Senior English major Katie McLaughlin was selected to be the Phi Beta Kappa speaker at the 2014 commencement ceremony. Here is the text of her speech, which was titled “Academic Self”
The members of Phi Beta Kappa voted for me to speak to you today, but the words I will use come from all of us. We brainstormed and discussed and compiled notes in the hopes of capturing at least part of the authentic Southwestern academic experience, and we came to the conclusion that it is deeply entwined with the personal one.
At Southwestern, our professors do not ask us to separate our personal selves from our academic ones. The relationship we share with them is largely marked by respect and caring and the motivation to develop together. They encourage us not to suppress our personal passions, but to analyze them – to bring them to the forefront of our studies, and allow them to shape us into our academic selves. This is where the passion of Southwestern students comes from – when it comes time to forge our own academic path, we are encouraged by our professors to tell our story, to discuss our interests, to share with our community the things that move us most.
At Southwestern, our colleagues help us to bring this same academic self into our daily lives. As an English major, “problematic,” “feminist critique” and “deconstruction” are all things I’ve heard and said in my day-to-day activities with my friends. To have an academic self is to see everything through a new lens, and to have that lens constantly widened by the interdisciplinarity of interacting with our peers.
We seek out these connections through every facet of our lives: we start to see critical theory in our comic books and cartoon shows and the internet; we apply psychology to our social media, anthropology to our live music, and sociology to our interactions with coworkers; we find the connections between the anatomy or pathology demonstrated in the classroom and the bodies that surround us; we learn to perform autoethnographies and express our own personal histories with academic language. Once we truly, deeply learned the lessons that Southwestern strove to teach us, they began to pervade our every sense.
At Southwestern, our very atmosphere encourages in us these methods of connectivity, these new, academic ways of seeing ourselves and the world around us. “Paideia” is, to members of the Southwestern community, “interdisciplinary, integrative, and intentional”, and these motifs invade our every class, our every conversation. To be a Southwestern student is to be encouraged to bring these themes to every part of your life, and to be mindful of the connections made in even the most unlikely of places.
After Southwestern, our community will still embody these ideals. During our time here, this “academic self” has developed in us a passion for creating and connecting. It made us love learning. It helped us find a home and a community here. Today, the graduates of 2014 are leaving Southwestern for a much larger world, and, though we’re passing through the gates of what has been our home for the past few years, the academic identity that we developed here will linger long after we’ve moved on. Though we may leave the context of Southwestern, we will always be a part of its history, and most importantly, the “academic self” we became here will always be a part of us.