|Valedictorian Cole Speidel delivered the following speech at CBA’s graduation ceremony on June 2. Speidel will be attending the University of Pennsylvania this fall.
I extend a warm welcome to the Jubilee Class of 1963, Brother Dennis Malloy, Brother Joseph Jozwiak, Board of Trustees, administration, faculty, family, and friends.
To the 2013, I say congratulations. Well done.
Today, I want to talk to you about imaginary lines. And I want to start by taking you back to your first geography lesson.
It’s first or second grade, and your teacher points to the middle of a globe, showing you the equator. She tells you it divides the world between north and south, and you wonder if there is a big red line painted on the ground somewhere, like the yellow lines you’ve seen in roads. But then she says these words: “The equator is an imaginary line.”
And you think about that. You know the word imagination: your parents marvel at yours and maybe you have a friend that exists within it, so you understand the idea of a fictional line separating the northern and southern hemispheres.
That’s where it starts. We familiarize ourselves with the idea that with one step we can cross a state line, a national border, even the boundary between entire hemispheres. With a walk across this stage, we cross a line today, an educational Rubicon, and it signifies an achievement years in the making, a recognition years in the earning.
But, more profoundly, I would like to focus on one kind of imaginary line: the intangible rather than the physical, whose crossing brings us to a new way of thinking rather than a new location, yet which resembles a brick wall rather than a simple stepping-stone.
These exist between my fork and your food, between our personal spaces. They exist all over human society, between nations and neighbors; in conversation, when we avoid that awkward topic. We stay within these lines because we feel we should, or think we need to. They define what is proper, correct, and right.
These imaginary lines yield physical manifestations. Look to the American South in the early twentieth century or apartheid in South Africa to see them. A man believes another man is inferior based solely on the color of his skin. This imaginary boundary between men develops into ideas of class and caste, where origin of birth determines quality of life. An observational distinction made long ago develops into wooden signs reading “colored” or “whites only”, into financial, residential, and educational differences highlighting economic disparity, into a line of poll taxes, tests, and shaking heads at the voting booth. All products of a single imaginary line.
Until one day, a man believes that the imaginary line between himself and his dream is not so broad. That maybe the holding of hands, the struggle of a century, the dedication of a life can cross that line. Perhaps these lines are not ours, class of 2013, but they are our history, influencing our present.
Our world has countless imaginary lines, products of fear, misunderstanding, doubt. They appear every day between us and they require effort to pull away. Each part of the 2013 spoke before the year ended, and we expressed a desire to have known our classmates better earlier. My question is: what held us back? We did.
We created the imaginary lines labeled cool, or athletic, or attractive, or smart, we created lines between ourselves and we stayed within them. We stayed in those comfort zones so long that the time spent living within our imaginary social structure seems wasted now.
Breaking down imaginary lines means healing. Breaking boundaries between people encourages cooperation and reconciliation. So, I challenge you. Is there someone you come in contact with every day but never reach out to? Reexamine what’s stopping you.
Still, I’ve saved maybe the most important imaginary lines for last: those that exist between who we are and who we wish to be, the lines we or others place between our goals and ourselves.
Imagine a map. It’s old, the parchment frayed and yellowed. In the middle you see Europe and Africa, well=traveled areas captured in detail. Asia appears a splotch beside these continents, the lack of meaningful exploration resulting in an unsure shape. Australia and the Americas don’t exist yet, according to this map. Instead, a thick line edges the map on all sides, and beyond lies nothing. Scrawled all along this line in a cautionary script are the words “Here there be dragons.”
Yet, explorers crossed that line. And when they entered the waters beyond they beheld dolphins instead of monsters.
So, class of 2013, I believe we have a very big problem with imaginary lines. Here we stand on the edge of our maps. We’ve explored all that we can here, and although we don’t literally expect dragons to descend upon us when we get on campus this fall, we will face challenges that stand between us and the greatness beyond. And crossing these lines will be hard enough without the can’ts and won’ts we force upon ourselves.
Challenge the imaginary lines, because in the end, they were never really there to begin with.
- CAMPUS MINISTRY