Some Small Difference: Dexter Horne ’16 [Honors Convo address]
View the entire 2016 Honors Convocation here.
Dexter Horne ’16 and Sara Morency ’16 provided the keynote addresses at Centre College’s annual honors convocation on May 3. Remarks from the speakers, who are selected by tallying votes from the senior class, are always a highlight of the annual celebration of student achievements.
Horn is a politics major and Bonner Scholar from Louisville, Ky. His campus involvements have included serving as president of Centre’s chapter of Phi Kappa Tau as well as working as an ambassador for the Admission office. After graduation, Dexter will attend the University of Kentucky’s Martin School of Public Policy and Administration, where he will pursue a masters of public administration degree with a focus on economic development and public financial management.
Horne and Morency were also selected as the 2015 Homecoming Queen and King and have served as senior interviewers in the College’s admission office.
Some Small Difference
Thank you. Thank you all so very much for giving me this honor. Seriously, there’s no reason why I should be up here over any one of the outstanding people in this year’s senior class. I don’t have the highest GPA. I’m not an outstanding athlete. And, really, I’ve only told a handful of good jokes in the past four years that I’ve been here, all of them probably by mistake.
So why did you select some random 22-year-old from Male High School who calls himself “The Wizard” to come up here and tell you stories? I really don’t know. But your belief in me, your desire to peek inside of my heart and the amount of value that you put on what I have to say is a love that is unbelievably humbling.
My entire experience at 600 W. Walnut Street has been just that—unbelievably humbling, and I am grateful for this chance to reflect and give thanks to all of you.
So that’s what I want to do with my 10 minutes on this stage. I want to tell you a few stories about a kid who owes everything to the people sitting in this room. And, hopefully by the end, I will have convinced you how big of a difference each and every one of you makes during your four years here.
To do that properly, I’m going to have to start over. So please, come walk with me through time.
March 15, 2012, 12:18 p.m.: the 18-year-old me opens up his email and starts to compose a message to Pam Baughman, admission counselor at Centre College.
Hello again, Pam! I’m writing to let you know that I have not been more excited in my life as I am now since the first time I saw the ocean, and similar to that same instance I find myself at a loss for words. I feel very small next to the enormous things that you’ve opened up for me in life through your actions, and I cannot tell you how grateful I am. I wish you could have been there to see my expression when I opened up the scholarship letter. I finally had my moment—it was like hitting a last-second shot or winning a state championship. Feelings that I hadn’t thought about since I quit athletics resurfaced, and in short, it felt good! I owe you my future now, and I cannot wait to be at Centre next year, hopefully finding ways to make other people as happy as you’ve helped make me.
That was me at 18. I sat on the kitchen floor of my parent’s house in Louisville and cried when I realized I was going to Centre College. Looking back at myself at that young age, I realize that I was a bit dramatic. All the same, the pure elation and rush of hope that I felt when writing that email is an experience that I am willing to bet is not unique to me.
I think it’s fair to say that the journeys of most of us started off in some pocket of bliss just like the one I’ve described above. We all came here standing on the cusp of what was known and what was uncertain, with promises for adventures greater than anything we had experienced. Like small children near an ocean looking out toward some new frontier behind the tides, we were capable of everything but failure.
Then, six months after I wrote to Pam, my peers and I in the senior class leaped into the waves and started swimming. In August of 2012, Centre received 350 bright-eyed students from all over the world who knew very little about themselves, each other or what they were getting themselves into. If you were like me, you would have had a firm set of beliefs and a sense of self-worth coming into this place that made you feel as if you would be able to succeed here—that you would contribute great things to this community with all of your knowledge and creative talent.
Then, if you were like me, you would have written your first paper and realized that you have the writing ability of an amoeba. Then you would have taken your first midterms only to find out that you have the intelligence of a drunken squirrel. My only solace in the fall of 2012 was that it appeared that many of my peers were also suddenly aware that they were not magnificent either! Thanks for that 2016. We sucked collectively.
My class showed me how to laugh at myself as I struggled alongside friends during late nights in the library with coffee from Jazzman’s, hiding in coves of the library that no longer exist. We struggled together, learning to accept that we were not here because we already had the answers but because we were capable of becoming life-long learners.
