Juliana Thorstenn of Garden City, N.Y., delivered this senior oration to her classmates at the University’s 241st Commencement Ceremony Sunday, May 24, 2009, on The College Green. <a href="/pressreleases/2009/05/najeeb">Noor Najeeb also delivered an oration.</a>

At Brown, I learned that growing up is actually made up of a series of mistakes and embarrassments. I learned that to get what you want, to become who you want to be, you have to take risks. And sometimes, you have to fail to feel truly proud of yourself. I learned this lesson my first year – my first semester here.

Brown has the highest number of a cappella groups per capita of any university in the country. As a pre-frosh and a first-year, I was starstruck by these talented college kids who were able to perform seemingly without an ounce of self-consciousness. I love to sing, but I’m not a singer.

I had a friend our first year who was often subjected to my singing. He encouraged me to try out, insisting that my voice was good enough.

On the last day of auditions, I had convinced myself that it was completely pointless to try out, but my friend came to get me, literally dragging me out of my room. And because his belief was infectious, I let him.

I couldn’t help but feel a little excited. But mostly I thought I was going to throw up. Singing a cappella, solo, in a room full of strangers when you are pretty sure your voice is not good enough is an experience I wish on no one. I could barely sing a scale. But when I sang, I meant it. True to Brown, the women were gracious and kind, and the experience was much less painful than it could have been. However, their kindness did not extend to a callback.

A while later, I was discussing the experience with my friend, and he admitted that he knew I wasn’t good enough to sing in the group. When I asked him why he was so insistent on making me audition, he said, “If you hadn’t done it, you would have been afraid to try for all the things that came after.”

Brown affords us the terrifying opportunity to create our own education and to create ourselves. If we don’t put ourselves on the line and risk failure, we will have wasted the chance that Brown gives us. Auditions are not just about getting a callback.

Success is not about certainty — or comfort. It’s about hope and crazed determination. To go after your passions is to sing, solo, a cappella, in a room full of strangers, over and over again.

We are blessed. Brown is a place of infectious belief. The students are passionate, driven, and intelligent. For whatever it is we work for, we work for it hard, perhaps even with a certain measure of charming delusion. My friends at Brown have taught me about believing in our capabilities. About striving for things that are incredibly difficult, if not impossible. Like — attempting to get on the roof of the SciLi or creating your own major or going to live in India because that’s where you want to be.

Or standing in front of thousands of people giving a speech you were afraid to write.

We learned here about doing things earnestly — enthusiastically — especially if they’re risky. Every day, we were met with moments and challenges that we could easily fail. We’ve all answered questions in class when we haven’t even opened the book, or we’ve tried out for things we didn’t get, or we’ve flubbed interviews. And sometimes, our intelligence and quick thinking can’t quite save us – but we have proven to ourselves that we are people who try.

Brown has taught us how to present ourselves, how to impress employers, facts and figures to know, and skills from engineering to creative writing. But more importantly, it has taught us that none of these will do us any good if we don’t make a leap. Brown is, above all, an affirmation. An affirmation of youth, of life, and a certain affinity for absurdity. It is an affirmation of possibility. Of hope.

When we leave today, we are leaving behind a measure of safety. The rest of the world is not as warm and fuzzy as this place. But we will carry that affirmation with us. We live in a world today that needs us to believe that we can do anything. Because there is everything to be done. Whether or not our goals seem possible, whether or not we’re afraid, whether or not our voices are good enough, I believe that all of us, in a room full of strangers, will open up our mouths, take a deep breath, and SING.