Brad Bormann ’14 delivered farewell remarks for the Class of 2014 at the 179th Commencement May 24. He is the recipient of the George Wharton Pepper Prize, awarded to the senior who “most closely represents the Lafayette ideal.” Bormann, of Flemington, N.J., graduated with a bachelor of science degree in biology. Read his speech below.
I’ve gotten the chance to hoist a lot of heavy metal objects over my head in my time at Lafayette, but I promise that was by far the most dangerous. And for that, I thank you.
President Byerly, faculty, staff, distinguished guests, family, and the graduating Class of 2014 – thank you so much for this opportunity to stand in front of you and deliver the significant farewell remarks to our class. It is a great privilege for me, and not one that I take lightly, so thank you.
One of most indelibly true statements I’ve ever heard about Lafayette came from our assistant athletic director George Bright about a year ago – I was discussing with him just how quickly my junior year of football had come and gone, and he turned to me and said, “Lafayette is the kind of place where the days are long, but the years are short.”
Personally, if I recollect on all of the opportunities I’ve had at this school, all of the unique, individual experiences I’ve shared with so many of you, I could talk about them collectively for years (and that’s what reunions are for). But when I think about my Lafayette experience strictly as a beginning and an end, a point A and a point B, from my first night on campus when I sat on that bench at the end of the Quad and called my parents, straight through to right now when I have a chance to stand with all of you as a graduating member of the class… unbelievable just how fast it went. All you moms and dads were right – funny how that always seems to be the case.
So, with regards to these farewell remarks I am about to share with you all… I’ve tried to seek out a personal memory which is simple, yet complete in how it illustrates some meaningful facet of my experience here. I trust that I’ve selected a good one, and I share it with you now in hopes that it resonates at least a little bit.
I was asked, about a month ago, to help facilitate Lafayette’s Common Ground Leadership Training workshop. This was an event wherein a bunch of us seniors got to sit in Kamine Gym with underclassmen and essentially discuss the expectations of the “Lafayette leader,” to help establish the common approach to student-leadership to be practiced at this institution. As part of this discussion, we all had to partake in what I thought was an incredibly impactful exercise: we were each handed a thick packet of paper, which contained a listing of several hundred character traits. Great things like courage, ambition, empathy, and compassion, each provided with its own one-line definition. We were then given a very simple task: from these hundreds, pick two. Just two. Of these hundred-plus character traits, which two ring the truest for you?
We only had a few minutes, so I did what I thought everyone else in the room was doing – I pored through the list, and made a top 10, then narrowed that to my top five, and then narrowed that top five down to my top two. My lone criteria were: which values do I think I live my life by? Which of these principles form my words and inspired us the most? After several minutes of furious scribbling and intense thinking, time was called. I dropped my pencil, and looked down. Of the laundry list of virtues I was presented with initially, there were two which I had circled over and over again, two which I espoused for myself and for us, two which I knew then and there had been silently, subtly, carrying us through our four years at Lafayette. And those were 1.) kindness, and 2.) integrity.
So, I was compelled: why were these two terms so important… how might they be useful to all of us?
Kindness is a bottom line. It qualifies any action as worth doing. It is the urge to take measures of decency and apply them to the lives of the people around you, in hopes for their betterment. These Lafayette years are simply too short to go around and see anything less than the best in other people – and I believe kindness compels us to try and help others make their best better. It’s impossible to argue against the greater good afforded by these policies of kindness – if we go forward on any given day, looking for places wherein we can amend people’s suffering and add to their happiness, we must have made, by the end of that day, a positive impact on the world. That, to me, is kindness, and to me that is a principle worth living by.
We all remember moments of kindness which were significant in our own lives. I, for one, remember the fall of my sophomore year, when football, organic chemistry, and human physiology were all giving me what-for at the same time. I was feeling a little hopeless – I had, for the first time ever, accumulated more demands than I thought I could handle – I figured something had to give, and sooner or later, it was going to be me, a feeling which we have all felt at one point or another in our Lafayette careers.
So I was sitting by myself in Farinon one day, probably stress-eating my second bacon double-cheeseburger, and I guess somehow Rose Bayer could sense that I was struggling, because she came and she sat down next to me, she leaned in and put one hand on mine and asked, in her very characteristic tone, “how ya doin’, Brad?” I didn’t even need to answer to feel better – I simply teared up in my seat because up until that moment, on that particular day, I had felt alone. And I knew, from then on, that I could always reach out to Rose if I was ever in need, because she was a kind person, and because she would help me. That is the power of kindness – that is why I have tried to espouse kindness for myself – it allows us to, in many small and gathered steps, make a profound impact on the walks of other people.
Integrity represents congruence between values and actions – there is no difference between you which exists in your own heart of hearts, and you which comes to class every day here at Lafayette. Maintaining integrity would entail that I commit to kindness in spite of what is going on in our life, what challenges I might be faced with which present obstacles that might be besetting us. Things like being too busy to stop and talk with a lone friend, or being too tired to explain some cell biology topic to a friend the night before the final. All of these things represent failures of kindness, and by extension, failures in integrity. These breakdowns are inevitable, they are human, and they represent moments where we fail to be the best we can be.
So, at the risk of sounding at least a little corny, I’ve taken kindness and I’ve taken integrity and likened them to a compass – the old internal moral compass – I’m sure you’ve all heard of it. I think that kindness can serve as a magnetic north – it is the imperative by which we can orient ourselves, Integrity, then, is my ability to walk that straight line towards kindness – to be steadfast and deliberate in our approach towards it every day.
All of this has allowed me to suggest what I think is a very simple, very doable philosophy regarding life itself, and here it is: when you wake up in the morning, you are faced with a day. That day is a series of decisions – decisions staked between the right choice. When you make consistent, good decisions, your day will become one of positive impact for others – and if you ever mess up, which I do, a lot, remember that all you can ever do is the next right thing – make sure the next decision you are presented with, you choose correctly, you choose wisely, and by that choice, you will have righted your day so as to re-orient it towards a positive outcome.
Like George Bright said, we live long Lafayette days, so there must be a lot of good that can be packed into each of them. When you get in bed at night after having made the effort to make good decisions, you will know for sure that you used that day for gain, not loss, success, not failure, and good, not bad, you will remember forever that for trading that day in your life, you leave, in its place, a positive impact on the people and the world around you. In big ways and in small, I think, that’s the most important thing we can ever hope to do, and that’s what I encourage for you all in these farewell remarks.
I offer these remarks in hopes that they resonates a little bit, that it makes some scrap of sense, forms a meaningful token from this last discussion we get to have as a complete Lafayette class. On the night of that leadership workshop, I think the only thing more impactful, than selecting my own two values, was listening to the values other people selected. To you, the Class of 2014, we have each chosen to hold onto different principles and values for our own uniquely significant reasons. And for each of us, those personal values work – we know this because we’ve managed to graduate. That’s not an easy thing – and clearly, to get to this point, we must have been doing something right. Whether you’ve realized it or not (and I didn’t for a long time), there are personal values which have been guiding us each, all along. All I recommend is that you hold tight to those, as they will continue to draw personal fulfillment your way. I can’t wait to hear about it in the coming years.
In closing, I wish you each enough to ensure happiness and satisfaction throughout your life, but not so much as to make you less dependent on your values for guidance. Congratulations everyone, I can’t wait till I get to see you back on this hill.