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- by  Jess Franks
Below is the entirety of student speaker and graduating senior Jess Franks’ 2022 commencement speech, given at New College of Florida on Fri. May 20 on the College Hall bayfront.

Thanks to all of you for being here with us today to celebrate. The education I received at New College has been uniquely exceptional, challenging, and collaborative, and would not be anything of note without the extraordinary professors that dedicate their time and knowledge to teaching and supporting us.

But with that in mind, I don’t want to focus my speech on the education that New College provides, because—to be honest—I expected it to be good, and that’s why I came here. What I didn’t expect, or really know anything about prior to coming here, was how New College would influence me outside of my formal education.

New College has given me so much. When I came here in 2018, I thought I had myself pretty figured out. But in reality, I had so much more discovery ahead of me. But there’s no place I would’ve rather explored myself than here.

In the past few months, I have spent a lot of time reflecting and sitting with nostalgic feelings. This has led me to a couple of realizations about my time here and what New College has taught me. First, New College taught me how to breathe. As silly as it sounds, it’s true. I grew up in Chicago and went to a very competitive high school. It was always go go go, focus on your future, and be the best at everything. But as soon as I got to New College, everyone was on a different pace.

Nobody was in a rush to get anywhere. Nobody was judging me for going at my own pace, and I certainly wasn’t the only one consistently late to class! In academia, we so often get caught up with achievements and goals in the pursuit of perfection that we forget to stop, look around, and breathe. In my first semester here, I learned how to do just that: take a deep breath.

From spending sunsets at the bay to exploring the natural beauty of our campus at night to taking a nap in the banyan tree, the opportunities for serenity at this school are endless. New College manages to have such successful students because of this skill, not in spite of it—to enjoy the beauty and stillness that comes with life.

My second realization revolves around the importance of community. Don’t get me wrong, New College culture has a far way to come, but we can all agree that a sense of community persists here. When a lot of us come to New, we are fresh out of our parents’ homes and fairly inexperienced at being independent. But there is a culture here of community support that you simply do not find everywhere.

If I needed some flour to bake a cake, some stamps to send a letter, roommates for the summer, a ride to the grocery store, or even random life advice, all I had to do was send a quick email to the forum with the subject “[seeking] XYZ” and that thing would be in my hands as soon as I knew it.

Though I am still grateful, the generosity of these students on the forum does not even approach that of the friends I have made here, whose level of support cannot be expressed in a five-minute graduation speech. Though contrary to American individualist ideals, it is here at New College I learned to find strength in community.

Now, I don’t want to spend all of my time up here commiserating on the last four years. As nostalgic as I am, this moment is exciting! And this is an optimistic and hopeful time in our lives. We have accomplished an incredible feat: obtaining an undergraduate degree amidst a global pandemic, not to mention writing an honors thesis on top of our coursework. I cannot help but feel a little cheated, missing out on a solid year and a half of real social activities that we may have otherwise had here.

But despite this, I feel so filled with gratitude and knowledge passed on to me through professors and peers alike. I have found lifelong friends here. And, as our cohort goes our separate ways, I hope that we keep those values and life lessons we learned here, and share them with the new friends that we are bound to make soon enough.

Before we get to celebrate, I must thank my cohort for nominating me to share some words with you on this very special occasion. I’d like to thank the many families here today for supporting all of us through this journey.

And I’d like to thank those lifelong friends that we’ve made, and even those friends that we’ve lost, for being our family when our relatives weren’t near us. I hope you will take today and the coming months to practice what New College has taught so many of us: to find solace and strength in your community, and take a deep breath.

Watch the New College of Florida Commencement 2022 here.