Four years ago, we all came to Brown from many different places. I came from a high school of five thousand, where I never met most of my classmates and one of my school colors might as well have been grey. Clearly, school spirit was going to be a challenge for me. Ironically enough, I somehow managed to win the “most school spirit” superlative in my senior year. Humblebragging aside, I didn’t even know what that meant. However, I couldn’t wait to feel the intense school spirit of being a young Brown student. I still remember running around the Main Green during our accepted students event in my brand new Brown hoodie. I remember annoying my friends endlessly by wearing that hoodie almost every day until I graduated from high school. I tried to learn everything I could about Brown student culture. That way, I could sound like a “real Brown student” on the first day of orientation.
That’s right: I was one of those people. The unbearably eager first-year. Before I even moved into my dorm, I could have easily become the super-excited, racially ambiguous kid on the front of a Brown brochure. On the surface, I'm sure it was endearing, but my complicated relationship with Brown was just beginning.
Fast-forward to Family Weekend our senior year. My father and I get into our 10th political argument of the day and I suddenly drop the word “deconstruct.” He cuts me off right in the middle of my diatribe and reminds me that every time I say that word, it reminds him that he “spent all this money just to raise,” among other things, “an insufferable skeptic.” Sorry, Dad. Unlike hoodies, the Bookstore didn’t sell skepticism for an exorbitant price. It still lies at the very heart of Brown’s school spirit. Brown arms us with a critical lens to express our school spirit in a uniquely Brown way.
Looking back, it’s funny to think of the excessive enthusiasm we showed during our first year. No one could stop my naive infatuation with our school. I remember constantly posting on social media about eccentric little moments that happened on campus. I remember taking pictures of even the most vaguely interesting things, just so that I show off how much I loved Brown. As a class we found ourselves at events like Spring Weekend, Midnight Organ concerts, and more recently Campus Dance. We even began to learn about the more secretive, but equally important traditions on campus. The Louis challenge, searching for secret tunnels beneath Keeney, and a certain donut-related event that still managed to happen this year, despite the especially cold winter. We began to feel that our school spirit rested in these moments of peace and harmony. We began to think we were a truly cohesive, in-sync community. This is what makes Brown students special, right?
But imagine how boring that would be if that were the case. If attending a school like Brown was just about holding hands, singing along with Dave Binder and eating gigantic sculpted cakes, what would we have gotten out of these years? Something about this image is so tempting to believe in, though. However as we got older, these utopian notions about Brown began to crumble apart.
During our tenure here at Brown, more than a few events have divided our community. During these moments, we've had to face some harsh realities. Sometimes, I felt astounded by how little some of my classmates understood my experiences on campus. Other times, I felt mortified by how little I understood about the experiences of others. Often, I felt disappointed and frustrated with the volume of issues our University wrestled with. But this frustration awakens something invaluable in us, because this is precisely what Brown school spirit is.
It brings us to classes we thought we’d never shop and events we thought we’d never participate in. It gives us the courage to raise our voices and the groundedness to step back and listen. It gives us a critical lens we need to identify problems, and the unwavering faith in the existence of a solution.
My own frustration brought me back in time. It led me back through generations of students who fought relentlessly for a better Brown. Some of these students are with us here today as alums. Students who made changes like the open curriculum possible. Students who tore away at the partition Pembroke college, our former women’s college, and the rest of the University. Students who made it possible for people like me to come to Brown and learn about my own history. All of these students were frustrated too, but they didn’t give up.
Despite these frustrations, we constantly find ourselves giving back. After running away from Brown for a semester abroad, I decided to become a Brown tour guide. I yearned to reconnect with optimistic first-year I once was. One time when giving a tour, a high school student asked me, “How do Brown students show their school spirit?” I paused at the question before my mouth went into auto-pilot. I considered reciting the little Brown brochure in my head — the one I was on the cover of. The one that lists all of the goofy traditions, and the sanitized anecdotes.
And as joyous and colorful and revelrous as some of those events were, school spirit is about so much more than that here. School spirit isn’t about fleeting, intoxicating moments. School spirit isn’t about infatuation. School spirit isn’t about collective effervescence, even on day like today. School spirit is about work. School spirit is about commitment. School spirit is about love. So I told that student that “Brown students love Brown enough to make it better.”
The sit-ins, the walk-outs, the petitions and the protests. The outreach, the feedback. The heated sections, the op-eds, even the 3 a.m. dorm room debates. That’s how we do school spirit. So many students like us fought for a class like ours to be walking through Van Wickle gates today. Fighting for a safer, more diverse, more socially responsible Brown is the best way that we can honor the students who fought for us.
Looking back on the past four years, I reject the liberal arts school cliche that Brown somehow “taught me how to think.” Instead, I channel my father and say that Brown taught me how to be insufferably skeptical. Not only of myself, not only of others, but of the institutions I operate within.
As my Brown apparel wears down and my textbooks get buried in storage, I will never forget the boundless idealism of my insatiably critical peers. And I thank you for that. I thank the students who pry these gates open for new students and yet unheard voices. I thank the students who examine the machinery of our university with both a satellite camera and an electron microscope. I thank the students who search for a more vivid picture of today and a work towards a brighter tomorrow. I thank you, Class of 2015. It has been a privilege to learn and grow with you. Your hard work is what makes me proud to be a Brown alum, and what keeps our school spirit alive. Congratulations, Class of 2015!