May 08, 2009 — “When I asked my father what I should write for this speech he said, “Tell them you were supposed to go to UCLA, where there are more black people on one block than there are in the entire state of Utah.” Such lessons may be humbling, but they can cut powerful new pathways that we never could have projected for ourselves. I’ve learned that the only obstacle to freedom is one’s decision to idle in fear, and against the potential opportunities of those pathways.
I came to the University of Utah to gain a B.F.A. from one of the most highly accredited modern dance programs in the nation. It is to the outstanding credit of this singular liberal arts institution that I stand here now a graduate from both the College of Fine Arts and the College of Humanities. My first semester was full of dance, and jazz history in the evening, and in the mornings I took Mark Matheson’s English 1110.
Each time I exercised articulating myself in this academic forum I grew more uncomfortable withholding myself from the potential of my experiences. This was the most profitable fear that I could have. This university became the setting that challenged me beyond my experience, outside of my boundaries, and into the power of agency over my limits. This was a workshop where my observations, my deconstructions, my projects, my inquiries, my ideas were awaited. Day by day I made the choice to either stretch or ease myself socially, academically, and intellectually.
My education here changed everything for me. It demolished and re-built my understanding of who my peers could be-coming from innumerable histories and experiences-and offered me the equalizing status of “novice.” Faced with the unknown we are all equal. The key to progress is to understand that we never know as much as we think we do, especially about other people. Thus we must ever micro-macroscopically re-adjust with each lesson. “Change is my shepherd, I shall not want. We are guarded by change, flux, and overthrow,” said my intro to modernism professor. I am reminded that the gift of this institution has been the opportunity to grow, if I choose it.
By the end of that first fall, I’d declared an English minor, and went on to London that summer for a literature intensive at Regent’s College. Another spring I found myself teaching workshops for Black Heritage month on a reservation in Mexican Hat with the Governor’s Martin Luther King Commission. A subsequent winter I went to study in Cuernavaca, Mexico and spent solitary hours amongst the quiet ruins of the Puuc Maya in the Yucatan Peninsula. Another summer I climbed Outside Corner on JHCOB Wall in Big Cottonwood Canyon. While that doesn’t mean much to many people, it means miles to a girl afraid of heights who had never climbed a fence.
What do all these have to do with the moment my English minor became a major, the hour I heard Katherine Stockton speak at a farewell luncheon to Karen Dace, the first time I heard Stephen Tatum expound on the loss of history, Dr. Samuels shake down what it means to be a native son, or the few lines from Paradise Lost that ruptured any poetic reservations I had? Each season carried a transition between something known, and something new, and I was changed, and it began here.
Every moment here has been a self-integrating study in complicated humanity. We have gained tremendous education that still cultivates in our fertile minds. We’ve completed these years, some of us against significant odds. We’ve learned we know nothing but what we do. When latterly something is foreign to our experience, our expertise, our minds-like graduating-then we’ve nothing more to lose by side-stepping paralysis for potential. We’ve been prepared by practice.
Now is another hour to acknowledge the potential of this present liminal threshold, and make another choice. Bless God for every moment, every trial, every challenged doubt, every brick heavy textbook, every debate, and every heart break. Your very state right now is the culminated future of your history. And blessedly, there’s growth to go. Donald Revell said, “The present is prophetic, it presents the future to itself.” There is more happening now than your bones readying to stabilize your form so you can culminate this ceremony. Step forward and present the next lesson to itself.”