pandemic, as we try to figure out what life will look like after graduation.
I can only start by reflecting sincerely about my time at Dartmouth, and the nature of change. In the last four years, I feel as though I lived two lives: one as a student, and one as a mental health advocate, where I spent countless hours founding the Dartmouth Mental Health Student Union and its various programs. And I’ve realized some striking differences between the two. As students, the expectations are set for us. Success is outlined in course syllabi, research titles, and awards. We receive constant feedback and are rewarded regularly for our efforts. And if we didn’t like a particular result, we would wait out this 10-week period for the next one.
In my mental health work, it was the exact opposite. Nothing was predictable. I spent a lot of time in meetings for results that were not guaranteed. There was a good chance that after all of my efforts, nothing would happen, for reasons likely outside of my control. Despite this, I had no choice but to keep showing up, if I wanted a chance at making real change. As a student, you can work on assignments inconsistently or last-minute, and still get regular results. With making change, however, the results are not consistent, but the efforts have to be.
I have found that when trying to create change, it is that beginning period of uncertainty that is the hardest to cope with, the long stretch of time when you’re working constantly but with no tangible results. In a way, making change can seem very binary. You either have something to show people, or you don’t, and the nothing phase can seem to last forever.
I was able to make it through because of the people by my side. When I came back to campus for my senior spring, I was suddenly struck by memories of so many conversations with mentors, friends, and teammates. These were conversations where we problem-solved, where breakthroughs happened, and, most importantly, where we made sure that everyone on the team was doing OK. Though we weren’t seeing results yet, and we weren’t receiving external validation, we looked out for each other to make sure we were all still in a good enough place to keep going. Even when our efforts in the moment meant nothing to the outside world, we were there for each other. We had that much.
When we leave Dartmouth in a few hours, I think we will miss these small but meaningful conversations most of all. We can all think of at least one conversation with a friend or mentor where we walked away feeling supported, or inspired, and we wouldn’t be the people who we are today if it were not for that conversation.
To me, that’s what community means—having small moments throughout the day where we’re just looking out for each other. In the real world, we won’t be able to bump into each other in Blobby or Novack or Collis anymore—we won’t have these small moments built into our days. We will have to actively bring this aspect of community with us.
So after the adrenaline from graduation wears off, maybe take some time to think about those small moments and consider how you can be that person to someone else when you leave Dartmouth, because small moments of mentorship can create and sustain big change.
I bring this up now because we are in a period of a lot of change, and I know that many of the members of the Class of 2021 are changemakers. The pandemic has shown us that there are far too many problems in the world, and far too few solutions. I am thankful, however, in knowing that my peers are talented, smart, and passionate. If we want change to happen, in whatever field, now is the time to do it.
I am so proud to be a member of the Class of 2021. Congratulations, and thank you.