Class of 1868 Prize Winner Rachal Snyder ’16 delivered the address “The Time of Your Life” at Bowdoin’s 211th Commencement May 28, 2016.
President Rose, Members of the College, and Guests, I am honored and thrilled to have the opportunity to share a story with you today. As a child I spent my summers at a camp not far from here, in a town called Sweden, Maine. If you didn’t know this about Maine, it has the largest number of towns named for foreign cities and countries. There’s Denmark, Sweden, and Norway; there’s Madrid, Mexico, and Peru, the list goes on. But I digress, this is not a story about the many countries of this state. This is a story about time.
Tapawingo was a traditional sleep away camp, where we French braided our hair and jumped in freezing lake water and made s’mores around the campfire. The summers felt particularly long back then, filled with days that seemed to feel more like weeks. We had a name for this phenomenon: Tap Time. Maybe it was the summer heat or the extra hours of sunlight, but time at camp had a completely different rhythm than the rest of the world.
It wasn’t until years later that I learned the truth. It turns out that Tap Time really exists as its own time zone. This small summer camp in the middle of Maine actually ran on its own standard time, about half an hour off of the rest of the world’s clocks. I know, I know, it’s just as bizarre as it sounds. I’m still not totally sure why Camp ran on Tap Time but I think there was some important philosophical reason that motivated it. Camp was teaching us to live on our own time because we could, making the days a little longer just because we wanted them to be.
Much like my bizarre summer camp, Bowdoin exists in its own unique time zone. From the moment we set foot on this campus four years ago, we set our clocks to Bowdoin Standard Time. Here, the days feel like weeks, and the weeks themselves fly by, filled with all of the meals we had and papers we wrote and lectures we attended and parties we danced at. There are big chunks of time like semesters and breaks that mark the academic year. The Bowdoin week starts on Monday at 1 and ends on Thursday at 2:30. There’s the hour and a half that we spend in class each day and the forty-five minutes before we let ourselves check the clock. There is the time it takes to walk across campus and how much time you’ll save if you bike instead, or senior year, if you drive. There’s the time in between meals and spent waiting in line at the dining hall on Chicken Tenders night. There’s the time spent practicing at Farley and Studz. There’s the hour in between class that’s too short to do any real work, so you watch Netflix instead. There’s the seven hours of sleep you hope to get each night and the five that you actually get. There’s the four years it’s taken us to get to this point.
I like constructed time, keeping a planner to organize each set of twenty-four hours to make sure that I don’t miss anything. But what happens when I don’t have Bowdoin time to keep track of my day? What happens tomorrow morning when I wake up to find that May is actually the middle of the year, and not the end of it? For our entire lives, we’ve lived in the spaces between summers, in the gaps between midterms and finals, in the world of academia. Maybe today is really a graduation from the academic calendar to the actual one.
For the greater part of the past twenty-some years, our lives have been planned and plotted. We all moved along the calendar together, progressed at more or less the same speed. Whenever we looked out into the future, it seemed like there was always a foreseeable and stable next step. But now the predictability of a perfectly mapped out future seems to disappear and instead all you can see is life, filled with nothing and everything at the same time. We’re all on newly different schedules, measuring our lives at different paces with no clear outline to guide us. Some will measure time in the period before grad school, or the summer before they start work, or until they get married and have kids. We’re no longer bound by the rhythms of Bowdoin, the days that are weeks, the semesters that are entire years.
The prospect of organizing the rest of my life seems daunting to say the least. There’s free time, wasted time, time well spent, and precious time. We feel like time’s running out, or more often than not, that there’s not enough time.
At Bowdoin, it was easy to fill your time. You joined clubs or played sports or made art and music. You studied alongside brilliant classmates under even brighter professors. There was plenty of time spent on things that were less thrilling: hours spent in the harsh lighting of Hatch or the HL Basement, wondering: how would all get done? (It did, congrats) or the time spent walking through the brutal cold when you asked yourself: why did I come to Maine? But for the most part, we were all fortunate enough to fill our days with knowledge we were interested in pursuing, and people we wanted to spend time with. What a gift.
We all know that Bowdoin teaches us how to think critically, worship our curiosity, confront change head on. But the more important lesson Bowdoin has taught us is to be engaged. Engaged with the common good, engaged with our intellect, engaged with each other and more importantly with ourselves. Bowdoin has taught us to be present in our own lives.
We call today a commencement rather than a graduation. A beginning, not an ending. The clock starts now. So I guess the point is this: you have all the time in the world and its up to you to decide how to fill it. Like my strange camp, you get to create your very own time. If anything, you’ve learned time management skills here. You wouldn’t have survived without them. So use them to fill your days with meaning and embrace the uncertainty as endless possibility. Your time is now.
Congratulations, Class of 2016. I’m not sure what your future holds, but I hope that it’s wonderful and complex and filled with meaning. What exactly comes next? Only time will tell. Thank you.