Commencement 2012: Odeke Ekirapa Class Response
Families, faculty and deans, staff and guests, my fellow graduates: Thank you for being here today to celebrate this milestone in the lives of 880 undergraduate and 20 graduate students. I am honored to deliver the student Commencement speech at this, the University's 162nd Commencement ceremony.
To all of you, I ask this simple question: Why Bucknell?
We have all been asked this question — about our college selection or why your children have chosen this school. Others answer why they work or teach here. For each and every one of you, the answer is not only different but also has evolved over time. It is this evolution I want to speak to you about today.
Before I begin, allow me to tell you something about myself. My name is Odeke Ekirapa. I am a management major. I was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya, and have had the pleasure of being involved in a wide spectrum of clubs and organizations here at Bucknell, ranging from Greek life, to service groups, to leadership groups.
"Why Bucknell?" I have been asked this question more times than I care to count, especially when I would say that I was from Kenya.
Because I lived some 8,000 miles away, I had never been on campus before the first day of Orientation. I picked Bucknell because the website looked decent enough, and the football — oh sorry, you call it soccer here — the jerseys looked pretty cool too. But when I arrived, I was thrown into a new world of culture. People would say, "hi," to you when you walk by. People are genuinely friendly. From the custodians to the lunch ladies in the caf, everyone was more than accomodating to me. People here hold doors, and cars stop at crosswalks ... you have to understand that the BBC does not paint a pretty picture of Americans, so these little things are not so little. And Orientation — with its Color Wars, 'ray for the Orange and Blue, and Playfair — simply incredible.
Two weeks after the whirlwind that is Orientation had passed, I started working for the student calling program - you know the people who call you and sweetly convince you to give back to your alma mater? One day, an alumnus asked me, "So, why Bucknell?" I remember saying, "Sir, I spoke to an alumnus of the Class of '64 earlier this week who talked about this concept, the Bucknell Spirit. He defined it as a kindred spirit, generated and shared by all Bucknellians, the very thing that unite us all." The alumnus laughed. He knew exactly what that meant. But that laugh, that recognition of the Bucknell Spirit, that is why Bucknell.
Now let's fast forward to spring semester, junior year. Fifty-one percent of our class was scattered across the globe in study abroad programs. The rest of us were stuck, as so many call it, "In the middle of nowhere," missing our classmates. Looking back, however, we were all in the same boat. Here and abroad, friends were separated. People had to adapt to a new country or a new Bucknell — what I feared would be a lonelier Bucknell. My fears could not have been more unwarranted.
With so many of my friends gone, I forced myself to find new ones, to explore different activities and to forge closer ties with the people I still had by my side. I recall a conversation with a girl near the tail end of that semester. She said, "You know what, Odeke? More than half the people here I didn't know existed before this semester, and now I'm pretty good friends with them."
What amazed me was that this otherwise random group of people that was gathered here together, night after night, was not so random at all. Gatherings like this happened frequently that semester. They were not one-time events. I remember feeling that the juniors who stayed because of schedules or financial hardships or athletic obligations became part of a select circle. This circle was created by constraints of time, money and commitments. But by the end of the semester, it was held together by something else entirely: a love for Bucknell.
But here is the part that is truly amazing: While our circle was forming at Bucknell, other circles were forming abroad — in Spain, England, Argentina, in South Africa, all around the world. And, just like my circle, they were born of constraints. We were isolated in central Pennsylvania; they were isolated elsewhere in the world. With only so many Bucknell students in each abroad destination, they inevitably become close. But by the end of their time abroad, these students held their circles together with the exact same thing that linked the juniors back here in Lewisburg: the Bucknell Spirit.
When that girl asked me, during my not-so-lonely junior year, "Why Bucknell?" I replied, "Because of the simple fact that we can meet on a day like this and know that we'll continue to be friends. The fact that I know that you are real and that in 30 years, if I was to run into you, having not said a word to you after graduation, you would stop, smile and say, 'Hey, Odeke.' And that, is why Bucknell.
Class of 2012: We had quite the start to our senior year. We experienced two floods that fall. First, the flood of water, the one that left Sixth Street four feet under, basements flooded and provided an adventure for bold students with canoes. And then, the flood of knowledge, disturbing knowledge, that arrived in the form of the Campus Climate Report.
When the Susquehanna flooded, homes were lost, cars were damaged, and students and Lewisburg residents alike were shaken. When the Campus Climate report came out, the Bucknell community was rocked by the statistics, and the reality. The Climate Report brought forth issues that have been swept under the rug for far too long. President Bravman responded: "The majority of universities do not admit problems exist in their institutions and lie to themselves, while those who do admit that they have problems are the minority, and I would rather work for an honest school any day than one that tries to cover up its tracks." Now these words, just like the flood, were a call to action for the community.
E-mails flew through the Message Center, from people offering food, beds, and their labor to help those affected by the flood brought upon the town of Lewisburg. Students sacrificed time, resources and their living areas for those affected - help not only directed at their fellow students, but also to faculty and Lewisburg residents they did not know.
Similarly, the call to action by President Bravman brought together students and staff in a way never seen before. There emerged a common goal by all associated with this great institution — to ensure that Bucknell stays in the minority, that Bucknell remains, above all, an honest school. In both situations the community that exists within this campus came together to work for one goal, a better Bucknell, driven by one guiding force, the Bucknell Spirit.
During the flood recovery, I helped a local, elderly man and his family move furniture to a temporary facility. We got talking, and he eventually asked me, "Why Bucknell?" to which I replied, "Because people here care. They care about their community and are more than willing help their neighbors in times of need. That, is why Bucknell."
I began this talk by telling you about this question, "Why Bucknell?" And I told you that the answer for each would inevitably change over time because that's the natural order of things, right? The more we experience Bucknell, the more elaborate and complex our answer to that question becomes, right? Wrong. I lied to you. If you have been listening carefully, you will have heard that there is a clear and consistent characteristic that embodies what Bucknell is.
Now, I'm waiting for somebody in the crowd to ask me one more time, "Why Bucknell?"
[Crowd shouts: "Why Bucknell?"]
"The community ... being a Bucknellian." It is like a badge of honor that we all wear that declares that we are all connected in some intrinsic way and all strive to make Bucknell a better place. It's that Bucknell spirit at work that never changes and is with you from the first time you step onto this campus until today, when we walked through the gates of Christy Mathewson, and into the rest of our lives.
In closing, know that the Class of 2012 has done great things. We have leaders, researchers, humanitarians and athletes on a level all their own. I believe that our class is the best Bucknell will see for a while, and there are some big shoes across campus that need to be filled. Our legacy will continue to live long past our years in that bronze seal that will be forever embodied in this iconic quad. But it should not stop here. It's up to us to spread the school spirit, remember what this place has given you and me, and let everyone know that the Bucknell Class of 2012 intends to change the world.
Congratulations and 'Ray Bucknell.