Paideia: From Monument to Meme and Back Again
2022 Commencement Convocation Phi Beta Kappa Speech by Demitra Tomasides ’22
May 16, 2022
May 16, 2022
When we were freshman, they told us that Paideia was the connection between disciplines. They said it is the monument of our school, and a cornerstone of what it means to #BeSouthwestern. I think we looked at this powerful word our first year and collectively asked, “But what the hell is it?”
We knew Paideia was something to be revered … a legacy to be taken seriously. We knew that Paideia was a monument placed here by our SU ancestors, and we were only beginning to discover how we fit around that monument.
When we were sophomores, and finally learned to pronounce this string of vowels, Paideia quickly became a meme. Everything was a “Paideia Moment.” Discussing the social impact of female mathematicians? Paideia Moment. Dancing with a CS major at a frat party? Paideia Moment. Whataburger cups in questionable locations? That takes ingenuity. Paideia Moment. However, when COVID hit these Paideia Moments became increasingly rare. They were asynchronous, choppy over Zoom, and someone’s dog was always barking in the background.
By our junior year, the connotation of Paideia transformed altogether. It didn’t just mean making inter-academic connections; it meant reclaiming the opportunity to make these connections. As a class, these Paideia Moments grew to mean more—not just as connections between concepts, but as connections between each other. It was here that we made the word our own, that we invested ourselves in the monument.
Here, Paideia meant getting creative on connecting with our people. It meant working and sacrificing so we could come back to campus and learn together again. Ultimately, it meant intense self-exploration in order to arrive here, at the finale of our senior year, sharing our final Paideia Moment as undergraduates of Southwestern University.
This is the Paideia Moment that we worked for. Yes, it was disrupted and disjoined, but still… Today is the culmination of the Class of 2022 — our courses, internships, project grants, study abroads, and 4am pots of coffee … our practicing into late night, building clubs from the ground up and arriving to class out of breath because we got stuck riding up hill on that broken Pirate Bike.
And this is it. This is OUR PAIDEIA MOMENT. Not a meme. Not over Zoom. Not something that we just kind of stumbled into. This is our Moment. We worked for it. And we earned it.
Of course, we didn’t earn it by ourselves:
We earned it through the faculty who valued us enough to treat us as colleagues, who connected us to their own network, who believed in our scholarship and encouraged us to get it published, who respected our work enough to grade our essay on content even though we completely missed the point of the prompt, who mentored us and let us basically live in their office hours.
We earned it through the friends who let us ugly cry in their car, who brought us dinner when we were too consumed with Capstone, who provided the carbs and Cabernet when we had to watch a foreign language film with no subtitles, who made sacrificial brownies so we could bestow them at Monstrance’s feet, who we are devastated to say goodbye to because we love beyond love them.
We earned it through our family who teared up at Matriculation (even though we were rolling our eyes), who sit here today cheering us on four years later, who sent groceries to our doorstep when we were too sick to go to HEB, (who can speak volumes with a single emoji)… and to the siblings who can set us straight the way only a sibling can. Yes, we owe it to the family who have always been One Call Away.
To all those who helped us EARN IT, thank you.
I’ll close with this: I cannot wait until we run into each other 10, 20 years from now—when one of us is the head archivist at the Smithsonian and centering marginalized voices in the national narrative; when one of us is developing policy that radically transforms the standards for accessibility; when one of us is the lead scientist on a team working to cure a degenerative disease …That’s the encounter I cannot wait for … the one where we run into each other again and get to have, yet another, long awaited, Paideia Moment.
Congratulations, everyone. And thank you for the monumental friendships.