Class of 2012 Valedictorian Address

Hello faculty, staff, friends, family, and Global Liberal Studies Graduating Class of 2012. I am deeply honored to be able to address you all on the behalf of my friends and classmates. 

After three years in this program, I’ve learned not to be surprised by the subtle confusion that creeps into people’s faces when I tell them that I’m majoring in “Global Liberal Studies.” And while I have little trouble explaining it to them, their questions are no doubt merited. 

Being the first class of students to navigate the program, it has been our primary job to define it. As we have been reminded so many times, we are the ‘guinea pigs’ of this novel project.  Our words, thoughts, and actions are representative of the powerful experiences, both good and bad, that we’ve shared these past three years. In this sense, to truly understand what Global Liberal Studies is, as students we must seek to understand ourselves—who we were when we came here, and who we are now upon leaving. 

So who were we? Well, that answer is going to be a little bit different for everyone here. Part of the beauty of NYU is that it draws in students of all histories and walks of life. This is perhaps more apparent in Global Liberal Studies than anywhere else at this university. Unlike Tisch, Stern, Steinhardt or even Gallatin, GLS students do not fit into any one stereotype. We have no mold. Diversity and ambition are our most unifying features. As a class, we chose to join this program because of a mutual appreciation for learning, respect, and openness. But as individuals, we’re here for so many other, more nuanced reasons: we’re here because we love the sound of Spanish when it rolls off an Argentine tongue; because we’ve always felt drawn to the enigma of Shanghai and the wild east; because we’ve longed to know what its like to sip red wine on the banks of The Seine or to hear, firsthand, stories of strength and privation from Turkish immigrants in Berlin. Just as the great city in which we stand today, we represent an incredibly rich mosaic of interests and cultures, and we refuse to be pegged into any one discipline or train of mind. We have strived towards this reality from day one, and we will exit this room with these differences permanently embedded in the legacy that we leave behind. 

That said, when we arrived here, we were still no more than just naïve teenagers hoping to make something better of our lives. Starting out, our greatest similarity might have been that none of us were yet college graduates. Four years and an unknown amount of petty hardships and heartbreaks separated us from our goal. As confident or poised as we may wish to think of ourselves in hindsight, the truth is that we, like all college students, faced the grating anxiety of uncertainty. It is extremely daunting to know that you are going to spend a full year in a foreign country, away from anyone you have ever loved. I am sure that I am not the only one who feared failure or loneliness, or who, at times, wondered just what I was doing here at all. 
Thankfully, as our presence and garb here now shows, these times have ultimately been kind to us. Whatever fears or anxieties we once felt, we leave today with our heads held high as proud graduates of one of the finest universities in the world. As incredible as that is, and as proud as we should be, we would be prudent to recognize the people who have made this feat possible. 

We owe our first and deepest loyalties to family—to our mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins, and any friend or loved one whom we would call our kin.  Family, you are the people who make us who we are. You are the reason we walk this earth, the reason we get up in the morning, the reason we work as hard as we do. You have always loved and supported us, even when you were unsure of where our lives might lead. Your words and gestures have provided us with reassurance in doubt, and joy in celebration. And through all these years, you have never left us. For even when we were away from you, you have stayed with us in ways beyond our comprehension; in letters, phone calls, and tuition checks; in our accents; in our freckles, smiles, and already receding hairlines; in our laughter and stupid sense of humor; and in the ways that we have learned to show love to those for whom we care. This graduation is as much a result of your efforts as it is of our own, and we thank you endlessly. 

As a class, we have also had the benefit of being taught by some of the most brilliant and passionate faculty that this university has to offer. Professors, through your humility and wisdom, you have shown us the necessity of maintaining a shameless curiosity and an open mind, not only in intellectual pursuits, but in all facets of our lives. When we have doubted or struggled, you have reminded us of the simple yet potent virtue that it is not what you know, but how you approach what you don’t know that defines your success. Most importantly, though, in your dedication, you have become more than just professors to us—you are our mentors and our friends. You have sat with us over countless cups of coffee, read and re-read our theses, taken us on trips and dinners, listened to our stories of life abroad and even passed on stories of your own. For four years, you graciously brought us into your lives and adopted the noble task of seeing that we leave here as something better and more refined than what we were when we arrived.  In all this, you were nothing more than yourselves—unpretentious, compassionate, and genuine—and for this, we owe you more than we can ever repay. 

Finally, we should look to those who created all of this. Dean Schwarzbach, assistant deans, staff—if it weren’t for your vision and dedication, we would not even have a program to graduate from. You are the bricklayers. The architects. We took a leap of faith when we joined this program and entrusted ourselves, and our potential futures, to a fate that was yet unknown. While we couldn’t have been sure then, we know now that we placed ourselves in good hands. Under your leadership, we have watched GLS grow from being merely an idea into a distinguished, tangible reality. And we can all testify that getting here has not been easy. By creating this ambitious program, you placed your careers on the line and made yourselves vulnerable to failure. This ceremony is as much the realization of your dreams as it is of our own. As your first graduating class, we thank you, not just for your vision, but for having the faith in us to see it through. 

Four years ago we stood on the threshold of one of the most immense and enduring changes that our lives had ever undergone. Today, we find ourselves here again. And again we ask ourselves: Who are we? Who have we become?

We are all the breadth of people and places we have ever encountered. We are all the sadness and happiness that has ever washed over us. We are the questions that we have been unable to answer, and answers that still leave us wondering. We are still changing, because we will always be changing. We are just people, like anyone else, looking for our place in the world. 
But we are one thing new: we are college graduates. We have seen the point where ambition meets achievement, and we are moving beyond it. 

And so, on the behalf of the first graduating class of Global Liberal Studies 2012, I would like to say congratulations to everyone here, and from the bottom of my heart, thank you. 

- Benjamin Murray, Valedictorian, Global Liberal Studies, Class of 2012



Updated on 02/23/2015