Speaks of the Importance of Human Connection in Monroe Prize Acceptance Speech

Thank you for your support and for all you’ve invested in the inspiring organizations like Campus Kitchen and Sharpe that are truly responsible for me standing up here. I also want to thank a special few of you who pointed out to me (quite awkwardly I might add) that you have absolutely no idea to what civic engagement and for that matter, civic leadership refer. That makes sense, engagement is often tossed in with phrases like citizen participation, community service, volunteerism, and countless other buzzwords. Some hear it through religious organizations and others through politics, but for many, the idea of engaging is simply inaccessible.

That’s tough for me to accept. I attribute so much of my connection with this school and all those of met while learning here to engagement.  So I’m thinking that maybe it needs to be explained a different way. Think about it this way:  if you strip away all the layers of all the things that make up a life, a single commonality is revealed – the desire for human connection. You take an individual at any stage of life, shed their countless belongings, remove all the memories and other intangibles. Just discard all the little variants that make each person unmatchable. What you’ll find is an innate tendency for one human being to explore, to learn from, and to ultimately connect with another human being.

You can’t argue that you’re not familiar with this phenomenon. That’s how we’ve met our closest friends, new romances, and our classmates here at the College. We are constantly learning form one another, finding new connections and rediscovering older ones. Above all else, it is these connections that determine our identity. We become the sum of all those we meet.

The next step is when it gets a little more challenging. For some, investigating outside our immediate domain is quite natural as these people may volunteer and serve simply because it’s what they grew up doing. For others, something has to change. An experience brings them to serve. But some are still waiting for that experience to hit them (whether they realize that or not).

Thinking about service this way makes it so much more organic. Each of us has already had years of practice.

Engagement lies in an awareness of these potential connections and more specifically, an awareness that the connections outside our comfort zone can link cultures, generations, and perspectives.

Charter Day is a perfect time to evaluate our connections. I know that I stand here before you because of each and every one of mine – my exceptionally supportive and compassionate parents, mentors like Joel Schwartz and Drew Stelljes, and my families at the Campus Kitchen, Sharpe, the Rec Center, and Kappa Alpha Theta. The lectures, the laughter, the informal conversations fuel my engagement. For me, it’s a self-sustaining circle.

As the seasons change and William and Mary ages another year, I urge you to look to the future and see what connections and relationships you might want to explore.  The best part about that is, you already know exactly what you’re doing.  It’s something you’ve done since you were born and something you do long after William and Mary turns 319.

by Molly Bulman