Future Nostalgia

As you’re researching colleges, keep in mind that one of the best ways to get to know a school is to listen to what current students themselves have to say about their experience. Whether that’s by reading a student blog (congrats, you’re already doing it!), talking to current students, emailing them with questions, or taking a tour, hearing about the school from the eyes of someone who is currently where you might be in a couple years is really important.

However, the cleverest among you may already be arguing that current students may never fully answer your questions because they would never bash their school in front of a prospective student, right? Well, first of all, as Taylor and I have both mentioned before, these blogs are 100% Real Talk Central, so we’re giving you the full answers here. But, if you still don’t trust us, there’s a loophole in all this: if you want to hear a student’s perspective on their school in the truest form, listen to commencement speeches. And this goes for all the schools you're considering, not just Amherst.

I spent most of Friday in the office watching videos and hearing audio of Amherst Commencement speeches with the other interns. This is not the first time I’ve done this; in fact, I spent an entire morning avoiding writing a paper during my freshman year going through the Amherst website and watching old Commencement and Senior Assembly speeches. In Amherst, seniors vote for three senior speakers; the one with most votes does the Senior Class Address during Commencement, and the next two speak during Senior Assembly, which is held during the last couple weeks of school.

A senior’s parting words are just as helpful for prospective students as for current students; they can help you realize what you will miss most about the school after four years here, what you will have enjoyed the most, what recommendations you may have for future Amherst students. Commencement speeches are the words of a student looking back on their college experience and articulating what has had the most effect on them, what has moved them most, what has made them laugh the most, what they've learned, and what about the school in particular has added to his/her own personal development, and that of his/her classmates. They are the most honest words you can hear from a student about their own school, because they weren’t written for prospective students in mind, but for others who have shared in the Amherst experience – the good and ugly parts alike. They do, of course, also give you a sense of future nostalgia as you wonder what you'll be missing after four years on this campus. 

So, to spare you the time, I have gone through and compiled what I think are the best Amherst Commencement speeches from the last couple years, so they are still fresh and relevant. If you want to find more of them, however, here is the page for all the speeches since 2000. Some of them are videos, some are just audio clips, but all equally good. Without further ado, here are my three favorites from each event (click on their names to hear them):

Senior Assembly speakers:
PanZach CherrySpencer Russel
         Pan Ventrakaman '09
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                         Zachary J. Cherry ’10
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                             Spencer Russell ’12
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             This one is hilarious.                                      This one is also really funny.                         This one is funny but also very honest.                                                                                                        
Senior Class Addresses:
Dan ClucheyMarshall NannesElias Johansson-Miller
        Daniel J. Cluchey '08
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                               Marshall Nannes '09
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                       Elias Johansson-Miller ’12


Dan Cluchey: This is the quintessential Amherst Commencement speech. Hilarious but really clever and meaningful. (You can read along with Dan's here.)

Marshall Nannes: This one is the most relevant to tours, so you'll find it especially funny. It is brutally honest. (you can read along with Marshall's here.)

Elias Johansson-Miller: This is the most recent one, and is incredibly good. Elias is really entertaining but also really understands the Amherst experience and speaks beautifully about it. 

And, of course, I can't write a blog post about Commencement speeches and not mention David Foster Wallace's 2005 Commencement speech in Kenyon College. It is everybody's favorite Commencement speech. D.F.W. graduated from Amherst in 1985 and wrote several incredibly intelligent novels, of which the most well known is Infinite Jest. I've linked his speech here before, but you can never read it too often. In fact, that speech is one of the many reasons I'm in Amherst College in the first place. Listen to it if you haven't already.