Good afternoon family, friends, faculty, staff, alumni, President Battles and most importantly, the class of 2019. I am honored to address you all today on behalf of the class of 2019 and would like to extend a special thanks to those who took the time—whether it was 20 minutes or 7 hours—to travel here and celebrate with us.
My name is Sabrina Bramwell and I am an Afro Jamaican woman, recently a US citizen and arguably the more complicated portion of my identity—an English Major with a Pre-Medical Track. When I tell people that I am an English major on a premedical track often the response I receive is “You can do that?” paired with a silent, “Huh, It’s your life”. I struggled with trying to understand why I made things harder on myself. Why am I called to both science and literature? But then other times I think, “why not?”—a question that reflects the type of thinking that Geneseo encourages. A question that embodies the pursuit of continuous, uncomfortable, imperfect learning to ensure that we leave the world in a better position than how it was handed to us.
Now, not every experience at Geneseo was this deep. Sometimes we were pushed until crying in public in pajamas was our last resort, but thankfully it was a wave of understanding—not judgement — sent our way. To our visiting family and friends if, while helping us pack, you notice the array of winter coats, rain boots and sunglasses that are still being used, it’s most likely because at Geneseo, picking out an outfit is like rocket science on a day that will be sunny in the morning with a bit of hail by noon, a thunderstorm at 2 ending with a beautiful sunset.
There were many instances this semester when I was approached by friends who would look to me with fear, excitement, anxiety, or a blend of the three, and say, “Can you believe that there’s only 104 days left until graduation?” Hearing this always made me feel a bit nostalgic as I replayed the memories and lessons that led me to be here today. This process of self-reflection was something that Geneseo taught me to value. Even now, I can hear Beth McCoy challenging me to “unpack” or think more deeply about the different choices I am forced to acknowledge. I now see that this mindset allowed me to transform my complaints into active solutions so that my “Why this?” became “Why not that?”
When I immigrated to the United States from Jamaica at the age of 14 it was hard to imagine how the Bronx could become home. “Why did we have to move?” I would whine to my parents. Looking back now, however, I couldn’t imagine the type of person I would be if not the one who gets road rage while walking on the bustling streets of Manhattan, or who has the MTA train map memorized down to a T. Moving forward, when I decided to attend Geneseo I experienced another type of change. The small college in a historical village by the valley was the opposite of the noisy excitement of New York City. “Why is it so quiet here?” I would ask myself. Again, reflection has allowed me to value the growth that occurred because of this change. It allowed me to recognize that Geneseo too had grown to become a kind of home.
The thing about growth is that we can’t always be prepared for it. Like some, I came to college not fully aware of the types of struggles I would experience. These challenges presented themselves in executive boards, committees, sports teams, jobs, etc., and left us with a resilience like none other. Whether it is commuting to classes, showing up to work after staying up all night to meet that paper deadline, having to negotiate with group members on when exactly to meet to finish that project, our time on this campus has at least taught us how to be resilient. We don’t have the choice as to which experiences will be the ones that change us so any moment, or inconvenience, becomes an opportunity for growth.
Now, looking out at you all today, I can’t help but ask, “Can you believe we did it?” My Geneseo experience paired with inspiration from you all has transformed how I view the world around me and my place in it. I took courses that didn’t always seem to align directly with my studies and left with skills that are immeasurably useful in a world as fast-paced as the one we live in now. I witnessed as you’d all stay awake for 24 hours at a time to raise money for cancer research, introduce diverse outlooks to the campus community, protest, raise awareness and speak out, and used this all to help me grow.
Despite the challenges, we transformed instances of fear, ignorance, and discomfort into opportunities for collaboration by acknowledging the diverse identities and stories that others bring to the table. A core characteristic of interdisciplinary thinking is being willing to value a thought that differs from your own and use it to foster growth. With this mindset, the fear of difference is transformed to intrigue, the unfamiliar is now admired, and inclusion—the desire to hear different opinions—develops more naturally.
Sankofa is a concept from the Adinkra language of the Ashanti and Akan tribes that literally means “go back and fetch it.” This is to be interpreted in the reflective process of being aware of our pasts and the lessons we’ve learned in order to achieve our full potential as we move forward.
So, to the professors turned life-long role models, and peers turned friends, thank you. To my parents and family who supported me through all the doubts and seasons I’ve had these past four years, thank you. And to the class of 2019, as we step into this next stage in our lives, let us not forget the lessons and transformations we’ve gained here as we move forward to make a better future. I wish you all the greatest successes and broadest happiness that can be offered to you. Congratulations!