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Senior Address

May 19, 2014

Sisyphus on the Block Plan - Wesley Brandt '14

I have a friend named Sisyphus. He’s this Greek guy; you may have heard of him. There’s this myth about him, (it’s just a myth though, as far as I know there’s no proof) that the gods punished him to push a boulder to the top of a mountain, and as soon as he gets it to the top, it rolls back down. According to the myth, he repeats this process for all of eternity. But the Sisyphus I know doesn’t push boulders; he pushes blocks, up a mountain. One might even say he’s on the Block Plan.

See, the old myth was pretty pessimistic about him. Apparently the guy had all of eternity and he couldn’t figure out how to get a boulder to stay put. Sisyphus on the Block Plan, however, is discovering a way to stack the blocks he’s carried up the mountain. It’s taken him around four years and about 32 blocks, but he’s built himself a nice place up there. One by one, he had to learn those blocks in order to stack them properly — their weight, shapes, dimensions. Perhaps he doesn’t remember every single block now, especially those first few he carried up. But even if he doesn’t remember the fine points, they still work as a foundation, and the important thing is that he learned how to stack blocks on top of that foundation and create something meaningful. A base of knowledge, a skill set, a home. Sisyphus built that for himself up there, and he didn’t even know how yet. Now that he’s got a preliminary knowledge of how to stack stuff, I think he’s realizing he can do it again, anywhere else he likes. He built himself a comfort zone up there, but he’s starting to learn that comfort zones are for leaving.

But if he goes to another mountain, Sisyphus will have to stack some unwieldy stuff — taxes, insurance plans, cooking things that aren’t pasta, and some heavy stuff — unemployment, and missing friends. It’s important to note, though, that on his first mountain, he had more training than just those 32 blocks. Those were made for stacking. He’s also had to stack all kinds of hopelessly un-stackable crap: like the extracurricular activities that demanded to meet at the same time as lab class, the drama rehearsals, the friend who was such a drama queen he felt like he was still at drama rehearsal, the sports rehearsals — sorry, sports practices. (I don’t know, Sisyphus played sports, I don’t. He’s a metaphor for all of us. You get the idea.) He’s faced social anxiety at parties, and social anxiety at dirties; he’s had to figure out what the hell is a darty, and he’s had four fourth-weeks in a row with no sleep. He’s had to stack these things among those 32 blocks, along with the little rocks of self-doubt and the bigger ones of depression. And the loss of very dear friends. And some things were dropped — some times he had to run back down the mountain and pick things up again. But every unique Sisyphus here in this class of 2014 continued to stack these things, even in times when their mountain was engulfed in a metaphorical or even a literal forest fire.

I say that word “unique” with a great deal of caution. Being unique is not a virtue on its own. Building your own recreational spelunking major is unique, but who cares? It’s hard to find greatness in the unique, because the unique is so often confused with the random. The neuroscience and studio art double major is just as unique as our friend the recreational spelunker, but she’s unique for a reason — to map out where in the brain artistic catharsis occurs and what benefits that knowledge might have. CC is not great because the location and scheduling system is one-of-a-kind, it’s great because those things work together.

This is a problem with the concept of diversity as well. It’s gotta be more than the uniqueness of having people from different countries and ethnic backgrounds. It’s about sharing different perspectives and worldviews. It’s about getting guys to study feminist and gender studies. It’s about having a monthly publication written together by the CC Democrats and the CC Republicans. It’s about people of every color, shape, size, sexual orientation performing at the Black Student Union’s poetry slams.

Being unique is good, I suppose. But taking unique elements and stacking them up, or weaving them into a tapestry, if you’re more into Professor Kristi Erdal’s metaphor — putting these things together is what’s great. This class isn’t great because we are a bunch of unique snowflakes, this class is great because we are snow. Taking all these unique ideas and people avalanching down together on our way to the next mountain. One of our favorite CC sayings is that we work hard and play hard. I hope we continue to do just that on our way up the next mountain.

I’ve heard a saying about how, if you ask someone from the East Coast, “what do you do?” they’ll tell you their occupation, how they make a living, but if you ask someone from the West Coast, they’ll tell you their hobby, how they make a life. This speaks as though being a dentist and being a kayaker were mutually exclusive. But here in the state of Colorado, in between coasts, I think we’ve realized and are trying to reconcile the fact that we can and should do both. If you can stack up your life and your living together, that’s a good medium. So good that it doesn’t matter whether you get to the very top of the mountain — in my experience, it’s just a donut shop and a tourist trap anyway. This class knows that the view is the best from the middle. And this class knows that there are mountains and mountains beyond this mountain, and though they don’t get easier, the view gets better when you have some mountains to look back on. Even if it wasn’t a mountain you wanted to leave, you had to because you’d built yourself a comfort zone there. And that’s no place to make a life or a living. These abandoned comfort zones will be so gorgeous when the sun rises over them. The class of 2014 deserves that view. Let’s go see it.