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A student rides her bike across the Knox College campus.


Peter Bailley

Associate Director of Communications

2 East South Street

Galesburg, IL 61401-4999



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Ford Center for the Fine Arts

2009 Senior Class Speaker

Sean Garrett Bullock

June 06, 2009

Like any good academic, I am always excited by the prospect of a captive audience. I want you all to know at the outset that I intend to revel in this opportunity because I have a microphone and you still do not have your diploma. Of course, why we want a diploma at all is a question worth considering, which I will now do for you since I have a monopoly on the floor. Like most people here, at some point I received a bit of mail from Knox College. I had never heard of Knox, had no desire to go to Illinois, and frankly wasn't a huge fan of purple; however, my loving mother insisted that I apply. I would have refused, but the common application made it so there was no additional work to get my mom off my back.

After applying to Knox, I received a phone call from a student here. I'll never forget: I asked her with great concern, "What is there to do in Galesburg?" There was a long pause and she reluctantly replied, "Well, we have a Target and a Wal-Mart." With that encouragement, in the fall my family and I made the drive from Chesterfield, Virginia to Galesburg, Illinois. I have since seen many beautiful parts of Galesburg; however, the exit from 74 onto Main St. is not one of them. With that as my image of Knox, I was already homesick. I missed mountains, the beach, anything that wasn't flat and windy. I couldn't have known then how much I would truly enjoy my time here.

Sure, there was the ubiquitous awkward period in which I clung to a group of ill suited friends, with no common interests other than not wanting to sit alone in our rooms, but quickly real relationships began to form. It wasn't hard to meet people here, after all, no matter who you were or where you were from, we could all come together and complain about FP. Actually, that reminds me of my honors project, and yes, part of my training as an academic includes the ability to relate any topic to my most recent publication. Continuing, for my project I sat down with faculty, administration, and students to ask, "What is it we are really doing here?" I found myself directed towards Knox's motto: "the freedom to flourish" which, as Jennifer Smith said to me, also means the freedom to fail. We have all failed here in our own quiet ways: there are books that none of us read, discussions we didn't take part in, a volunteer opportunity passed up for more illicit behavior, but those are the failures that have taught and shaped us. We have had the freedom to flourish and, despite a few missteps, we have done so.

With that, I want to issue a caution. We are entering into a terrible economy, the planet is heating up, the ice caps are melting, and surely a "Day After Tomorrow" style disaster is looming around the corner. I haven't actually seen that movie, but I can tell you from the previews, things don't look good. Having said that, I want you to forget about it. The great minds in history were not ruled by fear and, if we are to be strong in our convictions, we must realize that staying in your comfort zone always means making compromises. I want to say to you all: do not compromise. It will not be easy, you may lose a job or a friend, but it is complacency, laziness, and fear which perpetuate inequity. Anyone can be an idealist in college, and it is only when we accept reality as unchangeable that we lose those ideals. I do not mean to say that we should be extremists or unwilling to change our minds, but rather that fear of failure, discomfort, or rejection should never be a determining factor in creating our values.

I said that I once thought a degree was a resume supplement, but now I understand what it really represents. My Knox degree will hang from my wall as a statement that I have spent years, 4 to be precise, reading, thinking, and questioning how and why the world works. It means that I am aware of my responsibilities, as a citizen and a human being, to be a force for change, for the better. There will always be a temptation to go the easy way, but it is my hope that we will resist it. We leave here today with ideas, with hopes for the future, and dare I say it: we have dreams. Now, Class of '09, let's go out there and make them happen. Thank you and good luck.

Sean Bullock
Sean Bullock

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Printed on Tuesday, October 23, 2018