beta, have you eaten?: convocation speech, Rollins College

I thought I would share my new student convocation remarks.  The beginning of the school year is my favorite season.  It is a season of hope and optimism- when families entrust us, as college educators, with their students… to facilitate their students’ imagination and creation of a better future than their own.   Would love your thoughts.

I’m Mamta Accapadi, vice president for student affairs. On behalf of the student affairs team, I offer a warm welcome to all of you, the class of 2018 and transfer students!

As you can probably tell, from well… everyone around you, we have been eagerly awaiting your arrival! You are on, quite possibly, one of the most significant journeys of your lifetime. As I was preparing my thoughts for all of you, my daughter asked me what I was doing, and while I explained, she said to me to be sure to talk about love- she insisted that college students needed to hear about love, because that is the most important thing. So- let’s reflect on love.

Now, I am not talking about love that we see in the movies, or something that is fleeting… I am talking about the love that is patient and kind, the love that is anchored in commitment, mutual respect and liberation. The love that is unconditional and infinite.  Love manifests itself in different forms so I thought it might make sense to reflect on some of those forms, as I share my hopes for all of you while you are here.

So while you are here, I hope you all cultivate a sense of love… for yourself. While on your journey to self discovery, what does it look like, what does it feel like, to gift yourself the opportunity to unconditionally and unapologetically commit to your well-being and joy? I encourage you to take advantage of every moment, every class discussion, every service initiative, every conversation, every activity. How will you engage in experiences and explore your passions in a way that bring you closer to understanding yourself, respecting yourself, and creating a thriving learning environment for yourself?

I also hope you cultivate a sense of love of community. Love of community is a part of the fabric of our liberal arts institution, where our faculty and staff create a learning environment that inspires us to apply what we learn in service of others. Some of you will do research with faculty, some of you will go on, or plan immersions, some of you will join organizations- no matter what it is you do- my hope is that it takes you closer to an unconditional commitment, a love, of community and of giving back to others. It is this kind of love that has transformed the world. I share with you a poem by one of my favorite poets, 1913 nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, whose voice was instrumental in India’s liberation from British colonial rule.

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high.
Where knowledge is free.
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls.
Where words come out from the depth of truth.
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection.
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action.
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

Tagore is an example of how a poet can ignite the passion of a nation, and I want you all to have experiences that ignite your passion, in a way that elevates your sense of shared humanity and a shared liberation… in a way that shows your love of community and sustains our democracy. I especially hope you reflect on what it means to have love of community, this weekend when you participate in SPARC Day where you will serve alongside your classmates, faculty, staff and alumni at non-profit organizations across Central Florida to help build a better community.

A crucial component of cultivating love of self, and love of community, is the ability to recognize love. During my first year of college, when I would talk with my mom on the phone, the first thing she always asked, after how are you… was “beta (my child), did you eat?”… Almost as if it was yesterday, I can remember one point in the semester when things were just a little more stressful than usual- and on the phone, she could sense something was wrong… and she asked the question “beta did you eat?”… and I broke down, and began to yell, and cry, and yell. How can you possibly focus on my food, when I am failing physics??

I didn’t realize it then, but I realize it now… “beta, did you eat” has nothing to do with my consumption of food- it did have everything to do with my mother articulating in the best way she knew how, that she was there for me. Beta did you eat- was code- for I love you. As you engage in transition into this new community, remember that it is a transition for not just you, but your loved ones, your friends, your peers.

Amidst all this transition, how will we do our best to be our best selves, and recognize that the people around us are hopefully trying to be their best and most loving selves too? How will you recognize the cues of the unconditionally committed folks around you? Could it look like the invitation to a faculty member’s office hours? Could it look like one of your peers intervening in a social setting to make sure you are safe? Could it be talking to one of our counselors in the counseling center? On our campus, you will see that (and I know you have already seen) that there are people ready to serve and support you. A part of recognizing the love around us, is offering gratitude to those who have given so much to us, so we can be where we are right now. Can we take a moment to offer gratitude in the form of applause for those folks right now? My parents often referred to the phrase by the late president John F Kennedy, as we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.

For those of you who live in the wizarding world, one of my personal mentors, Albus Dumbledore, shared with my friend Harry, that “It is our choices that show us who we truly are, far more than our abilities.” Lets talk about the socially awkward, timid, and failed practicing attorney, a 24 year old man from India, who upon moving to South Africa, engaged his love of self and community to become the Mahatma Gandhi we know of today. His choices led him to greatness, not his abilities. In life, we are always at the intersection of opportunity and circumstance- our challenge is to make the choices that leverage these two concepts for the greater good.

So, my hope for each one of you is that you anchor yourself in love- that you can recognize and honor it, that you have love of self, and love of community. And- that you choose the journey of personal liberation, the journey that takes you from who you are to who you never even imagined you could be.

With that, I also leave you with my mother’s words… Beta, have you eaten?

Thank you, and Fiat Lux!


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