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Valedictory Address - Taylor Kingston Pels '18

Friday, May 25, 2018
Taylor Kingston Pels '18

Taylor Kingston Pels '18

Taylor Kingston Pels '18

Ms. Norris, President Boroughs, Provost Freije, Dean Cibreiro, Members of the Board of Trustees, Honored Guests, Faculty and Staff, Parents, Relatives and Friends, Fellow Members of the Class of 2018.

At his 25th reunion, Will Jenks, a member of the class of 1954, encouraged his classmates to draw “life and strength from this place, this bond, this faith, this love, this Holy Cross.” I first read this quote when voting for the design for my Montserrat t-shirt during our first year on the hill, and it has remained in the back of my mind for the past three years.

In recent months as graduation approached, I came to identify with the uniqueness that Mr. Jenks referred to as he spoke of “this bond”. I could try to describe all of the relationships and experiences that will bond me forever to Mount St. James, and I know each of the seniors here would identify with many of them. From the time we drove on campus on August 30, 2014, we have been welcomed and encouraged to become part of this special community. It’s a place where just recently I had a 15-minute conversation with my first-year calculus professor, who was genuinely interested in my plans after graduation. It’s a place where the Kimball workers not only know everyone’s name but we also know theirs. A few weeks ago I walked past a few of my hall mates having a conversation with Dee, one of the custodial workers in Williams, asking her about her weekend and the Easter Egg hunt she had planned for the children in her family. This sense of family and belonging is what’s so special about Holy Cross. As of a few minutes ago we are Holy Cross graduates. This is the bond that will connect us for the rest of our lives in a way that nothing else could.

For the past two years I have had the opportunity to work in Professor Linton’s organic chemistry research group, literally forming bonds. While I won’t get into the details of the exact scientific processes I’ve been involved with, I will tell you that the majority of the reactions I perform can be broadly categorized into two procedural types. The first is the dump and stir, and the second is the much more laborious, multi-step reaction that requires complicated procedures and challenging purifications. For the first, you simply dump the reactants into a flask, let them stir, and hope that your product is there when you return. On the other hand, the second type, of reaction requires much more time and effort. You might need to measure several reactants, add a catalyst at a critical moment, and perform multiple purifications. Along the way, a variety of classification techniques are often necessary to monitor the progress of the reaction.

We often find ourselves gravitating toward the dump and stir process. It can be so easy to just go through the motions, to check the box, to run for president of a club because it will look good on your resume, or take that extra class to improve your transcript. But what I, and I’m sure most of you, have found to be so special about Holy Cross, is that it is a community that encourages a high standard and reinforces a mission that motivates us to pursue the bumpier road and seek a greater reward.

Similar to the more labor-intensive category of reaction, the faith and love that are so deeply identified with Holy Cross are not necessarily things that come easily. Mentoring a middle-schooler at your SPUD site or spending your time away from the hill renovating a school in rural Virginia on Spring Break Immersion are surely not without their challenges, but the process of becoming part of the Holy Cross family brings with it a natural appreciation for the pure joy of giving your time to help others. While service is a large part of the Jesuit mission, it is not a requirement of Holy Cross students. However, I challenge you to find a Holy Cross graduate who has not been catalyzed and also purified by some type of service during his/her time on the hill.

Holy Cross encourages us to be “men and women for and WITH others.”  If I return to my chemistry analogy, maybe we aren’t necessarily conducting the reaction, but we are elements within it. These experiences given to us by the Holy Cross community change us as we are affecting the lives of others. Since we first stepped foot on Mount Saint James, we have been changed and have grown in ways that our first-year selves could only imagine. The faith and love that Mr. Jenks referred to is not just a faith and love in Holy Cross; it is also a faith and love in ourselves.

This Holy Cross. I have spent the most time reflecting on these three words. Sunday morning Kimball omelets, late nights in the science library during study period, the spring concert on freshman field, hours in Cool Beans laughing with friends and roommates, and Campion cookies. Beyond these traditions, the Holy Cross experience has a unique personal significance to all of us, but whatever different things we take away from our time on the hill, we could not have picked a better place in which to find ourselves, to refine our skills, or pursue our life’s goals.

It is not an easy time to figure out our place in the world. We are a generation that will feel heavily the burden of forging positive change; rather than simply going forward and seeking professional success, we will need the strength to rely on and defend the virtues instilled in us on the hill, and to undertake a ceaseless effort to make positive change in a contentious society. The Jesuit mission of compassion, service and justice-seeking infuses every aspect of Holy Cross. These Jesuit commitments have shaped us as students and provide a vital and unerring foundation that will support our efforts to encourage tolerance and act with patience. The success of the Holy Cross mission within the class of 2018 will not be judged by the job rate of its graduates or the graduate school acceptance rate, but by how we are able to accept the need for those Jesuit ideals to act, not just as a frame of reference, but a personal mission for each of us as we leave the hill and pursue our futures.

Well today is that day that we leave the hill. I believe the best is possible for all of our futures because of what Holy Cross has given us, and what unique aspects of the Holy Cross experience each of us is taking away. This community has pushed us to persevere the bumpier road and I know that we will consider it to have been worth our while. There is excitement and anticipation for each of us, but also comfort in knowing:

We will always have this bond, this faith, this love. We will always have this Holy Cross.

Thank you.