“We study here to learn what is valuable in life”

Julian Merkle was one of the students who graduated in December 2018. This is an excerpt from his graduation speech at the Commencement Ceremony. 

Julian Merkle delivering his graduation speech

(…) It takes roughly three years before a child starts asking “wh” questions such as what, who or that infamous “why?”. This marks, in some respects, the birth of a curious mind. In other respects of course, this is a massive nuisance. My mother once told me, that when I was a little kid, I would drill my parents with endless sequences of “whys”, “hows” and follow-up “whys”, forcing them to spend hours looking up how things worked with me in encyclopaedias. I’m glad they did. I think fostering this initial curiosity is what made me into the student –the person– I am today.

(…) Why have we studied here for three years? Why, in a world that tells us to pick a career by the time we’re sixteen, did we go pursue degree which, despite repeated explanation, some of my distant relatives still think is about painting?

We’re a diverse and slightly odd bunch. Some of us came directly from high school, others had taken several gap years travelling the globe, or even completed prior studies. But our differences are also often what unites us. 

We study vastly different things but are united by the fact that we usually can’t decide what we want to study. We differ from each other in our background and ambitions, but are united because we value the fact that we differ. We all have different hobbies but are united by a campus which nourishes those hobbies and allows everyone to experiment with their interests and find out what they really want to pursue. This applies to our future ambitions as well.

I think that’s why we’re here. Not to become what we want to become, but to learn what is valuable in life and figure out who we want to become in the first place. 

We can be a bit lost given the unending choice of future paths, but here we are given the opportunity to dip our toes into a few different worlds while reflecting about how we can make ourselves happy, while helping people around us. And often we find that helping others is what can make us happy.

So while academic and social pressure is often high at the University College, we are still left with a community where we support and empathize with each other, despite our differences. 

A place that, although it doesn’t always look like it, allows you to make mistakes and fall on your face sometimes, in the pursuit of figuring out what it is that’s worth doing. 

For me, this has meant learning that it is not about doing as many things as you can, but about doing the things that are really important to you with all your heart. And that insight I wouldn’t want to trade for a diploma that is easier to explain.