By Daniel Marion '12
Seniors, CC administration, faculty, staff, friends and families, good morning and welcome. My name is Dan Marion and I am humbled to be the class of 2012’s commencement speaker. I want to begin by sharing why I think I am standing before you and have the honor of speaking to you today.
I do not consider myself the smartest student. I do not consider myself the most involved student. And I definitely do not consider myself the tallest student. But I do consider myself someone who has taken full advantage of all aspects of CC - academics, extra-curricular activities, work study jobs, religious life, community service, and social life - so hopefully I can represent a part of all of you; a universal aspect to which everyone can connect.
The title of my speech is Understanding what “Ithakas” Mean. Ithaka is a poem by CP Cavafy named after the Greek Island that is the mythological home of Odysseus. I was introduced to the poem by professors Lisa B. Hughes and Barry Sarchett during a summer course in Greece that became one of my most memorable experiences here. The poem brilliantly captures the apparent juxtaposition between the journey and the destination, a point where all of us graduates find ourselves today.
The first time I read the poem was on the picturesque island of Kea. Like most Greek islands, the town is situated up a mountain away from the coast to help prevent from pirate attacks. After hiking into the Greek hillside, we perched ourselves next to the Lion of Kea, an inexplicable statue, for nobody knows when or who carved it. But as mysterious as it is, the lion’s face is not the typical ferocious snarl. It’s kind of like our emblematic CC tiger, who let’s be honest looks like he’s mid-yawn. Similarly, the Kea lion instead offers a comforting smile suggesting he may know something we perhaps do not.
Ithaka by CP Cavafy can also seem mysterious at first, for the end of the poem transforms this singular greek island into the plural “Ithakas.” After this speech I hope everyone will understand why Cavafy does this, at which point you can bolster a smile like the Kea Lion, since you, too, will understand something that not all people understand.
To eventually get there, however, I want to talk more generally about what makes Colorado College so special. One thing I realized is that CC LOVES its acronyms: we have things like PROWL: the platform and repository for on-line and web-based learning, and of course the FUCC: the free-riders union of Colorado College. So I thought it'd be fitting to add one more to the list, and like Ithaka the word is greek. The acronym is OPA! The colloquial saying used as an exclamation or affirmation. Someone makes a toast at the dinner table, you shout OPA! When everyone starts dancing, you shout OPA! And when someone else pays for the bill what do you shout? Actually you say thank you, but I like the enthusiasm. As far as the acronym, O stands for the opportunities CC offers, P for the people CC attracts, and A for the attitude, one could say philosophy, of a liberal arts education.
O: Opportunities. When I came to CC I started writing in a journal. Do NOT call it a diary because it's a journal. The first thing I wrote was that I didn't feel cool enough to go here because it seemed like everyone had epic adventures already, like traveling to Paris or India. I wrote down in my journal, that is NOT a diary, "I think that's why I came to CC: to make outstanding memories that I couldn't anywhere else." Classes here explore the visible geology around Colorado and New Mexico, visit our alternative campus, Baca, to learn about astronomy and the Southwest, or go abroad to places like Spain, Chile, London, Italy, Taiwan, or where I went: Greece. Our class read the Odyssey and spent 2 weeks in Athens and then 2 weeks sailing around to various Greek islands tracing Odysseus’ path home to Ithaka. There we investigated archeological ruins that could have been Nestor’s Palace, where there are the remains of a tub in which Telemakhos may have bathed. We explored deep, mysterious caves that were considered the underworld or that could have been home to the beautiful nymph Calypso. What other college let’s its students do things like that?! The block plan affords opportunities that would be impossible anywhere else. If you agree, this would be an appropriate moment to shout “OPA!” On 3. 1… 2… 3… OPA!
P: People. The people are without a doubt one of the best parts of Colorado College. We all have different majors, different opinions and beliefs, and different upbringings, but we can bond and connect through our common interests. Students are creative and down for any adventure. But it’s not just the students, not just the professors, it’s everybody. Our acclaimed professors encourage intelligent thought and are so approachable that 93% of students get to have a meal at their professors house at some point during their CC career. And the incredible faculty, staff, and administration are friendly and helpful, fostering an environment of learning and growth. The people here are truly amazing. Again, OPA on 3. Let me here what you got! 1… 2… 3… OPA!
A: Attitude. The attitude of a liberal arts education is different than typical universities. More than anything CC teaches its students how to learn. The way we learn is distinct, and what we do learn is critical thinking, how to write well, time and stress management skills, and how to be creative. Through stimulating liberal arts classes CC really allows its students to define their college experience, instead of letting their college experience define them. It’s like our website says: We're not waiting for our lives to begin. We're not waiting for the future to happen. We're living it. Starting now. Most schools train their students for a career, but CC teaches its students how to have more than a career, a career and then some: it teaches us how to live. There's a cutesy story I love that goes "In elementary school the teacher asked what we wanted to be when we grew up and I said "happy." She said I didn't understand the assignment. I said she didn't understand life." CC not only prepares students to be successful in any career, but it molds us into well rounded, knowledgeable, and typically happy, individuals. Last time, get your greek on! 1… 2… 3… OPA!
And now the moment you’ve all been waiting for, the poem that captures the journey verses the destination: Ithaka by CP Cavafy. Before I begin, I want you to place yourself in the poem by imagining that you are Odysseus: strong, handsome, smart, you even conceived the Trojan Horse you sneaky little trickster! Not to mention you fooled the Cyclops and poked his eye out. Look at you! You’ve definitely earned your fame, your kleos, as they say in Greek. But, it’s been a long journey. You miss your faithful and beautiful spouse, you’ve missed watching your only son grow up, and you miss your home, your land. And with that, let’s begin:
As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.
Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.
Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.
The poem relates well to our class motto from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “What lies behind us and what lies before us are little matters compared to what lies within us.” Within us is the gift of our CC intellectual adventure, where we maximized opportunities, embraced the amazing people and developed a life-long attitude that will serve us well on this journey called life. Now, today, we have reached an end. But for us it is not the end, and that is what it means to understand Ithakas.