Kenzie Corbin ’18, selected by the campus community as recipient of the George Wharton Pepper Prize, gave a speech at Lafayette’s 183nd Commencement today and presented the sword of the Marquis de Lafayette to her classmates. The Pepper Prize is awarded annually to the senior “who most nearly represents the Lafayette ideal.” Corbin graduated with a B.S. degree in neuroscience and an A.B. degree with a major in French and minor in engineering.
The text of her speech:
“The Quest of Life”
I want to start this off by expressing my thanks and gratitude to each and every one of you, the members of the Class of 2018. Extra special thanks to my family, my Frisbee team, Kaleidoscope, and AGD for believing in me and for unleashing upon me unconditional love and support over these four years. I am beyond humbled and honored to have been given the opportunity to speak right here and now in front of all of you today.
When asked to write this speech, I did what any good about-to-graduate academic student would do: I did some research. I read the speeches of previous Pepper Prize winners, listened to their beautiful rhetoric and prose, and thought to myself, “Wow, where to even begin?”
People told me to make this speech “less political,” “shorter,” and “ more fun” than previous speeches, but upon hearing that feedback, I believe it’s important to acknowledge that the society and world at large that we are about to enter does not necessarily subscribe to these ideals and qualifications. We will no longer be in a bubble on a beautiful hill surrounded by supportive faculty, staff, friends, teammates, and castmates, but rather we will be vulnerable out in the harsh world. But what does that look like? And are we all ready?
Class of 2018, we have gone through a lot. Together. Almost every semester there has been a tragedy on campus, a time when we had to realize that sticking together was one of the most important and fundamental things that we could do. I want to take a moment to reflect back on these tragedies and offer a moment of silence for two of our fellow classmates who are unable to sit here with us at graduation today, Amanda Miner and Joey Towers.
I would also like to offer a moment of silence in honor of the other Lafayette students who were also taken from us during our four years, Brian Keller, Sarah Bramley, Joseph Kirkpatrick, and McCrae Williams.
Despite these excruciating painful times, our campus truly mobilized together, using each other for support and love. Conversations surrounding mental health became more open, and suddenly instead of baking a friend some cookies to cheer them up, people walked each other over to the counseling center to make an appointment.
Class of 2018, we have all been through way more than I think any one of us could have predicted when we started here fouir years ago. From these experiences, to norovirus causing a shutdown of campus, to the tense political climate with the change in our national administration, to the bomb threat we received just a few weeks ago, I can’t think of a community as strong as ours. We have already faced so much in such a short time, that going out into the “real world” has to be less scary, right?
One of the most important things that these experiences have had on my life was to completely rethink the philosophy of how I lived.
To elaborate on this, I quote to you all the title of an article Ariana Rothman posted in one of my many GroupMes, “Are You Genuinely Happy or Are You Just Thinking about Having Pad Thai Later?”
Let me just let that marinate within you all for a moment.
Genuine. Happiness. What is that? What does it look like, what does it taste like, what does it feel like?
It’s something that everyone wants supposedly. But how can I define that and put it into encouraging words for you all?
I’m a big reader. One book that, dare I sound super cliched although righteously so, “changed my life” was The Happiness of Pursuit by Chris Guillebeau. I plucked its unassuming self off the bookshelves from Shakespeare & Company in Paris, France, just a few blocks away from my host family’s apartment. The book is all about finding a quest, not just a hobby, with the intention that a quest offers you something to pursue your entire life, whereas a hobby is merely something to pick up and throw down.
I will now go into a few standout quotes from this book that I believe can truly transcend the confines of this space and which you can take with you.
First. “Jump in with both feet. Stop making excuses.”
Like many of you, I’m a doer, or at least I’ve always considered myself as one. Jumping in means to experience, to be in the moment, to be and do. And that is difficult. Routine is something that is comfortable, but to quote 2016 Lafayette graduate Emily Luba, “When you’re uncomfortable, you’re growing.” So throw those excuses out the window, and don’t take a tentative toe-dip into the cold unknown waters, but rather jump in, belly flop, cannonball, both feet first. If you never experience it, you’ll be left with only regret.
Second.“Everyone is busy, yet we all have access to the same amount of time”.
A frequent question I get asked all the time is, “Kenzie, how do you have time for everything? When do you sleep? It’s not human.” I’m here to tell you that we all have the same time because we are all humans. No exceptions. Time is a social construct, and you make time for what’s important to you in life. It is okay to have a different set of priorities than your friend might have, because you are a different person. It is okay to have your priorities shift and change over time because that is called self-development. The most important thing I have learned in my time here at Lafayette is the naivete of the phrase, “I don’t have time” (a phrase that I know my family can attest to the frequency of its utterance from my lips). We all have time; time is not something that we can get more of when it goes on sale. However, a good shift in perspective is one that examines the differences between what we have time for and what we want to have time for. Are we doing what we want to, or what we have to? How can we make those two separate entities merge into one?
And lastly. “Every day matters. The awareness of our mortality can help us pursue a goal. We all have a limited amount of time on earth. Those who live in active awareness of this reality are more likely to identify goals and make progress toward them. Or to put it another way: Everyone dies, but not everyone truly lives.”
Every day matters. Every instant. Every interaction you have with every individual you meet. How’s that for food for thought? This book is entitled The Happiness of Pursuit and not The Pursuit of Happiness because happiness is an arbitrary term. It is a temporary state of being. Happiness is about the journey, not the destination. We all got here, to this destination of college graduation, but we’ve all had about a million and a half different journeys to get here, which is truly beautiful and remarkable when you think about it.
This is our time to live. To go out into the world and do what you love or find what you love if you haven’t discovered it yet.
To quote a sign I’ve had on my wall since freshmen year and one that I’m also definitely quoting in my medical school personal statement, “If you were waiting for the right time, it’s now.”
To my fellow members of the Class of 2018: This is our time. Congratulations, I am so proud of all of us.