Remarks to the Class of 2021
by Senior Class Speaker Emir Kulluk '21
103rd Commencement
May 20, 2021

Class of 2021, esteemed faculty, dedicated staff, loving parents and families, friends, it is a great honor to be here before you today and to welcome you to Connecticut College’s 103rd Commencement!

For those of you who could not be here today and who are watching online, thank you for tuning in on this important day. For my mother and grandmother who are watching live from Turkey, sizi cok seviyorum ve yanaklarinizdan opuyorum.

These past two years have been filled with challenges of global proportions: a pandemic; an economic recession, and so many other issues slowing our pursuit for a better world; the rise in gun violence and hate against Asian people, Black people, and immigrants. All these are reminders of the fragile world we live in. Some would say that we have been living through multiple pandemics simultaneously.

And there were challenges closer to home. Many of us lost a loved one to COVID-19 or know someone who did. If we think back to last year at this time, most of us were isolated in our bedrooms, trying to fulfill our major requirements, reworking our plans for the summer, while separated from our communities to keep them safe.

For myself personally, I faced the uncertainty of being sent back home. I remember many of my American friends asking what I was going to do. Could I even study from Istanbul, Turkey? Little did I know that I would end up staying on this campus, without a break, for the next 15 months.

All of us made sacrifices, uncertain how these sacrifices would affect our future. We experienced longing: for our past; for a time where we could live together with less than six feet between us; for a world that felt less chaotic and uncertain.

And in the midst of all this, we lost our dear friend Hans. Whether it was his optimism and friendly spirit that shone brightly throughout campus and brightest in the Sprout Garden, or his desire always to make the world a better place——by doing something as small as fixing the swingset behind Harkness Chapel or as large as addressing climate change——he was a person who radiated the warmth of community and gave us all a sense of hope for the future.

These were the not insignificant challenges and sacrifices we faced together as a class. And, like me, I am sure there were times when you felt a bit lost.

It was in those moments that I often found myself turning to a special poem by one of my favorite Turkish poets, Nazim Hikmet. The poem is called “On Living,” and I wanted to share some of it with you today. It begins:

“Living is no joke,

you must live with great seriousness

like a squirrel for example,

I mean expecting nothing except and beyond living,

I mean living must be your whole occupation.”

That first line, “Living is no joke,” turned into my personal motto, as I decided to adapt to what life had become, and to get busy.

I got busy building a half-acre farm next to the Sprout Garden. I got busy working for a Conn alumnus to build a startup company. I got busy putting the liberal arts into action, and so did you.

You got busy by making music, enrolling in summer classes, creating workout challenges. You got busy supporting communities in need, listening to voices that are not always heard, educating yourself about the history and sociopolitical dynamics of this country.

It is easy enough to want to relive a specific joyous moment, like jumping to lovelytheband at Floralia or cheering on the club hockey team as they play against the Coast Guard. But it is just as easy to think about and admire all the amazing things we were able to do on a daily basis.

Whether it was choreographing dance routines, creating costumes for a play, hosting an open mic night, publishing a newspaper, practicing a capella, coding a video game, representing Conn through athletics–—all while attending classes–—we have pushed through against all odds.

On one of the last stanzas of his poem, Hikmet goes on to say:

“We’ll still live with the outside,

with its people and animals, struggle and wind-

                           I mean with the outside

beyond the walls.

I mean, however and wherever we are,

         we must live as if we will never die.”

To get to this moment today, it certainly seemed like we had to live by this ideal. And we have to keep doing so. That means getting busy in the present to make the world we want now. That is the only way we can remain hopeful for the future.

Yes, it is time for us to leave this campus, but we will not be entering the world unprepared. Our experiences over the past four years, and especially the past two, have set us up well for the rich and beautiful challenges ahead.

I encourage you to stay adaptable, informed, and for forever open to growth. Seize this life with your whole heart, as you have done throughout your time at Connecticut College. And never forget that living is no joke.

Thank you and congratulations, Class of 2021.

After delivering his speech and pausing for applause, Emir Kulluk says:

And now, please welcome Dean of the Faculty Jeffrey Cole.