last friday a lot of my friends walked at commencement after a speech from tim cook and a ceremonial turning-of-rings.
this class especially — “my” class — carries a lot of people who taught me how to care, how to think, and how to be a good friend, mostly by being good friends to me. there are people graduating today that i’ve known since high school. and there are people that i only got to know this year or this semester, because of a class or a party or a conversation or some circumstance or another.
i don’t believe that friendships are defined by length-of-knowing. but this class of people is, i suppose, special in that we entered mit at roughly the same time and grew in some sense of togetherness, and maybe i feel like i know this class a little better than the others, so i’ll excuse myself for having some extra level of fondness for the 2017s.
i don’t know how to say goodbye to them. finals week came and went with a characteristic rush of moments, everyone finishing their final papers and studying for their last exams, and suddenly my room was packed and i was on a plane home to california. i had a nagging sense that there were lots of people i needed to spend time with — one more meal, one more walk, before they all dispersed. i know i didn’t get to spend time with nearly all the people i wanted to. but i saw a lot of them in those last few days of the semester, taking trips to dim sum or hot pot, eating cake in the lounge, waving hello and chatting about whatever between commitments.
sometime a few weeks ago, my a cappella group sang “senior singouts” at our final concert – one last song for every graduating senior. before each song, someone gets up and talks about how much that senior means to the group. they tell stories about how they met, reminisce about late-night conversations, and reflect on the things they’ve learned. and my hall, fifth west in east campus, did something similar — we got a bunch of fizzy drinks and some cheese and crackers and toasted each other and told stories about fifth west and what it is and what it means.
i love these rituals because they give me a chance to tell people what they mean to me. i don’t think we do that enough — celebrate each other.
so — the class of 2017. thanks for your patience and your love. thanks for all the things you taught me about how to learn and how to work. thanks for your passion — all the things that made you angry, all the things that gave you joy, all the stupid memes you made — and thanks for talking about it, and thank you even more for doing something about it. i know so many of you that have worked hard to care for each other, doing the work of shaping our culture into something more ideal, whether by looking out for a friend or by fighting hard for broader change or simply by making sure that your work conformed with your principles and your interests. i see and respect you, and your work, and your friendship.
here are the things i think of – how you remembered each others’ birthdays and used them as excuses to spend time together. ihop and domino’s and dim sum and walking and talking and not talking at night, outside, after it got warm. taking buses together. taking pictures of each other. baking all kinds of complicated sweets at all kinds of odd hours, sharing them with your neighbors. talking about our communities, and what we wanted them to be. scrapbooking and reminiscing about old photographs – printing them out to physicalize them, putting them in picture frames or pinning them on the wall. working together on psets in my room or in your room or somewhere else just to enjoy each others’ company, bringing each other tea and water, every moment amazing me in quiet happiness.
these people make me prouder than anything else, that in some small and minute way i have maybe influenced these people i admire so deeply. maybe pride is not quite the right word. or if pride, then the kind of pride you feel when your friends succeed -- pride that comes from proximity to greatness. my mom always told me that how people treat you reflects only on them, not on you -- if someone treats you kindly it only means they are a kind person, and if someone treats you rudely it only means they are rude. gratefully recognizing this, everywhere, in my friends' goodness, how much of it there is.