The class of 2023 will be the last generation to walk and quite literally sit in the same chairs that Tim Geithner and Wolf Blitzer sat in. Yes, technically, the class of 2024 did too, but they can claim their glory when they graduate from the brand-new building.
It’s strange to think about all the bureaucrats, diplomats, and aspiring policy professionals that walked up and down Mass Ave for the past 40 or something-odd years. The Strat bros and gals that think escalation is always a good idea. The development folks that think microfinance is actually a good model for developing nations. The finance bros that want to walk into Treasury and slap sanctions on some states just because they can. The environmental folks that think they’ll be able to convince capitalist industries to institute a tax system to regulate carbon. The wanna-be think tank fellows that think their policy brief will actually convince the White House to pursue prudent policy instead of the one that is politically convenient. And then there are those who are here to simply figure out what to do next.
Yes, these are cynical critiques and crude distillations of some very well-intentioned policies. But who cares? This isn’t about that. It’s about crossing Mass Avenue in the middle of rush hour traffic, risking life and limb, to learn how to change the world regardless of the obstacles. Some would argue that this is a negative. But it is precisely the obstacles, missed signals, difficulties, and mistakes that we tend to remember. This is not a bad thing.
For this last generation of MAIR graduates, grad school has been a mixed experience. Half of it has been mired in masks, vaccines, and existential dread. The other half relearning how to socialize and learn at the same time. I remember trying to make eye contact with a professor through a mask, signaling with my eyes that I was paying attention. (I most likely gave the impression that I was glaring.) But I think that’s why the class of 2023’s experience was so memorable. We carried on with the project that is our lives, exhibiting the innate human tendency to find a way, attempting to decipher intentions and situations, knowing that they will get lost in translation but doing it anyway.
While I’m on this subject, perhaps the most interesting thing about the human experience is our tendency to remember the beginnings and ends of things. We seem to have a remarkable tendency to glare over the middle. Or maybe that’s just me. We rarely give significance to the major moments and often remember the little details. But I also think that’s what makes us remarkable. It’s the smell of the dusty books in the library. The taste of coffee from a machine that desperately needs to be replaced. The quest to submit a paper before your laptop dies in the courtyard because there are no outlets nearby, but you need a sliver of sunshine to milk that last drop of serotonin.
This graduating class will be the last to enjoy these memories and experiences within this endearing but neglected space. (Yes, the class of 2024 will also remember, but their recollection will be muddied by their experience in the sparkly new building. Yes, I already said this. No, we are not salty…)
I recall the expressions of my classmates as they questioned their existence in this odd complex. I remember seeing my friends grapple with multiple responsibilities while we stared at the depressing yellow walls on the library’s 8th floor. I remember seeing an acquaintance loudly question the relevance of statistics while sweating on the library’s 7th floor, pleading with the universe to magically open a window. I remember seeing the start of a romance as I peeked through the glass door of a group meeting room. I remember seeing the guy who was way too drunk at a party the night before, crawling to the elevator to finish a problem set on a Sunday morning. I remember watching the awkward dance between a former couple as they crossed paths at the crosswalk, choreographing their pride and wounded egos, between Rome and Nitze.
I remember all of this. I would not change any of it, except for one memory. I remember wishing that I could just be done. That I could just fast-forward to graduation, not realizing that it was my life that I was speeding through. Maybe a few can relate. As I sit here reflecting on my experience at SAIS in the Nitze courtyard, I also wonder about what’s next. They say the future is an unknowable void. So is the past. These are the confines of the third dimension. Time only goes one way.
(Trigger warning: this is the cheesy bit)
Many of you are stressed about what will happen now. Some of you have jobs, lucky (d)ucks. Some of you plan on traveling, either going back to a part of the world you’ve been to or will experience for the first time. Some will be taking classes over the summer. Some will be calling that family friend or uncle for a summer gig. Some will be bartending and pushing through for something better. Some will be moving back in with their parents. Some will be getting married. Some will be going right back to another school. Some of you will be staying for a Ph.D. Some will be filled with regrets, others with hope. Some with anxiety and some with excitement. It doesn’t matter. You did it. (And if you haven’t, get back to work!)
I remember this one Nietzsche quote that my high school Latin teacher imparted to me: “AMOR FATI.” The sentiment of the quote is to “love one’s fate,” regardless of the circumstances. Life is filled with problems. It is replacing one anxiety with another. Often times we want to quit. But not quitting, finding a solution to the problems, creates the meaning required to justify an often-meaningless existence. The process of writing a chapter of your story, one problem at a time (or maybe a few at a time, depending on your luck).
As I start to see white hairs in my newfound mustache, I inevitably began to contemplate my mortality. And I refuse to be an old man with no stories. As this chapter comes to an end, I hope you remember the middle part that we tend to overlook. The stories of triumph and loss, the discovery of friends you came to rely upon, the deep strength and agility you cultivated to overcome the obstacles that eventually knocked on your door.
Yes, this is the end of our chapter here at 1740. It will be the last chapter at this location. A location that holds so much meaning for all of us and all of those that came before us. The tears, the laughter, the anxiety, the connection. But there is much more to experience and feel. Much more to learn and teach.
I hope that each and every one of you leaves a little footnote in the history books. Hopefully, one of you will fill a chapter. And maybe, one of you will force someone to write an entire book. I hope what you learned on this little plot of land leads to some good in the world. We desperately need it.
Happy graduation, Class of 2023. The last generation at 1740.