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"Practice Makes Perfect: The Everyday Application of Theory"

By Nadim Damluji ’10, President of the Associated Students of Whitman College

Thank you President Bridges.

And again, welcome class of 2013.

I’m going to talk to you today about Asher Roth. I’ll pause here before I go any further to explain the enigma that is Asher Roth for the benefit of the parents in the house and our faculty, who are very distinguished but for the most part aren’t really scholars of mediocre hip hop. Asher Roth is a up and coming white hip-hop artist who is the brain behind the extraordinarily and inexplicably popular hit song “I Love College.” In the song Mr. Roth itemizes his reasons, as the title would suggest, for loving college. These include that party last night, illicit drug use, dollar sliced pizzas, games of beer pong, sexual promiscuity, keg stands, “doing something crazy” and, lastly, Freshman. To Asher Roth this is what the best of college amounts to, what he finds memorable and lovable about a place one can spend four years.

I am no fan of Asher Roth. In my opinion the song's biggest offense is its complete lack of originality. It perpetuates this common notion of college as a mythical party land where one can act out vices for four (or more) years and live without any meaningful responsibility. Here we have a song called “I Love College” and in essence it catalogs careless activities with uncritical words, which is a far cry from what college – well at least this college – is about. 

I’m not telling you anything new here. I am honored to be talking to a crowd of bright individuals who aren’t here just because Whitman chose you, but because you chose Whitman. Whitman makes it pretty clear they are excited about you when they send those Sweet Onions in the mail, which are apparently recession proof, but what unites you all in these seats is that independently you chose this place to pursue your higher education and, more importantly, to pursue the first stages of your adult life. 

With that said, today I ask you to remember that over the next couple of years that this place called Whitman can be your playground, but it can also be a place that you take advantage of to learn and grow from as individuals. Take for example, the classroom. In each and every class our professors are going to teach you a lot of theory. You will learn theoretical frameworks about power, the environment, genres of film, music history, art techniques, and even gossip girl. The challenge you are left with after writing papers and consuming literature on a daily basis is what to do with those different frameworks. I think that’s where Whitman excels, because above all else your experience here is what you make of it. Beyond learning a lot you will be given countless opportunities to experiment at Whitman; to push your boundaries by applying theory in any combination of different practices.

Some examples: One student last year used his experience as a theater major to create a student-run zombie musical, another student filmed and edited a short documentary that was shown at the Tribeca Film Festival, another group of recent graduates traveled to India to work on issues of water purification, another environmentally active student interned at the White House this summer, another group of students, including an English major, art major, and rhetoric and film major, started a new student-run magazine this past year pulling together all their individual influences, and I think the most fascinating thing about all these students I am referencing is that they are not only my peers, but  some of my closest friends. My friends who create their own opportunities to apply the theoretical framework from their different classrooms, not as part of any extra-credit assignment, but because they want to impact the world around them. It inspires me that Whitman is a place where students truly live out their education, a place where learning isn’t contained by the length of semester.

Many of you will no doubt pursue different paths during your tenure here, but what you have in common is the pursuit itself. No one expects you to know what to pursue off the bat, but I think it’s fair to expect yourself to pursue. You see, why "I Love College" isn’t found only in the syllabus of each semester, or the highlighters I’ve used up, but it's been the opportunity to use the theoretical frameworks taught by the institution to find my footing in the world as an adult and share that struggle with my fellow classmates. So Class of 2013 I’ve already “welcomed you” in the traditional Convocation manner, but here is my real welcome: Welcome into a new family of friends and peers that you will grow with and learn from, I know I speak for the student body you are joining when I say we are glad to have you here.

In sum, while at Whitman the classroom should not mark the limits of your education. I challenge you all to throw out the preconceived notions of college life that many, including Asher Roth, have recycled in popular culture, and instead experience these next days, months, and years at Whitman with an open mind that is willing to learn from every experience. Trash the list of reasons to love college that you can sing along to without much thought, or at very least, expand on it. After all, Asher Roth is a college dropout.

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