May 27, 2007
The 2007 Senior Orations
Justin Fabrikant: “The Evolution of a Brown Student”
Justin Fabrikant of Santa Cruz, Calif., delivered one of two senior orations to his classmates on Sunday, May 27, 2007, at 12:50 p.m. on The College Green. The text of his address, titled “The Evolution of the Brown Student,” follows here.
Four years ago, as a squirming, fidgeting larval being, blindly peering out into a bright, unfamiliar world through wide, anxious eyes, I arrived at Brown. I suppose now that I must have been fairly normal at that point, or at least within the acceptable range of variation for my species.
Apparently, I had been conceived half a year earlier, in a beauteous yet somewhat traumatic union of the monstrous Brown Admission committee with my small and flimsy college application.
So there I was, Justin Fabrikant: the rare and majestic college freshman. I had two legs for propulsion. Two arms for manipulating objects. Hands for grasping, feet for balance, eyes for seeing, mouth for eating, ears for hearing, and a nose for sex appeal.
That first year, I decided to take a variety of completely unrelated courses, mostly in the humanities. Using my brain, I meticulously selected them on the basis of course title alone. Favorites included BI020: “Foundation of Living Systems,” and SO30: “Who Am I?”
By the end of that year, my previously unspecialized features had evolved some new functions to help cope with the new and unfamiliar college environment. I grew floppy, flipper-like filters over my ears, allowing me to rest peacefully in the midst of any amount of noise. One of my arms had acquired the ability to smear three pages of useful information onto 10 pages of paper, and I taught myself to read while sleeping.
Equipped with my new adaptations, I was all set to face sophomore year. On the second day of the year, my brain, by using very questionable logic, and on the basis of no evidence whatsoever, decided that I wanted to be an architect. With this lofty goal, I departed from my enjoyable regimen of academic exploration, and decided to buckle down. It was going to be an exciting year of physics and math.
Looking back on that year now, I must say I don’t remember much. I certainly don’t think I can still integrate by parts. I made it through primarily because my legs had evolved an autopilot feature. This allowed my body to ignore the wishes of my dazed, exhausted mind, and physically transport itself to physics, which met at the crack of dawn. As an added bonus, my chest had grown an adaptive tentacle, which made studying easier by causing people to avoid me. It was a difficult time, and at the end of that long, painful year, a mysterious force motivated me to declare my concentration as visual art.
I spent the summer riding my bike across the country in service of Habitat for Humanity. After 64 marvelous days of powering up hills in gale-force winds and listening for traffic behind me, my arms atrophied into little T-rex arms, my legs were painfully removed and replaced with steel robot legs, and I grew a number of additional ears on my cheeks and shoulders. When I returned to Brown, I was determined. If Justin Fabrikant, half T-rex, half robot, and full of enthusiasm, promise, and ears, was going to be an art major, he was going to be the best damned art major ever.
On the whole, the art I produced that semester was piss-poor. I painted a swarm of abstract purple piranhas, and built a seven-foot-tall spoon made of construction grade lumber. I gradually became increasingly bitter. Upset with the quality of my work, I had grown, from my forehead, a little red imp, who periodically made me feel like a worthless individual whose only purpose was to make bad art, watch movies, and squander golden opportunities.
I grudgingly concluded that the only way I could restore my self-worth and slay the heinous red imp of despair was to change majors. As a freshman, I had taken a biology class, so I decided to pick biology as my way out. But by then, I was a second semester junior, which meant that I only had three semesters left in which to complete the major. I would need to take an enormous load of biology classes, and for that, I would need to adapt.
After a month of organic chemistry, my forearm had turned into a graduated cylinder, for easy measuring. After some time in physiology, I evolved X-ray vision, allowing me to see, in fine detail, the inner workings of my own intestinal tract. For cell biology, one of my eyes elongated into a scanning confocal microscope. Two weeks of comparative biology of the vertebrates left me with a full array of dissection tools: my left hand had grown a scalpel, a blunt probe, rat-toothed tweezers, surgical scissors, and a bigger scalpel.
Thus, I became fully equipped to slay the imp of despair. He barely put up a fight. I am, to this day, a biology major.
Ladies and gentlemen, I stand before you now, having arrived at the other end of four years of adaptation, development, and evolution. I have taken at least one class in 16 different departments.
We all have different stories. Those of you who took anthropology have feathers, for aerial observation of unique cultures, and if you studied international relations, you probably have sonar, for penetrating the murky sea of politics. Some of us may have regrets. I certainly do. But for every one of our experiences, both glorious and terrible, we have something to show. We have grown and adapted, and now, in one way or another, we are prepared for life beyond the warm womb of college. All of us have developed something remarkable and unique to give to the world.
Four years ago, as a freshman, my legs were good for “propulsion,” and my eyes were good for “seeing.”
Now, four years later, as we stand at the threshold of our futures, I’ve got tons of extra ears, I can read while sleeping, I have X-ray vision, and one of my eyes is actually a very expensive microscope. My legs are robotic, made of steel, and have an autopilot feature. I have a tentacle sticking out of my chest. One of my arms is actually a T-rex claw, can write 10 pages using three pages of information, and has a graduated cylinder where the forearm should be. The other arm features a scalpel, a blunt probe, rat-toothed tweezers, surgical scissors, and a bigger scalpel.
My nose is still for sex appeal.
Editors: Brown University has a fiber link television studio available for domestic and international live and taped interviews and maintains an ISDN line for radio interviews. For more information, call the Office of Media Relations at (401) 863-2476.