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The Best Teacher I Ever Had

Elliott N. Okantey ’09, President of the Associated Students of Whitman College

Hello, Whitman. I would also like to say hello to our incoming students of all ages and class statuses. I am honored and pleased that I have the opportunity to talk to everyone here today. I’ve been told that I only have a few minutes with you, so I don’t want to waste too much time.

Time is actually what I want to focus my remarks on today, and I would like to direct these remarks to the incoming class of 2012 specifically. If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: Time flies. It might be overused as it might be, and as trite as it might sound, it wouldn’t be so cliché if it weren’t so true.

As I begin my senior year here, I am confronted with the full impact of that truth. I have just one more year before I have to leave college, the last bastion of my youth, and that knowledge has me doing a lot of reminiscing. I honestly feel like I just got here, and they’re so close to telling me that time is up. Forget that, I feel like I just started school. I remember the first day of kindergarten, not understanding why my mom was making such a big deal over that day. She dressed me in black slacks and a white sweater. I remember being led into the classroom and running straight to the back of the room where there were tubs of legos. As you can imagine, the first five minutes of my school career were a lot more fun than the last sixteen years of it. How time flies.

That’s sobering: I remember the very day it all began fairly vividly, and that was sixteen years ago. My school career can legally get a driver’s license already. Each of those sixteen years has gone by faster than the last. And if that is true, then that means the last three years in college have traveled at warp speed. I remember driving into Walla Walla Three years ago thinking, two things: 1. Walla Walla was indeed as small a town as I remember from my previous visit and 2. I’m already in college? I remember being nervous about the prospect of living in a triple in Jewett Hall with two perfect strangers, in a building with hundreds of other strangers. I remember being nervous about the academic responsibilities that I would have in college that I hadn’t had before. All those concerns and many others took care of themselves, I got into the college groove, as I hope you all will, made some friends, found an academic department that suited me, even if I don’t suit it, and now, I only have one more year left. How time flies.

And in light of the fact of how quickly time has flown for me, be aware, Class of 2012, how quickly it will probably fly for you. I hate to get morbid here, but it is the best way I can get you guys to think as urgently as I feel you should about how time flies. You’re not going to live forever. You’re not going to be young for much longer. Even though you just got here, you’re not going to be in college for much longer. No doubt, you should look forward to living every stage of a full life. College, the immediate years afterward, maybe parenthood and marriage, the years when you work hard and pay your dues professionally, the years when you reap the rewards of all that work, and then your emeritus years of grandparenthood and hopefully retirement. Time flies and life moves on, ladies and gentlemen. Time is the most precious thing we have. You can’t make any more of it, you can’t control how quickly it goes, you can’t hoard it for later, and you can never have back time that you have already spent. Sobering as it may be, no time, be it good or bad, ever lasts. The only way to deal with that reality of time, is to make the most of it. You’ll have the rest of your life to look back on this time, so squeeze every last drop out of it. Meet and get to know as many people as you can; you might be introducing yourself to someone you’ll share much of this brief time with. Share of yourself. Buy into the whimsy that college affords you. I know that this is the last thing that your parents would want you to hear on your second or third day on campus, but do everything within reason. It is up to you to make use of what trusted people in your lives have told you to decide the lengths of reason, but do everything you can.

Go with the flow of spontaneity, but also plan experiences that you’ll not be able to have a few years from now. At that time, you will probably reflect on your college years. You can look on your time here with contentment over what you did or didn’t do. You can look back with regret over what you did or didn’t do. However you choose to look back on your college career, you’ll sure as hell be looking back on it, and save for those memories, you’ll never be able to live this experience again. I suppose no matter how many times I repeat that time flies, it’s the sort of thing that you can only really understand once enough of it has flown by you. Anyhow, make the most of it. Class of 2012, I wish you all the best. I’m your president, so if you need anything, let me know. And let’s keep Whitman moving in the right direction. Thank you.

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