So the move continues to get to me. I now feel, for the first time since I actually decided, anxious. Anxiety about my last days at work, about getting rid of everything in my house, about packing, about where to ship it to in SF, about where to live, and all of the details between leaving behind the past and embracing the future. And then there’s the fact that someone (ahem) got me sick on Friday. But that’s cool. If anything, that’s just made me lightheaded enough to be loopy instead of paranoid-anxious.

I wanted to capture this feeling. And I was going to write a post. But as I was cleaning out my desk at work today, I found a copy of my graduation speech from college. This was the closing scene of act ii. And, appropriately enough, it’s entitled “things change.” I never posted it before, but here goes. I left the pandering-to-the-crowd jokes in for full-effect.

things change.
by surya yalamanchili

Good Evening.

I’m going to start this address somewhat unconventionally, with two quotes: the first from the heralded cartoonist, Gary Trudeau, he said:

“Commencement speeches were invented largely in the belief that outgoing college students should never be released into the world until they have been properly sedated.”

And I simply wanted to reassure everyone, that I’ll be doing my best to do just that.

With that said, we’ll really begin with a quote from the distinguished author, Alan Cohen, who said:

“It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new. But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life, and in change there is power.”

We, the class of 2003, sit here on the cusp of one of the single biggest changes we’ll experience in our lives. We graduate after four years at Rutgers having gone through a whirlwind of changes – both personal and in the world around us.

On a personal level, many of us would have difficulty relating to the unsure, naive and seemingly clueless creatures that walked into Rutgers all those years ago. We’ve made new friends, shared laughs, faced challenges, and achieved triumphs – but most importantly, we’ve done all of these things together.

As a group, we’ve also been through one of the biggest periods of change in history. Four years ago we entered school during one of the greatest times of economic prosperity this country has ever seen. We saw billionaires made overnight, the stock market reach new highs, and unemployment rates reach record lows. Needless to say, things have certainly changed. However, this was not to be the biggest change we would see in our time here. 2 years ago, on September 11 2001, the world in many ways as we knew it, changed forever. While in some ways we came to fear everyday life more and we each experienced a terrible loss in our hearts for what was gone, a more subtle realization was also reached. The knowledge that nothing in life was guaranteed was discovered – or more appropriately, reaffirmed. While each of us had heard the clichés “that life is too short” and to “live every day as if it were the last” these sayings really had little relevance in our every day lives; to quote the movie, The Matrix, “there’s a difference between knowing the path, and walking the path”. But when a singular event as significant and as startling as the events of Sept. 11 occurs, as close to home as it did – one begins to look at things in a new way — and we did. Many of us reassessed what was important and realized the fragility of life and how important it was to seek out what it is that we love – both in our professional careers and in life in general. We saw the world change, and we in turn changed with it.

The changes in our lives have not been limited to just these past four years. Thinking back to grade school, we remember our heroes as the celebrities of the moment, the sports figures, such as Joe Montana and Michael Jordan. We followed their every move and these were the ones we looked to for inspiration. Although then, it might have been our dream to play basketball like Michael Jordan, as we got older, this too had changed. An underlying hope become clearer; we didn’t realistically wish to play as well Jordan, but instead to someday do something as well as Jordan played basketball. We came upon the realization that while we may not have a shot to play in the NBA, there were many things that we could do, and we hoped to one day excel in our field at this same highest level.

Throughout all of these changes there were those who would be pillars in our lives – whose belief in us was unyielding. Whether it was a parent, another family member, a teacher or simply a friend – they were there for us whenever we needed them – our sources of strength in our most turbulent times. Just as we changed our view of how we looked at our childhood heroes, for many of us, we also chose new heroes. We saw the honor and nobility in everyday life. The nobility in a mother who wakes up every day in the middle of the night to go to work, the father who works multiple jobs – each saving every penny to help ensure a better life for their children. We now recognized the honor in living every day life, in living a life that is hard, only for the singular purpose of the betterment of others. These simple acts of selflessness, away from the flashbulbs and cameras of Hollywood which would have once been lost on us, instead, now gave us strength. They gave us new, more tangible heroes to look up to – to aspire to seek success in honor of.

But regardless of how we viewed these people, or what changed around us, their commitment to us remained unwavering. When we feared we couldn’t do something, they told us they believed in us and that we could. When we strayed from the path, they were they were to help us find the way. These were the unchanging pillars in our lives, the points of hope and belief that carried us through our most difficult times. This is what hasn’t changed and what will never change. In each of our lives there have been these people who have made a difference, and who we’ve looked up to; these people will always be there, and whom we’ll always be thankful for what they’ve sacrificed for us.

Now as we quote-un-quote, “graduate into the world,” it’s our duty to serve as this to others. We must seek to instill hope and guidance in others’ lives. We must repay what others have given to us. There are countless children in this country who are not blessed to benefit from those who understand the crises that they will go through – from those that will stand by them in times of difficulty. It is up to each of us to be this unchanging object and attempt to help another as we were once helped. It is in this way that we will repay the debt which we owe to all of those who have given us so much. We must always remember, that we are each a promise…a promise of something greater for the future…for the next generation. But it is up to us to keep that promise…to fulfill it, just as others have done for us.

And so, we the class of 2003, sit here awaiting the next wave of change to wash over us. We’ve already undergone volumes of change over these past four years: we’ve grown stronger and hopefully become wiser, and most of all we’re now ready for whatever lies ahead. And we wish to thank those around us, our pillars of strength; those who refused to change — who remained unyielding in their belief in us and in our abilities. To our parents, other family members, teachers, and friends, we thank you. Not just for being there, but for the ways in which you did change us. You’ve prepared us for the future. Not simply in the conventional ways, but in the most important one: you believed and convinced us that we have the ability to not only change with the world, but that more importantly, no matter what happens, we can each change the world.

For those of you who know me, you realize that to quote Robert Kennedy in this speech is almost obligatory. And so, he once said:

“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.”

And as I’ve worked, laughed with, and gotten to know many of you, I have little doubt that the history of this generation will turn out better than any in the past. That we will hold a special place in history; that we will not just dream of changing the world, but instead, in this age of change, we will change the world.

And now I end with something less serious and more lighthearted — but all the while I believe, equally true. A piece of advice from the renowned artist, Gary Bolding:

“Your families are extremely proud of you. You can’t imagine the sense of relief they are now experiencing. So this would be a most opportune time — to ask for money.”

Thank you.

5/13/13 – First speech I ever gave. Special place in my heart.

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