My Commencement Address (Temple University: 5/22/08)

By Christopher Wink | May 22, 2008 | Temple University Commencement Address

Seventeen hours ago I got off a plane from South Dakota, having spent my last week as a Temple student working with members of the Lakota Nation. It was another lesson in community.

Temple University’s graduating Class of 2008, today, we are graduating together from a long series of such lessons. Indeed, we are not just graduating from a university, but an entire community, something I have learned with a wonderful intimacy through my tenure here.

As I have learned about community, I have learned of the true expansiveness of Temple. See, the neighborhoods of Philadelphia, too numerous for me to know in entirety, have taken on a richness and a vibrancy like I never before realized they could.

So, we are not just graduating from college today. We are graduating from Yorktown, and the Fairhill projects, and the Hunting Park Post Office, and the corner of 18th and Norris, and the 3300-block of North Park Avenue. We haven’t just learned how to be graduates, but community members, block leaders, Eagles fans. We are Philadelphians.

That is because the task of a Temple graduate is to love where you are, yet be readied for the challenges that wait beyond. There is no better demonstration of that than the Temple ‘T’s that seem to surround us even today.

They serve as apt proof of how far Temple students have gone and will almost certainly continue to go. I have brought them to Ghana in West Africa myself, and I have seen them in Tokyo for months at a time. They hang over the streets of Rome in the same way they hang over the streets of Philadelphia. It is just one more way that Temple has helped us all to better understand this world and its communities.

Still, today I feel, as many of you may, unsure of where my talents, my training, my interests will ultimately lead me, of what life has planned for me and what I have planned for life. But I take solace in that, like many of you around me, I am so much nearer to knowing than I was four years ago.

Our place in history will not be determined by our uncertainty on this day.

Because we can all write our own stories of success, of adventure, of happiness, in which we play the leading role, the main character, the hero, ourselves. But if our stories are to be true, if they are to be honest, they also will involve a community. The backdrop of our education at Temple has always been Philadelphia, perhaps for worse but more surely for better.

I spent the past four years in Room 243 of the Student Center, toiling late at night and early in the morning writing for The Temple News, the 86-year-old newspaper that serves this broad university community. But, I wasn’t just writing about the construction of the new Fox School or the growing success of our athletic teams, however exciting that may be. I was writing about the orphanage on Willington Street, St. Malachy’s at 11th and Master, about the Village of Arts and Humanities and the Philadelphia Doll Museum.

Temple students are served best when these places serve us as classrooms – and they often do.

So those Temple ‘T’s, in one way or another, have already been put in place almost everywhere I have gone. Temple students and faculty and staff have helped there before, we help there now, we must certainly help there in the future. This is our obligation.

Of course, that is something that is most certainly unique about this university. There is nothing easy, there is nothing faceless about four years on North Broad Street.

Yes, we have gained the knowledge of how to learn, we have read the great writers and thought the great thinkers, as have all those who graduate from this country’s great universities. But so many fewer have tried parking outside of the Norris Homes, so many fewer have caught the orange line northbound at Cecil B. Moore, so many fewer have lived amid the intermingling of some of the most diverse communities this nation can offer. This is our gift.

Like some of you, I have been writing this speech for years now, though I only just put pen to paper on an overcast morning a few weeks ago, the first warm winds of the spring bringing a change of season, reminding me of the forging yet to be done of my legacy. That begins for me, like my friends and intimates and peers around me, today. The day we graduate. The day we carry Temple and all that we learned here into the future.

I cannot see that future; I cannot remedy the past, but I do know that I have been given everything I need to someday be proud of both. For that, I thank Temple University, the city of Philadelphia, my family, my friends and everyone sitting around me today. I hope we all do.

So let us take our gift, keep in mind our obligation, and go forth, as graduates of a community.