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Eckerd College Commencement
Speeches and Remarks

Greetings from the Graduating Class
Justin Madison Walker '09, Residential Student

Justin WalkerWelcome President Eastman, Trustees, distinguished faculty, family, and friends. And thank you fellow classmates for selecting me as this year's residential student speaker.

During Autumn Term of my freshman year, at my mentor's urging, I enrolled in The Writing Process with Professor Helen Wallace. Four years later as a senior in a poetry workshop class, I studied some of Professor Wallace's work. I believe the Creative Arts offer various paths to help students turn full circle during their time at Eckerd. This approach of revisiting or reconsidering beginnings is a foundation of the liberal arts education. How can we hope to succeed if we do not know how we reached our current state? This cycle is illustrated in Cracks of Light by Professor Helen Pruitt Wallace.

We grind the last trunk of an old oak
lost beneath the bricked yard,
its roots buckling up, if not with hope,
at least a damp persistence. It's hard
killing desire tangled in the musk among
these shoots. They braced us for years,
who are we to shear them? And how long
before the stump grinder gnaws
on our own deep want, coarsening
it to dust? What would we be
without thirst? O let that force
whetting all the earth spill new seed
while we, muscling toward the cracks
of light, splinter, but grow back.

Think back to the Ceremony of Lights. Did you imagine yourselves to be the people you are today? Forget Oh, the Places You'll Go; look at where you've been. Look back at what you've accomplished in the last four years. Don't make the mistake of thinking your life is about to begin after today. Your life is now. Be here now.

But recognize that we will have to plan and look to the future. We leave today as stewards of the earth, the enlightened ones willing and able to respond to the human condition. Appreciate the others who celebrate with us today. Who would we students be without our families, friends, professors, mentors and the countless others who have supported and challenged us along the way? With these people, grow your roots deep as you muscle toward the cracks of light.

In closing, I would like to share a story about the beginnings of Eckerd College, which was Florida Presbyterian at the time. Over a decade after the founding of the college, the commencement tradition was revised, this revision encompassed "revamping of American higher education" In On Solid Rock, Dr. Taras describes a debate over the traditional commencement attire and whether or not to wear mortar boards at the ceremony. The students had already declared they would not be wearing the mortar boards but there was no consensus among the faculty. She writes:

The more conservative faculty (largely in natural sciences and foreign languages) argued that the purpose of higher education was to train students in the traditional disciplines of the liberal arts and sciences. Therefore, everyone should wear the traditional garb.

The radicals (largely in the creative arts) argued that the purpose of education was to enable students to experiment in alternative lifestyles. Therefore, the faculty should wear creative hats.
In the middle were the liberals (largely in the social sciences), who argued that the purpose of higher education is to enable students to make informed and meaningful value judgments. Therefore each professor ought to make up his or her own mind.

The middle of the road was the majority, so each faculty member was allowed to wear whatever he or she wanted. So let us recognize the importance of diversity in higher education. As we say hats off to our graduating class. Congratulations Class of 2009!

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