May 14, 2023: Commencement 2023, Remarks by Kaia Rendo ’23

Kaia Rendo '23 wears a cap and gown and honor chords as she speaks into a microphone at a podium at Commencement.

Senior speaker Kaia Rendo '23 told the Class of 2023 that they will remain a community, no matter where their paths lead. Photo by Emily Paine, Communications

Hello and thank you classmates, family, faculty and staff for coming to the Class of 2023 Commencement. Mostly family, faculty and staff — classmates, we kind of have to be here.

I wanted to start this speech by telling a story about running into a former Bucknellian while out there in the "real world," but this scenario has happened too many times for me to pick just one. " 'ray Bucknell!" has been shouted at me on the streets of New York City, the beaches of the Jersey Shore, hiking in the Appalachians and even overseas in Iceland. Each time reminded me that though I would eventually be leaving Lewisburg, the Bucknell spirit is forever. Our community is not, and cannot, be tied down to a set of buildings.

The Mods perfectly demonstrate how our experiences will transcend time and space. The number placards that existed on the shipping-container-like buildings were auctioned off to alumni who bought every last one. Hearing that some were so willing to give to a place they left as long as 50 years ago made me wonder if one set of structures can really have such a lifelong impact.

I almost didn't come to Bucknell. The only school I had gotten accepted to by May of senior year of high school was a safety school, and I put myself on the Bucknell waitlist only because my mama told me to. How lucky I am that I did. I got the invitation to come tour campus on Mother's Day morning. I made the drive out here days later and thought about how lovely the area was in comparison to what some affectionately call "Dirty Jersey."

The design of our campus is indicative of the community that exists here. On the open first floor of the library, every table has multiple seats to purposely invite collaboration. When I arrived in the fall, my tour guide remembered me and checked in with me over milkshakes at 7th Street Café every semester until she graduated. Walking across the quad with her, our conversations would be cut off over and over again by the numerous people calling out to wave hello. I learned to not bother playing music on my way to class, as I would pause the song too frequently saying hi and catching up with everyone. This would include not only my closest friends, but also the girl I sat next to in my first semester linguistics class, and the mechanical engineer I met for two seconds at Orientation's Playfair.

But it wasn't always easy to be so connected, both inside and outside the Bucknell bubble. The COVID-19 pandemic had us all experiencing Bucknell in different ways, from dining room tables, hotel beds and the confines of our dorms. For a while, all we knew of each other was the top third of our faces. Global issues pulled members of society further apart. And as the anonymity of the internet made hate all too easy, finding pockets of peace and joy was a necessity. You, my fellow Bucknell classmates, gave me that.

Our time here was accented with Sunday Scaries, Bison spinach wraps, Flyson tots and sunset quad sits in orange and blue Adirondack chairs under the falling petals of cherry blossom trees. But memories of these moments would be incomplete without the friends we've shared them with. The buildings would be meaningless without the people inside them. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing inherently wrong with Bostwick. But it was Jo or Dot waiting to swipe my card that made it special. Holmes Hall was an empty lot our first year. Now the halls are filled with the sounds of us studying or gossiping together, chatting with professors and welcoming visitors. My fellow Bucknellian newspaper writers know Stuck House is way less fun any day that's not Wednesday. Moving from Smith Hall to Roberts Hall didn't change the people you laughed at Yik Yaks with. The joy of getting brunch together was the same in Amami and Grams. It was the people inside of our dorms, research labs and dance studios who gave these spaces meaning.

I myself never lived in the Mods. The monkeys didn't seem like great neighbors, so I instead suffered being swiped in every time I forgot my ID. I was pretty spoiled with my housing lineup: McDonnell my first year and a lovely gig in the South Campus Apartments both my junior and senior year. Don't be jealous. But I still felt a twinge of sorrow when I learned the Mods would finally be torn down after half a century. They, just like college itself, were meant to be temporary.

This ceremony marks the end of our brief time at Bucknell. But it won't be the last time we leave comfort behind and step into the unknown. Almost none of us will stay in the first job we get or the first city we move to. Our favorite places, people and pieces of ourselves — or who we think we are — will surely change. As scary as each transition may be, keeping kindness in your heart the Bucknell way will make it all that much easier. If these past four years have demonstrated anything, it's the power of a friendly smile. Our times here might have been temporary, but the love and appreciation we will have for this chapter of our lives is permanent.

My Bucknell journey started on Mother's Day. Now it is ending on Mother's Day. As a gift to my mom, I would like to officially state that she is always right. To my dad who is also in the audience, you're pretty cool too. And to the Class of 2023, enjoy this moment with the people who made these years special. I'll call out a " 'ray Bucknell" to you wherever we end up.