by Matt Dittrich ’12
President, Associated Students of Whitman College 

Whitman College Commencement
Sunday, May 20, 2012

Do you feel romantic? I do. It’s hard not to reminisce through rose-colored glasses on occasions such as these. But, nostalgia will betray us, like Judas, Iago or a prepubescent Anakin Skywalker. Rather than distract ourselves with what was, let’s address progress – the grapple, the struggle, the mud-wrestle for positive change. If this endeavor is not our mission, then I must be dreaming. Assuming that I’m not still asleep back at the TKE house and that you all are not figments of my subconscious, let’s confront some challenges.

You have a gas problem. So do I. You know that we’re amidst an energy crisis when even tofu-eating, hemp-wearing, Prius-driving Whitties complain of gasoline taxes. And while we congratulate ourselves for planting wind turbines where we once planted wheat, this is a modest start toward achieving global sustainability. However, we could just burn more coal. It’s sufficed for a couple hundred years. Although, two hundred years ago, people would cake layers of make-up and perfume onto their bodies rather than bathing. My point is, we can each promote greener policies and practices – we can each take a bath. Otherwise, the only green things remaining on Earth will be the humans. And, perhaps, Whitman’s grass – by virtue of our Roman-aqueduct-Energizer-bunny sprinkler system.

Today, we toast to scholarship. Tomorrow morning, we will toast to Excedrin Migraine. Hydrate tonight. I digress. In the spirit of this day, I’d like to share an academic study. Following several long seconds of arduous, nonscientific research, I have deduced the following: Barack Obama is not a woman. Neither were any of his predecessors. It is time for a Madam President; or a Madam President who’s married to another madam; or a President who neither identifies as a madam nor a mister. The etymology of “President” is “leader,” not “dude.” And, if Whitman’s taught us anything, it’s that we all should lead – and regularly look-up etymology. Whether you’re female, male, transgender, lesbian, gay, heterosexual or queer – seek leadership. We can shatter glass ceilings, and develop a more equitable world. The White House is not a football locker room. I know this, chiefly because Barack Obama hates football. That’s how rumors start.

It’s difficult to face yourself. Actually, it’s physically impossible. Unless you’re a clone, or a cyborg gymnast. The paramount enterprise of the century won’t be saving Earth or society – it will be facing the challenges within ourselves. Some of our closest friends have battled OCD, anorexia and alcoholism. Stomach cancer took the life of my best friend. Disease has confronted us all. We must all confront disease. Story-time: In 2008, to the chagrin of Walla Walla’s more-conservative, never-nude population, a miniature Statue of David was affixed to our Fouts Center for Visual Arts. Now, David is a good-looking fellow – he models idealized Beauty, like the Venus de Milo or Mitt Romney’s hair. Today, David’s been replaced by several mirrors. Examining these is more difficult – and potentially lethal on a sunny day. My point is, it’s difficult to face our personal challenges, rather than pretending that we’re perfect, naked, marble-people. Yet, we must endeavor; we must promote well-being – for ourselves, and for others, too. The mirror goes two ways. Metaphorically speaking. I assure you of the privacy of our washrooms. And now you wonder...

I’m in love. With you. With Whitman. With the leaves of grass your feet are suffocating. It’s difficult not to be furiously, violently, savagely romantic today. But, as your parents might attest, love and romance do not inherently coexist. So, rather than bask in nostalgic dreams, I invite you to join me in the mud-wrestle of our lives. We’ll be meeting behind the buffet following the ceremony. In absolute seriousness, our planet, our society and ourselves are worth all the abrasions and dirt we can endure.