At this year’s Commencement, the Student Government Association president, Jung Hee Hyun ’13, thanked College faculty and staff, her family, and friends for their support and trust and recalled how some challenging family vacations helped her develop the self-confidence to handle out-of-the-ordinary situations and gain a more global perspective.
For the longest time I was convinced my parents picked family vacation destinations based on the obscurity and unnecessary challenges they could offer. I envied my friends who enjoyed beach vacations while I prepared for my first-ever hike to Mt. Everest’s base camp—you can imagine how this went. I also recall a New Year’s celebration in Kenya, staying at a Maasai village, and a “housing-cultural immersion” in Cambodia. Despite my parents’ gamble in travel plans, those trips gave my brother and me time to remove ourselves from the everyday routine and gain a more worldly perspective. Confident of my self-awareness and ability to adjust from these travels, I thought I had nothing to worry about when it came time to enter Barnard.
Unlike the simple, self-centered questions such as, “Who are you?” or “How did you get here?” that supplemented my foreign travels, navigating the multifaceted Barnard experience opened up much more complex and critical questions. As a women’s college, Barnard gave us space to appreciate and build on the legacy of a multi-generational social movement. As a liberal arts college, Barnard gave us space to grapple with theories and subject matter across disciplines and apply them to the ways in which we see the world.
After four years, we have become scholars in the nine ways of knowing and beyond; we have become activists committed to myriad causes; we have become global citizens and empathic leaders who carry ourselves with humility and responsibility. Barnard has ultimately challenged us to answer “Why are you here?” We are here because we have traveled in solidarity the extraordinary journey that is Barnard. We are here because we will utilize the incredible education and supportive community Barnard has given us to further collaborate, build, and speak up for the good of others and ourselves.
Yet, this path to excellence has tirelessly pushed us to continue achieving for the grand next step or the future trajectory. As we prepare to exit the Barnard gates, there is one last thing I wish to share with the ambitious Class of 2013.
Author and political scientist Kim Nan-Do metaphorically compares a person’s life-span from birth to death to the 24 hours of a day. Assuming that an average person’s life is 80 years, when we calculate—a year is 18 minutes, 10 years is three hours, and 20 years is six hours. If birth is metaphorically at midnight, by the time we are 20 years old it is now just 6 a.m. At that time, most people have yet to still wake up, start their morning routine, eat all three meals, and do the day’s activities. Professor Kim’s life-clock paradigm tells us to keep perspective on our life’s journeys. As 20-something-year-olds, we all have so many hours to make our day fulfilling. So, pause, take a break, use the next hour or two of your lives to wake up and prepare for the day. We don’t have to rush quite yet.
Perhaps like my family travels allowed, we all can gain from taking time to reflect and realign goals and priorities. It may not even require a hike up Mt. Everest; even a walk up 116th Street from Riverside to Broadway might do. But when you do take off on a longer journey, consider traveling with one or more of your Barnard sisters—we’ve seen you dream at 6 a.m. and we’ll be there to support you again anytime. May we follow our separate and winding paths together, in solidarity.