Commencement Speech – May 25, 2019
Morgan Bakinowski ‘19
In accordance with campus wide consensus, the Kili dormitory bathroom is quite a vile place. Leaky shower heads drip into shallow stagnant pools that collect by the drains. A particular aroma of musty towels and faintly perfumed soap engulfs the space. When you think of UWC-USA, it’s a place often left off the promotional pamphlet or prospective student or donor postcard. It’s something so seemingly ordinary – a necessary universal accommodation of any living space. It’s not the beautifully manicured grounds, it doesn’t carry a generous name, and it certainly doesn’t have a Chihuly chandelier in it. However, when I reflect on my time here, recalling the most meaningful conversations I’ve had, the people I’ve grown to love, and the way in which my own opinion has evolved and blossomed – I am constantly brought back to that narrow, soggy little bathroom down the hall.
This is because to me UWC-USA isn’t about the things you’d expect. Before arriving, I dreamed of myself changing the world overnight, galvanized by my diverse peers as advertised online. When I read and the mission statement and came across the word “force”- I fell victim to the intrinsically human notion of a “before” and “after” mechanism. Before UWC-USA, I was a student. After UWC-USA, I would become a master of peace-making. However, life is seldom a cause and effect, black and white, or wrong or right matter. Change-making doesn’t operate it a formula, and UWC – or anything else for that matter – doesn’t guarantee solutions to differences. What I experienced in that dimly lit space wasn’t something I’d take an IB exam on and pass or fail – defining my moral and arrant worth in the world and qualify whether or not I was able to change it. What I discovered was the beauty of individuality and how “peace” doesn’t mean everyone having the same, hyper-liberal idea. How “peace” can be more accurately defined as coexistence rather than an absence of conflict. How “peace” can be achieved in literally any setting, even in the places we ~~relieve~~ ourselves.
The most important part of any interaction is listening to what others have to say while sharing your own opinion with the mutual goal of enriching each other’s understandings. I listened to my friends and peers pour their souls out into those ceramic sinks and quite often I found myself sharing experiences, opinions, and doubts of my own I wouldn’t before even fathom speaking aloud. I realized the truths I had championed paired completely conversely with the convictions of others, but that at the end of the day, we’d both wash our faces and brush our teeth under the same turbulent taps.
Languages, cultures, religions – they all amount to a unique cosmos of dissimilarity that we have witnessed provide a foundation for unmatched community strength here at UWC-USA. Examples of this phenomenon happened around every corner, in every classroom, and in every dorm – providing a constant reminder of the shared nature of the spaces we inhabited. Whether it was an exchange that lasted for hours standing in the mirrored doorways of the bathroom- or simply a “hello” or “goodbye” in brief passings to and fro – our witnessing forced the acknowledgement of the presence of others. 2am conversations about philosophy and existence rang over the sound of the shower heads’ incessant dripping. Music from all over the world blared from every corner of the stalls. Human truth was humbled by living together, revealing the dirty, gritty, simple reality of a shared existence through this shared space.
Illuminated through the accessibility of a bathroom, the truth of UWC-USA’s impact was bestowed to me. To be a better citizen of tomorrow doesn’t necessarily encompass doing something presumably extraordinary. Having the ability to share a space, despite differences, despite nationalities, despite beliefs – doesn’t always require a revelation of extreme magnitude, and in itself is extraordinary. At the end of it all, tolerance and a celebration of variability gives us strength. Witnessing the power of human connection doesn’t require an endowment fund or a castle, rather, it’s the circumstance of bringing us all together and the simplicity of the experiences we share that shines light on what it means to be a better citizen of a community – whether it be as small as the Kili bathroom, or as profound as the world.