Commencement of Commencement

Want to watch me give the student commencement address/graduate from college?  Likely not (that’s okay), but just in case, the url for the live stream is here:

The ceremony is tomorrow (Saturday), and starts at 1:30 p.m. Minnesota time.  I should be giving my speech about 10 minutes in, give or take.

What Went Down

I want to talk to you about Wednesday and Thursday, as I’ve been building up those two days since the dawn of time (or since last week, at least).

Wednesday was my senior seminar presentation.  Basically, having cut down my twelve page research paper about fortune’s role in Pandosto down to eight pages, I proceeded to read those eight pages to an audience of professors, classmates, friends, and (bless them) my parents.  It sounds boring, doesn’t it, to read an eight page literary analysis to a crowd of people (many of whom were not, nor had any desire to be, English majors)?  Well, it sort of was, but I tried to use everything that I learned in high school speech.  I stood up straight, I used my clearest, loudest voice, and I tried to put feeling into my words.  I care a great deal about my topic, and I viewed my presentation as a chance to make the audience care as well, at least a little bit.

My legs were shaking for the first few pages, but then I began to enjoy myself (as I always do), and when I would look up from the page, I would see my advisor listening carefully in the back, or my friend Ben grinning, or my Dad enduring nobly.  It felt a great deal like my birthday party in that I felt supported and celebrated and (I’ll admit only to you) a tad teary.  Then there was applause, and it was over.

A few days later, I got an email from my professor containing my presentation rubric: I got a 99%.  The 1% deduction, she explained, was because I had pronounced a word wrong.  I’m not overly upset about that one, however, as it was spelled strangely in the citation I read it from, and thus I didn’t recognize it to be the word it actually was, and thus pronounced it the way I saw it, and not the way I knew the word it actually was should be pronounced (whew).

Thursday was my Teach for America final interview.  I’m not going to go into detail about this one, as we’re under an oath of confidentiality, but I think I can tell you that I rocked it.  That sounds arrogant.  I know it does.  But honestly, there’s no other way to describe how well I feel I did.  Despite having gotten five hours of sleep both Tuesday night and Wednesday night, and despite having had to navigate to/through Minneapolis at the crack of dawn, I was at the absolute top of my game.  I was confident and energetic in every step of the interview, and am now even more convinced that Teach for America is what I want to be doing a year from now.  I won’t find out until early January if I got into the corps.  If I got in, further, the same email will also tell me which region I’ll be teaching in, and which grade/subject I’ll be teaching.

It’s a long wait, but I’m not anxious about the results.  I’ve done my best, and have sought to represent myself accurately and positively throughout the admissions process.  It’s nice to know that if I don’t make the cut, then there must be a qualification or trait that I don’t possess.  It won’t be because I didn’t perform as well as I could have.

Those were the “biggies,” if you will.  I still have one five-page and one ten-page paper to write, my senior seminar paper to turn in (after some fairly minor editing), and two final exams to take.

I also want to mention that I’ve noticed more and more people have been following my blog lately.  Thank you!  I get excited with every single new follow I see, and I encourage you to comment on a post if you have a question/opinion or want to say hi.


I had to give a few speeches last spring, for my Trial of Galileo class.  In the class, we were all given historical roles to play: Conservatives, Linceans, Bishops, etc.  I was initially a Conservative, but was killed off in the midterm lottery and assigned a new role; I then played a Spaniard trying to rally Vatican support for the Holy War Against Protestants.  In my packet, it said that should support be refused, I was free to attempt a Pope deposition.  Needless to say, kicking a Pope out of office was difficult business, and I ended up messing it up horribly by putting too much faith in the Linceans (who played the game well, bless their hearts).

Anyway, those speeches I delivered, in pursuit of war, and eventually, deposition, were wonderful to write.  Mainly, I admit, because they required little research; I made them as style-laden as I wanted, spending hours creating elaborate metaphors about gold-encrusted ceilings and small Catholic boys being tossed from their homes by Protestant heretics.

I learned what anathema meant, and I used the word often, and with obvious relish.

But whenever I stood up in front of the class to perform, flooded with the confidence of four years of high school speech, the most horrible thing would happen; my voice would shake.

At first, I was able to convince myself that no one noticed.  Fingers clutching at the sticky edges of the podium, I would look up often, which was important.  I read the words I had so much faith in, words I had convinced myself of, because that’s what you do when you spend your weekends in secret meetings with bishops of the Vatican.  I read the words with the exhilaration that comes from speaking into a silence that is meant only for you, and I tremored all the while.

“Were you nervous, Holly?”  Someone asked me after class.

“No, I really wasn’t.  I don’t know what happened.  I’m not afraid of public speaking.”

I’m not afraid of public speaking.

It made me wonder what had gotten me through all those years of speech without so much as a quake.  Everything else had happened; croaking through Harold Ickes with a Cold That Wouldn’t Go Away Before Saturday, having to walk of shame back to my desk mid-speech because let’sbehonest I wasn’t quite memorized yet, gesturing so woodenly and repetitively that by the end of my eight minutes I felt like a puppet on instant replay.  But I don’t remember my voice ever shaking.

And yet, I’ve changed so much since speech days.  I’m more confident, possibly more poised (if not less graceful).  I have a greater sense of self.  If anything, I’ve become steadier.  How curious, then, to stand up, with all the pomp of a twenty-year-old, only to find that new fears have apparently arisen.