Mastering the Art of Togetherness

June 12, 2017
Kara Noto, Commencement 2017 Credit: Brown University

Good morning colleagues, friends, partners, and families both logical and biological. Thank you for being with us today, and for being present and supportive during this exciting season of transition. 

Fear not. I have no plans to spend the next few minutes reciting inspirational Winston Churchill quotes. And I’m not here to roast our professors - mostly because we don’t have our degrees in hand just yet. No, no. Instead, I’d like to share a brief reflection that is less about who I am or who I have become by way of the graduate school experience, and is instead a few words about who and what I am not.

You see, it took the better part of decade for me to work up the nerve to return to graduate school. If those years away from an academy taught me anything, it’s that there are few and fleeting moments when you’ve managed to place yourself geographically and professionally exactly where you want to be.  And there is the rest of the time when you are just … so … not where you want to be. If your application thought process was anything like mine, you looked around at the status quo of a pre-graduate school situation and said “I can do better for my field, I can better serve others, I can do better for myself”... and the graduate experience at Brown has undoubtedly been a big step forward, towards something beyond our former selves.

And we did the thing! Look across the students represented within the American Studies crew here today and consider the quantity of exhibits, pages, performances, partnerships, initiatives, kickstarters and the classrooms we’ve built in the brief time we’ve set aside for ourselves.

Selected as individuals who had done so much already, together here at Brown, we’ve accomplished so much more.

It’s in the togetherness - the interdisciplinary approach that defines Brown  … where we can illuminate that we do not draw truth solely from our own experiences - from the same or the own - but in contrast, it's the radical transcendence of who we are not, as a benchmark toward greater truth.

I know I am not an anthropologist or artist, not a poet nor programmer. I cannot move like you; I do not walk through the world as you do.  I am not from the south, or the west, I am not Dutch, nor Dakota.

… and we have found creative abundance because of that diversity, not despite it.

That is a notion worth noting in these tumultuous times. Not just politically, and socially … but also personally tumultuous. As graduates, we are about to embark into another cohort altogether: real world communities, inevitably far less curated than the company we keep at Brown. Between footnotes, epic Google docs, Kabob & Curry, explorations of introductions and methodologies … it’s our colleagues and mentors that have prepared one another for the work that lies ahead. Your intellectual vigor, your drive, your authenticity and openness, the immense capacity for inquiry and inclusion ... means that regardless of individual background or particular interests ... we’ve transformed into our own case study,  proving to ourselves and to each other how much is possible when you find connections across seemingly disparate backgrounds and biographies. Our talent for bringing together people of disciplinary depth, but not disciplinary dogma, makes us well suited to pursue the world’s challenges … and to explore these smaller questions within the larger ones.

Class of 2017 (Credit: Rick Goddard)Class of 2017 (Credit: Rick Goddard)Today, in this tent, in this big yellow house away from homes, we are fortunate to feel geographically, professionally, exactly where we want to be. There will be a time, in the not so distant future when you may sense that it is so not where you want to be.

Take a moment to consider what it took to get to today. It took a leap of faith, into the arms of a community that looks and talks and lives and loves nothing like you. Find that next community. Give them who you are. You have been, we will be, in this together.

Kara Noto received her MA in Public Humanities from the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage in 2017; she is a media-minded public humanist, #GIBillGrad, military spouse, and donut enthusiast actively pursuing public sector and non-profit opportunities in the Greater Detroit Area. 

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