Baccalaureate Reflections on the Journey

No man is an island ... duh!


Benjamin J. Tapper '12

May 20, 2012


While attending Manchester College, soon to be Manchester University, I found my place. What does that even mean? Has anyone stopped to think about that? With the statement that you found your place, more questions arise. Is this place permanent? Is this place unique to you, or is it shared with others? Is the place you found, undiscovered, or a place someone else lost? If someone else lost it, then is it really your place? And most importantly, does Pizza Hut deliver to this place?

In order to avoid any such confusion, and also to appease my own analytical mind, I will avoid describing any specific thing I’ve found. Instead I’ll describe this journey. Life is a journey, not a destination. There are three ways in which Manchester has shaped my path, on the way to this journey. I could tell you about my summer in Houston, Texas, where I met children who will probably never remember me, but they changed my life. I could discuss the Harvard National Model United Nations Conference, and all that has taught me about the U.N. I could even tell you which town you’re in by the way the manure smells on Highway 114 … but that isn’t what I’m up here to talk about.

I am going to talk to my peers. This may be the final time I speak to some of you, and there are some things you should know.

Cherish the moments. Every moment. Life is simply a collection of moments in sequential order. To under-appreciate a moment is to under-appreciate life. When you lose a loved one and are crying … cherish the moment. When you get that job you desperately wanted, cherish the moment. When you walk across that stage today, cherish the moment. We can’t rewind the sands of time, so appreciate each grain.

Love God. Love People. I am challenging you today to make time each week to pray, meditate or simply reflect on life. You may be uncertain about God, you may deny God’s existence entirely, but you cannot deny that there is something greater than us. Be it a transcendent consciousness that weaves us all together, Allah, or Jesus the Christ, there is something you need to tap into, so please take the moments to do just that.

I am also challenging you to walk in others shoes. For starters, I suggest Traci Fuqua, as she has an overabundance of them. But seriously, take moments to really attempt to empathize and understand people. Instead of getting angry or believing negative things about people, try to figure out why someone is reacting the way they’re reacting. It may take a few minutes if you know the person well, it may take a few weeks if you don’t. But empathizing is like changing the oil in your car. (You need to do it every 3,000 to 7,000 miles). There will be fights and misunderstandings in relationships, but if you don’t change the oil every so often, things begin to break down. If you don’t take moments to understand what is happening in the other person’s head and heart, your relationships will begin to break down.

Finally, I want to challenge you to leave your mark. The landscape of America is filled with broken dreams, unfulfilled promises and lost hope. It doesn’t have to be that way. Dream and Live. In that order. The reason so many look back on their lives with disappointments is because they didn’t dream correctly. I’m not telling you to dream about making a six-figure salary or making the Olympic basket-weaving team. Those things are fine, but a true dream is simpler. A true dream revolves around improving the lives of your neighbor. Look to your left and right. You see that person you don’t know, you’re connected with them whether you realize it or not. By taking the time to improve their life with a smile, advice, a hug, maybe even a couple dollars, you’re making it easier for them to dream. And you in turn are able to dream in greater capacities.

There is a sense of community that much of the world has, but so many of us lack in the U.S. No man is an island, or an archipelago, any other random geographical feature that stands by itself. We are more like the Pacific Islands, and less like Greenland. The difference? People look at Greenland, and wonder how the heck did that get there? And what idiot named this Greenland?! People look at the Pacific Islands as clusters of very different, yet loosely connected peoples and places.

My final thoughts to you today are simple: Real life is waiting. For some, you are deeply immersed already, and others of us are standing at the edge ready to dive or fall in. The keys to navigating the hazardous terrain of the “Real World” are to take time to know and understand who you are, and then to walk with someone else.