Michelle Smiley (PhD '20, History of Art) was invited by Dean of Graduate Studies Sharon Burgmayer to speak on behalf of the graduate student community for the 2020 Bryn Mawr College Virtual Graduation Ceremony. Watch Michelle's address to all graduates here:
Text of the address:
Hi, my name is Michelle Smiley and I am a doctoral student in the history of art department at Bryn Mawr College.
I’d like to start by saying thank you to my peers, my advisers, and to the staff of the graduate school of arts and sciences, some of whom I’ve known since my first year at Bryn Mawr as an undergraduate in 2008, and all of whom made the work of finishing a doctoral degree this year possible.
And a special thank you to Dean Burgmayer for the invitation to say a few words today.
Lately, I’ve heard a lot of people joking about how grad students are particularly well-trained for the recent calls for social distancing and self-isolation, and in some respects this is definitely true, and our current self-quarantining might remind some us of long hours spent in the basement of Carpenter Library or in the lab spaces of Park Science. However, I don’t actually think this is the most relevant or topical skill we are leaving with this year.
Instead, the experience that the graduate group at Bryn Mawr has fostered that I’ve been reflecting back on lately is the experience of uncertainty. Because if there is anything that unites the wide range of students and dissertations and disciplines across the school of arts and sciences, it’s probably the experience of not knowing exactly what we are doing. With each thesis, or dissertation topic, lab experiment, or theorem, what the graduate school of Bryn Mawr fosters, I think, is the willingness to approach the unknown, and to approach uncertainty not with a sense of defeat or fear, but with a sense of curiosity and of a deep respect for that which we do not yet know.
This is not to under-sell the huge accomplishment of having completed a degree in a specialized field of study. But I also don’t think the many months, and years, that come before this moment are acknowledged enough; those messy and necessary states of un-knowing and uncertainty that have preceded and underwrite all of our accomplishments today.
If only the world were more like Bryn Mawr College, and were as equally appreciative of such states of un-knowing. So many people in power rush toward certainty, asserting it, willing it into existence; but I think the kind of leadership that Bryn Mawr fosters so well is the kind of leader who is willing not to know, who moves forward with respect, curiosity, and even wonder within the uncertainty, and who chooses to act despite not knowing.
My fellow graduates, I’ve so appreciated the time we have had together in our chosen community of curiosity, and my hope is that we can take it and carry it beyond Bryn Mawr to whatever corner we are going to or are sheltering in right now.
So thank you GSAS class of 2020 and congratulations on your enormous accomplishment.