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Graduation: East Class of 2016 speech by Blake Bullwinkel

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Graduation: East Class of 2016 speech by Blake Bullwinkel

Good morning members of staff, teachers, family, viewers around the world, and of course, the Class of 2016.

The last two years have been an extraordinary time for us. I think it’s safe to say we have just lived through the two most challenging yet rewarding, stressful yet enjoyable, and exhausting yet exhilarating years of our lives. But before I say more about that, I want to take this opportunity to thank the people who have been there for us since day one, and who made possible our UWC experience, and in particular our journey through the college over the past two years.

First, thank you teachers, for always being there to answer our questions, whether in person or via email at one in the morning. Thank you for showing us what it means to be a part of the UWC movement both inside and outside of the classroom. And above all, thank you for instilling in us a deep desire to continue learning and exploring.

Second, thank you to the administration and everyone else on the school staff, for spending countless hours often behind the scenes making possible so much of what we do and of what we pride ourselves on as members of this community – including all of this .

And finally, thank you to parents and family, for the guidance, support and love that have kept us going pretty much non-stop for the best part of the last two years. Thank you for dealing with our erratic sleeping habits. Thank you for trusting us when we ventured outside of Singapore with our friends on project week. Thank you for always being there for us.

It is these people and so many others whom we have to thank for this extraordinary time in our lives and this culminating moment we’re here to commemorate today. So over the last few weeks I spent some time doing what UWC students do best and reflected on this period of time in the context of the wider world. But instead of a carefully crafted CAS blog, what came out of that reflection was a realization that we have been living in what has been and will always be remembered as an extraordinary time in history. To paraphrase Charles Dickens, you might even say we’ve been living in “the best of times and the worst of times.”

What do I mean by that? Well, it has on the one hand been a time of severe economic hardship for many people, and we’ve seen massive increases in income inequality and millions still living in poverty all around the world.

On the other hand it has been a time of remarkable progress towards reducing global inequities. Much of that progress will likely become apparent in the near future and just last year, Bill and Melinda Gates made a bet that “the lives of people in poor countries will improve faster in the next 15 years than at any other time in history.”

We have, on the one hand, witnessed growing political tensions and extremism, including increased political polarization and a rise in global terrorism, with horrific attacks that have been felt around the world.

As shocking as these have been, at the same time, historically speaking, we’ve been lucky enough to live in an era of unprecedented global peace and stability.

It has been a time, on multiple continents, of increased isolationism and nationalism. The US presidential campaign and the Republican primaries, for example, have way too often been defined by fear, racial tension, and intolerance.

But it has also been a period marked by major achievements in international collaboration. At the global level, we witnessed 196 nations reach a landmark agreement in Paris to cut fossil fuel emissions. If all goes according to plan, the Earth might still have a shot at survival, and Haze Day 2k16 will be both the first and the last Haze Day to reach East campus. While that would probably be for the better, I’m sure we all appreciated the extra time on that September morning to sleep in and check up on Facebook – I mean Teamie!

Looking back on those events, we see some clear trends that run in parallel, but we also see contradictions. It’s remarkable that everything I just talked about happened in the last two years. But this brief overview of recent events provides a snapshot of the extraordinary time in which we’ve been living, and of the world that we all find ourselves in today.

As we reflect on these trends and events, I think that we are called upon to ask “what does all of this mean for us?” I doubt that there is any single answer to that question, and I think that it’s important for each of us – as individuals – to decide what it means. But I also think that we, as UWC students – as members of this global and exceptionally diverse school community – will have the opportunity to play a unique role as we move more deeply into the wider world. Because although we’ve spent a lot of the past two years busily working towards the final IB exams, we’ve been engaged externally as well.

In fact, I think that in many ways our experience on campus has been reflective of the world at large. Take economic inequality: when you consider the dichotomy between prosperity and hardship, you can look across our community and see students who have had financial advantages that others have not. But we have been and are one community, each of us learning from the other, and somehow those differences receded into the background.

When it comes to conflict, I mentioned that we’ve witnessed a global increase in political polarization: Labor versus Conservative, Democrat versus Republican, Republican versus Republican, Kim Jong Un versus the rest of the world. But none of these compare to our own homegrown crisis right here on campus – yes! – varsity jackets versus hoodies. At the height of tensions there was threat of protest and talk of revolution, but luckily we were ultimately able to resolve the conflict by non-violent means, and have for the most part enjoyed an overwhelmingly peaceful environment.

And finally, when we consider the global tension between nationalism and international cooperation in the context of UWC, I think we’d all agree that we’ve been living, as Dickens would have said, in the very best of times. Of course, each of us has a nationality. We are proud of our heritage, proud of where we came from – that pride was on dazzling display not just during Culturama but every day of the year, including today. At the same time I think we’d all agree that our sense of community at UWC somehow transcends those national identities.

So what emerges from all of this? Well, looking back at the last two years and considering both what we’ve witnessed around the world and what we’ve experienced here – as students at UWC but also as members of the wider global community – I think that we are compelled to ask: “What have we learned? And what are we to do with that learning?”

Now I’m not going to pretend that I know the answer to that question, or suggest that our generation somehow has solutions to all the world’s problems. But I do truly believe that we, as a cohort, have something special to offer. When you consider who we are and what we have achieved during these extraordinary two years – what we have achieved as individuals but more importantly what we have achieved collectively – it’s not difficult to imagine the opportunities we will have to drive change in the future. 

And as we look to that future with the hope of change on the horizon, we can draw inspiration from what Barack Obama said in 2008. He said: “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”

Here today, we are 173 students from over 40 countries all across the world.

We represent a multitude of races, ethnicities, and beliefs.

We are individuals defined by our own values and the values of the UWC community.

We are, all of us, imbued with a strong sense of purpose and, by virtue of our experience here, uniquely equipped to contribute to our communities and the world as a whole.

We are the class of 2016! 

Thank you.

Blake Bullwinkel 
Speaker for Class of 2016
East Campus



14 Jun 2016
Media and Republish

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