A commencement is a beginning. But as Senior Class Speaker and creative writing major Rachel J. Klein reminded the audience, “We forget that beginnings are daunting and that their trajectory is frightening. And as students, we again and again get branded as people who are just beginning rather than people who are just continuing.”
Keynote speaker Reginald Dwayne Betts acknowledged that each of the nearly 140 seniors gathered to receive their degrees were there in the context of their own “complications.” Betts’ current success as an acclaimed poet followed earlier struggles. Arrested for felony carjacking when he was 16 years old, Betts spent nine years in prison. He went on, however, to receive his Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Warren Wilson College and then earned a Yale law degree.
“People who graduate from community colleges generally don’t go to ivy league law schools. People who go to prison generally don’t go to law school at all,” Betts said. “When I said I was going to law school, I never asked permission. I never said, ‘Will I be admitted into a law school?’ I never said, ‘Will I be able to practice law?’ I just said, ‘I’m going.’”
Klein related one of her first Warren Wilson College experiences before she had decided to attend. “I was touring campus when a pickup truck filled with students in bathing suits went driving past me. They had secured a tarp to the bed, and had filled the truck up with water and were singing along with the radio. One of them even handed me a Snickers bar and yelled, ‘See you next year.’ And when people ask me why I chose this school, I almost always reference that image, because in that blip of a memory I would learn that people genuinely care about you on this campus.”
Klein described “unfathomably beautiful moments with people whom I love,” using the vibrantly red wild poppy bloom currently carpeting a field at the College Farm as an example – a rare and stunning phenomenon that happens only every several years, when conditions are exactly right to bring the poppies out of dormancy.
“I was sitting out there thinking about all the decisions that I’ve made including my choice to attend school here, and how there was no way that I could have imagined that I’d end up amongst those poppies,” Klein said. “And as the rain slowly fell on my cap-adorned head, I knew that I would be okay, if not then, if not now, then soon.”
Biology and Biochemistry major Brian Stuart Wuertz won the Alton F. Pfaff Award, the College’s highest honor. Anne Clare Courtway won the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award, which is presented each year in recognition of a graduating senior’s personal character, integrity, and service to others and their communities.
“My experiences at Warren Wilson have been incredibly diverse,” Courtway said. “And I am so grateful that the fact that I am a Global Studies and Spanish major doesn’t keep me from being the Cattle Boss. That is a liberal arts education! While I was in Mexico, I got to see the convergence of my different passions at Wilson come together in a beautiful way. And as I leave Wilson, I know that I am not limited. I am fully equipped to think critically.”
“Sometimes, people act as if college is a protected environment, somehow not real life, but that is not true,” said Lynn M. Morton, Ph.D., overseeing her first commencement as Warren Wilson College President. “College is where you step out, in courage, stand up for what you believe, question what you believe. And here at Warren Wilson College, you learn by doing. Know that we are with you, walking beside you as you go into your next chapter, for there is not just one next chapter but many of them. We at Wilson will always be a part of you, and we are in your corner, rooting for you every step of the way.”