And yet another academic year is drawing to a close… Many of you must already be packing, probably trying to get rid of microwaves, plates, and bedside tables, everything that you will not be able to carry with you on your next academic adventures – as you are set to leave Reims in a few days, I wanted to catch you one last time and write you a note, in lieu of a proper speech. From afar, this is my send-off to you.
First, though, please allow me a friendly salute to the first year cohort, probably the friendliest and most disciplined (in a positive way, Mr. Foucault!) group of students to ever set foot at René Tys – I wish you guys a wonderful summer and I am sure your second year will just follow in your predecessors’ successful footsteps. Thank you again to my Political Theory class for a wonderful first semester!
To second year students now – before anything, congratulations for making it this far, for your achievements in class and outside, for not giving up when things perhaps got a little rough. Congratulations to all of you who remain modest in the most impressive accomplishments. Congratulations to everyone for getting over two winters in Reims, and for standing up to, and later staring down, that most dreadful year 2016 and what seemed then to be its endless series of disasters and setbacks. The clouds are set to lift in 2017 and I am convinced that you are all moving on to third year with your sails filled with optimism and a touch of impatience for things to come. Take a moment to pause and relish that feeling. You incarnate the sprit of conquest that’s apparently so dans l’air du temps (when riding that feeling, though, keep away from its disgraceful twin, usurpation). Today, you are the definition of success. Be proud. As you know, the first two years at Reims were meant to challenge you, and you’ve stepped up to the plate – you’ve met the challenge. It wasn’t so bad after all, was it?
Don’t get me wrong, though. The journey does not stop here. Success has this great feature that its boundaries can ever be stretched – so please keep pushing these boundaries, and never become complacent. For your own sake, I sincerely hope that nothing ever comes to you easy – and in the same breath, I truly look forward to hearing about your many future achievements.
And now for the serious business. As you might know, it had become a little bit of a tradition for me to name your predecessors’ cohorts during the late Spring gala – after the Pioneers came the Bealievers, followed by the Champagne Kids, the Denizens, and finally the Smooth Talkers. The gala is this wonderful moment when the pressure of grades and classes can be left behind and everyone can spend a nice, relaxed moment, dressed in the most dazzling fashion, for the sake of being together and reminiscing about the time elapsed. You students prepare skits and short clips, distribute funny awards to one another, and the members of the administration watch in slight awe, realizing the extent to which life outside of the classroom in so many ways enriches your student experience – to the point where it sometimes feels as if the academic dimension of your lives is something of a momentary, often welcome but also a touch time-consuming, distraction in your otherwise busy personal schedules. That’s the magic trick, isn’t it – work hard, play hard – and, if anything else, that’s one of the main takeaways of the program, and what allows you to be so efficient in your work.
Due to unforeseen circumstances, I will not be present at the gala this May. Please allow me, however, to rekindle that old tradition, even if only as a fiction here, and let me share what my chosen name for your cohort would have been. Your name actually came to me early on, and the events of the last year only bolstered that choice.
Project yourselves back in August, 2015. The day is Friday, 21 August 2015, to be precise. That morning, you eyes were all wide open. We greeted you at City Hall and you met each other as a group for the very first time. Campus was expanding, a new program was moving in, and for the beginning of orientation it was decided that the two programs would be welcomed together in the prestigious salon d’honneur of the mairie. What a crowd, that day! It was both impressive and vindicating to be addressing such a large freshman class. We’d worked hard the previous years to build an attractive program and plan for the extension, and there we were – honored and joyful – feeding off your excitement a bit, too. After a short while, something special happened. The students from the Euro-Africa program left the room to attend their specific orientation in another part of the building, and you guys stayed on in the salon d’honneur for the second part of yours… and there were still so many of you in there that it just looked like nobody had left the room!
That moment, it hit home that a truly new era was being ushered in on campus. There surely was a whole lot of you – and you were all smiling and looked eager and poised. I imagined that bonds of solidarity would rapidly develop among you (and was I right on that front!), and thought of the strength that could emerge from your collective. On the spot, and while warning you about the terrible grades you were bound to receive at Sciences Po and telling you about the merits of the school’s absence policy, I came up with that cohort name – the Beaver Pack. Proud members of Beaver nation. Mighty and industrious, but also special in your cohesion and resolve. You are the hard-nosed Beavers – but I’ll just call you the Beaver Pack. I hope you’ll like the name.
So long, Beaver Pack – I’m sorry I had to miss all your accomplishments and performances this past Spring, and sorry I won’t be court-side in Dijon to cheer for the Purple Haze at Minicrit. Thank you for an unforgettable year and a half, and thank you for your healthy response when tables got so suddenly turned on me. It meant a lot. Now, safe ride, beavers, go show your mettle to the world, and realize yourselves. Just remember to check in with the pack from time to time.
Best wishes, and much respect,