Nathan Rogers' Valedictorian Address
I have never been a morning person. In kindergarten I would throw tantrums and refuse to get out of bed or dress when my mom woke me up. One day, my equally stubborn mom put a stop to this. She accepted my decision not to get dressed but dragged me out to the car without my clothes on. She told me, “You don’t have to get dressed, but you will get to school on time!”
My youthful defiance continued into high school. I’ll spare you the details of each episode, but Mom put me on house arrest for almost half of my junior year. She believed it was better for me to be locked up by her now than by a prison warden later on in life. In fact, many people I grew up with are now in jail, or dead. To me, at this moment, it is totally surreal to think that I am standing on this stage, rather than stumbling down that other tragic path.
Mom, it was your tough love that kept me from destruction, and for that I will never be able to thank you enough. But it was Santa Clara that showed me what a constructive life may look like. And for that too we will never cease to be grateful.
This year, we have been celebrating 50 years of women at Santa Clara. I can personally attest that my time here would not have been nearly as rich without the plethora of beautiful women we are lucky to have as colleagues, friends, and lovers.
As Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman appointed to the United States Supreme Court, explained, “We don’t accomplish anything in this world alone… and whatever happens is the result of the whole tapestry of one’s life and all the weavings of individual threads from one to another that creates something.”
In light of what Justice O’Connor says about not accomplishing anything in this world alone, let us take a moment to honor everyone here, not just the graduates, because everyone here shares a stake in today’s accomplishment.
My own educational shift from destruction to construction began in Math 9.
In high school Precalculus, I felt powerless staring at a list of problems I couldn’t complete. I used the class as nap-time and was lucky to pull out a C. Fall quarter of freshman year, I found myself taking Precalculus at Santa Clara again. Yikes. I was determined to improve because Precalculus was essential to my success in engineering. I wanted to build something, but unless I could master Precalc, I never would. I was hit with the same confusion I had in high school when the first homework was assigned. But the professor ensured our class that if anyone had any questions he would be available in office hours. So I decided to go. I was anticipating an annoyed Ph.D.-wielding know-it-all to condescendingly tell me to work harder. Instead, I got a Ph.D-wielding personal tutor, who cared as much about me and my understanding of the subject as he cared about the subject itself. I left his office hours amazed and grateful that someone in his position would give ME, a hooligan struggling with basic math, so much time. So I went back. And then I went back again. And then I went back again. And every time I encountered difficulties I could count on going into the office hours of professors who received me with characteristic generosity. And today I am a civil engineer.
And thus we are built up of the weavings of these individual strands of kindness so common at Santa Clara. It is this systematic generosity that constructs us. Now, graduates, it is our obligation to continue the positive cycle. Now it is our time to live out the mission we have heard and experienced so much at Santa Clara.
The late Fr. Locatelli [Paul Locatelli, S.J. '60] wrote, “Solidarity does not mean bleeding-heart sentimentalism; it combines rigorous intellectual inquiry with personal contact and commitment. This is the ethical bottom line: I cannot be whole if most of the world is broken.”
The greatest gift Santa Clara has given us is the realization that as an educated people, we have tremendous potential to generate meaningful change throughout the world.
The highlight of my time here has been my senior design project, where I worked on improving the design and construction methods of a safe, sustainable, and affordable house for use in the undeveloped regions of West Africa. This past winter I lived in a rural Ghanaian village for five weeks. I managed the construction of a house and a library, tested materials, and got so tan and skinny that upon my return, each and every sorority rued the day they had rejected me!
When I began working on the project I thought the time commitment would send my social life and grades into a plummeting spiral. To my surprise, the pride I took in my project, and eagerness to work on it, transferred to other aspects of my life. For the first time, I had a sense of meaning. For the first time I saw with stunning clarity: This is what life is about, this is what happiness is, and this is what it means to live a constructive life.
I was going out less and studying more, but I did not feel that my social life suffered. Rather it broadened.
I just received an email from my good friend Chadory in Ghana with news that his wife, Nicole, just gave birth to their first son, Ismel. Despite Chadory’s dreams of coming to America and falling in love with many women, Chadory is happy to begin his life as a family man in Ghana. I hope to return to Ghana as soon as possible to see Chadory and Nicole, and accompany them as they teach young Ismel what it means to live a constructive life.
There is something tremendously satisfying about making a friend in another land. The communication difficulties and cultural differences force you to deeply connect through the most fundamental natures of our humanity, and marvel at the similarities across cultures. For that I have Santa Clara to thank.
There are a few last things that need to be said.
To the faculty, staff, and administration: Thank you, thank you, thank you. Your generosity and dedication to students’ education, well-being, and growth as human beings defines the educational experience at Santa Clara. It is what makes the University’s optimistic mission a reality.
To the parents and families: Thank you, thank you, thank you. It was your love and support that enabled us to attend this fine University. Rest assured that your investment has paid off and that today your son or daughter is not just a college graduate, but a man or woman who will make you proud.
To my fellow graduates: There is so much I want to say to you, but your parents and teachers are here. Let’s wait until the picnic to reminisce on our fun outside of the classroom. We will always cherish the camaraderie of our fellow students, both sweating out those late nights in the library, and basking in the sun of the Mission Gardens on lazy Sundays. It has been a blessing to live and grow with such a smart, driven, and caring community of friends.
As someone who came to Santa Clara on a tightrope between a destructive and constructive life, I am humbly honored today to represent a class of over 1,000 men and women who will forever be stewards of the Santa Clara mission and spirit wherever life takes us. Let us now ourselves build upon the foundations that so many people have constructed for us.
Congratulations to the Santa Clara University Class of 2012. Go Broncos! Thank you.
Read more about valedictorian Nathan Rogers.
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