Remarks by Tesla Cariani, BA Cinema Studies/English
English Majors’ Graduation Reception
May 3rd, 2013
I have been having horrible dreams lately. Usually my subconscious likes to place me as the hero in all sorts of action-adventure plots where I do a lot of running around and a lot of problem-solving at the last minute. But for the last couple weeks, there has been a Film Noir atmosphere with a backdrop of Armageddon. And it’s not surprising. This is a lot. Graduation is a lot. Especially thinking about what am I going to do in my own life, much less what I should say to a room full of people.
So as with any big question, I turned to my roommate for inspiration. As she vigorously scrubbed off the remnants of finals-induced, compulsive-baking before her parents flew in, her advice was: “Just tell them to stop stressing about all of this.” The aforementioned scrubbing might indicate that this is a “do as I say, not as I do” type of moment, but I think the sentiment remains.
I didn’t know I was going to attend Northeastern. I applied mostly as an afterthought— my guidance counselor told me I needed another school, so I snuck my application in 24 hours before it was due. Others in the major should be familiar with this procrastination-meets-deadline work ethic. In fact, here in this room, I’m sure there have been countless (brilliant, I might add) late-night papers typed in a haze of caffeine and heavy metal music – What? Is that last part just me? Okay, insert whatever paper-writing music works best for you.
Anyway, I didn’t know any of that when on accepted student’s Day, I sat in on a session by Professor Leslie about the English Department, and I thought it looked pretty cool. I didn’t know then that she would later help me to sign up for my very first class as a freshman. Nor did I know that she would go onto become the Professor of my English capstone class on “Utopia and its Discontents” last spring– inspiring me to think in new ways, and bringing everything full circle in a way that is satisfying when it happens in a novel and much more so when it happens in life.
So guess what High School Guidance Counselor? Northeastern has turned out to be anything but “a safe option.”
Over the last five years, I have co-oped as a production assistant for a couple of shows on Animal Planet and The Discovery Channel, I have lived in Dublin, Ireland as an International Student Advisor, I have filmed short documentaries in Italy for The American Institute of Roman Culture, and I have come home again to an incredible assortment of friends, family, faculty, and staff who have all made this journey worth-while.
When I recently led an Alternative Spring Break trip to the Puerto Rican Rainforest to help with a sustainable forestry project, we were working alongside a group of students from Vanderbilt. My group was puzzled and hurt when the Vanderbilt students only wanted to hang out with each other and talk about their campus life, despite multiple attempts from my co-team leader and I to engage them and merge the two groups. It occurred to me that this was a quintessentially Northeastern moment. We attract – or create – people here who are curious about the outside world, who want to push boundaries, and are used to interacting with other students who talk about life outside of campus because they have a life outside of campus. I was proud to be a part of a group of students who never stopped trying to reach out and experience fully all that they could, instead of staying in their safely isolated bubbles.
That said, if my relationship with this University was a Facebook status, it would read, “It’s complicated.” And frankly, I would be concerned if it did not. As a chronically over- involved student, an RA, and having been on the board of a handful of clubs here at Northeastern, I have seen this institution from many sides. Northeastern is a lot like the US in that it is still growing up. What has been a very successful business plan to turn a private, commuter-trade school into an up-and-coming research institution has also made it difficult to be a humanities student here. In fact, it can be difficult to be a student of any major here who cares about social & environmental justice.
For example: Why was it so hard to get gender identity and expression into our non- discrimination clause? Why did we have Workers out mulching during the city-wide lockdown, even after the University shut down campus and told students to stay inside? How can this place become a “model of diversity and inclusion” if the Presidential Council on Diversity and Inclusion does not even come close to embodying diversity?
Over the last five years, it has been a struggle to advocate for change at a business- centered institution (our not-for-profit status notwithstanding). Therefore, it is students who have had to take initiative and lead movements: to unionize dinning hall workers, to cut contracts with Chick Fil A and Sodexo, to get an LGBTQA Resource Center on campus, to work with Justice for Janitors, to get gender neutral bathrooms, and to fight with Res Life to treat RAs with more respect.
This university (yes, like many others) is largely focused on money and innovation. Now English majors can innovate no problem, but short of publishing the next Harry Potter series or going to law school, money can present a problem. So we must prove ourselves in other ways and keep fighting with the administration to show (not tell) our value. And I have seen how worthwhile and brilliant the people in this department can be.
To show you, I turned to my “20th Century American Lit: Murder and Unbelonging” notebook. From Professor Brown, we have learned that “quilters shall inherit the earth”, that the world is most likely “60 – 40 evil”, that “Capitalism isn’t just this awesome system,” that “culture beats biology every time”, that “all stories are true and all stories are false”, that “any novel you don’t finish because you die, is not a novel” …and that some of those characters you thought were real? That quite honestly the author (with the exception of Toni Morrison) probably thought were real as well? Some of them aren’t. Dreams crushed. Because the truth is, in
English classes, it is the argument– the process of thinking, of becoming, that is most important.
So to anyone who might still think that this degree isn’t “hard enough” or “legitimate” like physics or engineering is, I challenge you to think about the ways this major has taught us about life, about relationships between people, and about the importance of multiple narratives. Our classes make us think for ourselves— critically, detailed-ly (See, I just innovated a new word), often snarkily, but most of all, in ways that textbooks don’t usually allow for.
I will leave you all with something else that has stuck with me from a survey class I took four years ago with Professor Brown. She more or less said, “If there is nothing new under the sun, reinvent it” So I challenge everyone in this room to re-forge the sun. And to Think about That. Thank you.