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May 24, 2008

Farewell Remarks of Nate Parker ’08

Pepper Prize winner says, “You can find the same physics, calculus, and history text books at any college or university – but it has been the people in my life who have been the source of my greatest happiness and who have truly educated me.”

Nathan Parker ’08 delivered farewell remarks for the class of 2008 at the 173rd Commencement. He is the recipient of the George Wharton Pepper Prize, awarded to the senior who “most closely represents the Lafayette ideal.” Parker, of Milford, N.H., received an A.B. degree with a major in biology.

This is slightly more intimidating than my bathroom mirror. Good afternoon classmates, our families and friends, members of the Lafayette community, and distinguished guests. I still really can’t believe that I’m being rewarded in this way for simply doing the things I’ve enjoyed these past four years.

I’m humbled to stand in front of you today, in front of students who’ve led our student government, students who’ve traveled across the world to study here with us, stellar Division I student-athletes, engineers, and students who seemingly major in every subject available at Lafayette at the same time. I’m quite certain that I pale in intellect compared to the standard Pepper Prize recipient, but I can pretty much guarantee you one thing: That I am the only recipient notified of the honor while standing in line waiting for Italian ice at Rita’s.

It is with great honor that I address the Lafayette College Class of 2008—an incredible group of which I am extremely proud to be a member.

First, I’d like to give my personal thanks to my friends and peers in our class, to the faculty and staff who have helped me, to my friends in the Easton Community, and to my own family for their unwavering support and love. I know every one of my classmates would extend the same thanks to the special individuals in their lives.

As I stumbled around on the internet searching for inspiration for my speech, I came across a quote by Senator George Wharton Pepper on a less-than-legitimate website. But have no fear, distinguished faculty, I did find this quote in its original source and was able to validate it. When speaking at the opening of the Free Library of Philadelphia in 1926, Senator Pepper told the crowd, “Let the books greet you as more than acquaintances—for you will get your greatest happiness out of friendship with them.”

Now, I don’t want to argue with the distinguished alumnus who established this award, but I don’t think Senator Pepper would have made the same comment here at Lafayette today. After all, you can find the same physics, calculus, and history text books at any college or university—although I have heard rumors that Lehigh uses the abridged versions—but it has truly been the people in my life who have been the source of my greatest happiness and who have truly educated me over these past four years.

We have all felt the powerful impact of members of the Lafayette Community acting on our lives—including fellow students, faculty members, and administrators. Today I’d like to pay tribute to three constituencies beyond College Hill by sharing what I have learned from them. The last thing I feel comfortable doing is lecturing anyone here on life lessons; please take these instead as gifts I have been grateful to receive from relationships, and gifts that I now share with you.

First, I’d like to honor my grandparents, two of whom are here today. From them I have learned about longevity not only in their marriage, but in the amazingly strong relationships they have maintained throughout their lives. My grandpa passed away in Colorado 15 weeks ago, but he would, I know, be very proud. From my grandpa I learned to live simply. I watched my dad, mom, aunt and uncle as my grandpa’s condition worsened, and from them I learned about the fragility of life and how important sacrifices are in order to help those we love.

I have enjoyed spending much of my free time here at Lafayette in the local community, where I’ve learned a great deal about social issues and the real world beyond our Hill. Best Buddies is a service organization dedicated to enhancing the lives of adults with intellectual disabilities. Through Best Buddies, I found an amazing friend: my Buddy Boyce—who I’m proud to say is sitting here with us today.

From Boyce and the many adults involved in our campus’s chapter of Best Buddies, I’ve learned that each and every individual has special, unique abilities to contribute to a relationship. We gain so much more by looking past labeled disabilities and concentrating on those ever-present abilities. Additionally, the children at the Spring Garden Children’s Center in Easton have taught me the importance of dreaming. These relationships have proven to me that dedicated individuals and small groups can play immensely important roles in improving the lives of others.

My Lafayette education took me to the Navajo Nation, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, and Honduras—and each place provided unique opportunities to learn from individuals around me. Living in rural Kenya, I learned from my host families and friends never to take any of my blessings or opportunities for granted—from the simplicity of having clean drinking water at the turn of a faucet, to the complexity of navigating the Lafayette College curriculum. I left these places with deep appreciation for the daily struggles my friends there confront with undeniable strength and resilience.

We deserve to celebrate today and beyond—with the pride of graduating, congratulations from family and friends, and the success we’ll find as we utilize this education down the road. But perhaps it’s more important to recognize that we are all incredibly blessed. And blessings, I think, are blessings because they allow us to make a difference in others’ lives. I sincerely hope that each and every one of our futures involves not just the pursuit of achievement, but also of great happiness. In that pursuit, let us remember the importance of the connections we make with every person around us and remember to look for the lessons—the abilities—that each individual offers.

Thank you all, and congratulations to the Lafayette College Class of 2008.

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