Student Challenges Graduates to Exercise Passions

Photo by Nicole Williams

Last December, I read "The Opposite of Loneliness" by Marina Keegan. As a college senior, the book was monumental. It found me at the perfect time. "The Opposite of Loneliness" is named after Keegan’s Yale commencement speech, given three years ago.

In her speech, Keegan describes the opposite of loneliness as, “not quite love and it’s not quite community; it’s just this feeling that there are people, an abundance of people, who are in this together. Who are on your team. When the check is paid and you stay at the table. When it’s four a.m. and no one goes to bed. That night with the guitar. That night we can’t remember. That time we did, we went, we saw, we laughed, we felt. The hats.”

I can recall this feeling — “the opposite of loneliness” — at Ramapo. We feel it together inside and outside of the classroom. We feel it together during sports games, theater productions, voter registration drives, club meetings, move-in days, concerts, study abroad semesters, round robins, spring concerts, film screenings, class discussions, open mic nights, study groups, fall convocations, community service trips, office hours, all-nighters spent writing final papers and of course, events with free food. We feel it together in J. Lee’s, the commuter lot, Friend’s Hall, the Bradley Center, academic wings, computer labs, the Pavilion, the Berrie Center, the Potter Library, Spiritual Center, residence halls and apartments. We feel it together under the Archway.

During her time at Yale, Keegan served as an Occupy activist and the president of the Yale College Democrats, published essays in The New York Times and Yale Daily News, interned for the Paris Review and the New Yorker and taught performance poetry to inner-city schools. Just as an undergraduate, her accomplishments were inspiring. I was so moved that I wanted to read everything she had ever written. When I sought out other publications she has written, I could not find any other titles. Seconds later, I found her obituary. A car crash took her life. My heart sank. I sat in dismay behind my laptop screen. My new favorite writer, a college graduate of three days (my destiny by this time next month), died three days after her graduation ceremony.

This reminded me that our lives have a capacity. Our time is limited. A character in Chuck Palahniuk’s novel "Diary," explains, “We all die. The goal isn’t to live forever, the goal is to create something that will.”

Keegan had it right. Writers’ works stay alive after their own deaths. "The Opposite of Loneliness" lives. Now, it’s my turn.

On Friday, May 15, we’ll feel the opposite of loneliness once more. We’ll be inducted into a new society of Ramapo alumni. We’ll have the resources to make a difference. It’ll be our turn to reciprocate.

I have some challenges to present to us, as the class of 2015, that begin the moment after our graduation ceremony ends. It is easy to get sucked into the average nine to five and forget about what is really important to us. It is entirely possible to lose touch with those that were close to us for four years. We have the potential to lose touch with our hopes and dreams, which may have started on our college campuses. The job market is tough enough. I am demanding we do better. Let’s` eradicate that potential. We owe it to ourselves.

First, we must challenge ourselves to exercise our passions we found on campus. Utilize our academic disciplines for the betterment of others. Maintain that hobby we started four years ago. Travel the world and then some more.

Next, we must challenge ourselves to serve our past, present and future communities. We must not forget our roots, current collectives and the world that has yet to come. Give back to those that have served you. Stay in touch with our professors, mentors and each other. Call our families once in a while.

Additionally, we must challenge ourselves to engage our friends, colleagues and mentors alike. Challenge others with our ideas and visions. Seek not validity, but humanity and solidarity. Go beyond the superfluous. Spark conversations and begin discussions.

Last, we must challenge ourselves to never stop learning. At Ramapo, I learned how I interact with the world. I became immensely self-critical. I, of course, know more now than when I started my first semester, but now, I accept that I do not understand everything. Before college, I thought I had a total understanding of the world. I didn’t and I still don’t. I am not alone. We still have work to do, class of 2015.

Graduation marks the end of our college years, yes, but there are more opportunities to come. The opposite of loneliness does not have to end at Ramapo. There is a world of opportunities out there. As Keegan would say, “We’re in this together. Let’s make something happen in this world.” Cheers, 2015.