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Photo by Benjamin Swift, Andes & Amazon Semester.

A Commencement Speech

To my group during transference:

I would like to dwell for a moment on where you are. You have been traveling for nearly three months in two countries. You have slept in fifteen hostels and countless different beds, nine campsites, five night buses, a bunk in the jungle, and one homestay, and you have spent countless hours in transport from place to place. You have seen big cities and quiet trails and met people who have shown you the variety of experiences that exist in these places. You have had many charlas that have given you important context, and have learned other lessons simply from observing little things that have changed in your everyday life and the lives of those around you.

Take pride in what you have done. Less than twelve weeks ago you were total strangers, all nervously arriving to the airport for entirely different reasons. Knowing nothing about each other, you gave up your privacy, time, and everything you relied on at home to be present and open with each other from the beginning and create a community that supported everyone.

Returning home and onto other travels and responsibilities will be a dramatic change from the life you have been living. You will have more clothes to choose from, abundant technology access, different foods to eat, and no need to challenge yourself to speak another language. Enjoy this return to familiarity: appreciate the people and places which got you this point and the things that made you who you are. But don’t lose the good you found in the way you lived here. Care less about appearances and social media, find a way to learn more Spanish, read the news but not all day long, questions the things you see around you, and find ways to be present that remind you of the way you felt here. See the good and bad in the difference between your life at home and your life here: how you spend your time and money, what you discuss, and the things around you that seem strange and out of place after being away. Notice these things without any shame: you have changed in ways you expected to and ways you didn’t, whether you wanted to or not.

There were times when you felt ready to leave, as well. Sometimes you wished to just be hanging around with friends instead of struggling to communicate with your host family, who at times felt vastly different from you. Remember them. Be thankful for the way they welcomed you into their family and everything you learned from them: some of it beautiful and some of it feeling ugly. Remember all of the people you encountered, who will soon feel far away.

Most of all you will think of your friends and instructors. You came to live and work together with joy and humor, as well as annoyance and disagreements. They know you in a way no one has before and no one else ever will. Be there for the people in your life from hereon out the way you were here. At times you will feel lonely without them, but at the same time ecstatic to experience the freedom you have missed and longed for. Some of you will go to college next year and feel some distance from your peers, having experienced a strange way of life that will be foreign to them. Know that the people who understand what you have been doing will always be with you, and only a text away, and you will have adventures together ahead of you, even if you won’t all be in the same place in the same way.

Own the independence you now have and even the responsibilities you were avoiding. Keep the changes in yourself that you’r grateful for and love the things you missed, and find a balance between the two that will lead to the life you live after this, one different than the one you expected before coming here. You will each encounter your own emotional and physical challenges just as you did during the last three months, but you will still have your friends supporting you and a million possibilities for your future shaped by the knowledge and understanding you gained here. As David Foster Wallace said in his famous commencement speech, “I wish you more than luck,” and go well.