Centre brought down our egos to teach us that we were small, young—and that we had a lot of room for growth.
And I believe that we did learn a tremendous amount while still having a pretty damn good time. If you need proof, just check the FaceBook pages of anyone in the Class of 2016 and look for pictures posted 183 weeks ago.
We jumped into quite a chaotic environment. Our college—the one we were still trying to figure out and get used to—changed daily as Centre prepared for the 2012 Vice Presidential Debate. By October, I thought I was on the set of a Hunger Games movie as secret service members took away our ability to run the flame, and barricades blocked off parts of our now maze-like campus.
On top of that, you might recall, the Mayans had predicted that the world was going to end that December. What a time to be alive.
The world didn’t end. You might remember that January of 2013 did end up happening, and we had to go back to school. We had to keep going on in our adventure through the waves of uncertainty. And I’m grateful that the world didn’t end there, because Centre had a lot more to teach us.
For me, a good amount of those lessons were learned outside of the classroom. They were taught to me by you, actually, my difference makers. Between 2013 and now, I have witnessed my peers grow to do amazing things. When Emily Rodes put on “20 Aprils,” raising around $10,000 to benefit survivors of the Rwandan genocide, I learned what it really meant to be a citizen of the world. Watching people like Nic Montejos and Elizabeth Penn love on their students in the After School Program made me strive to be as selfless and giving as they were. And listening to people like Carter Baughman explain that the reason why she works so hard now is because one day she wants to be the person who saves the lives of others—this has made my spirit flow so much deeper than it ever possibly could before my life began at Centre.
I wanted to do cool stuff, too. And I tried really hard to impress you guys! I worked like crazy to make the dean’s list, I bicycled across the country. I mentored and tutored students. I was the speaker of the house, the president of my fraternity and I even shaved my head for St. Baldrick’s—once. But for me, this journey through college was one in which I always felt that I was just barely making it through.
I jumped into the waves to find a new world on the other side and spent more time flapping my arms against a tide stronger than I was than actually moving toward real success. When I think about all of the times that Centre has beaten the crap out of me, I realize that I shouldn’t have made it this far. I should have crumbled beneath the water a long time ago, and, again, I don’t think this is an experience unique to me.
My friends in the Class of 2016 didn’t persevere through this struggle alone. We are at the end of our journey because of the small actions of so many people in the Centre community that made all the difference for each and every one of us. In thinking about this, I’m reminded of a story that was told to me once in a Bonner meeting about a starfish. I want to share that short tale with you now:
A businessman was on vacation, walking along the beach, and saw a young boy.
All along the shore were starfish that had washed up from the tide and were likely to die in the hot sun.
The boy walked along the shore and reached down here and there to pick up a starfish and toss it back into the ocean.
The businessman, so accustomed to efficiency, walked up to the boy to tell him about his nonsensical ways.
“I’ve noticed what you’ve been doing, son. You have a warm heart and I know you mean well, but there are so many starfish dying on beaches all over the world. I’m sure you could do something better with your time. Do you really think this is going to make a difference?”
The boy glanced up at the man and then looked down at a starfish by his feet. He picked up the beautiful starfish and tossed it back into the ocean and said, “It made a difference to that one.”
I share that story, because college presents to us all many ups and downs—and Centre is a special place, because the people here do an especially good job of looking out for each of us individually. So many times I’ve found myself in the position of the starfish, washed out and unable to breathe due to the pressures that go along with trying so hard to be magnificent.
What I have come to love about this place is that someone—be it a professor, a friend or a staff member—has always been there to throw me back into the water. I think that’s the most essential part of this experience. So many of you out there right now don’t realize that you have already changed the world just by making some small difference in the lives of the people you’re sitting next to right now.
I mean, Nicolas Montejos, wherever you are, you have been one of my best friends and roommate for three years. And your kindness, your laughter and spirit is exactly what’s allowed me to make it to this stage today. Thank you, brother.
CJ Donald, who is listening in all the way from Vanderbilt Law School, the example you set when I was young and naive during my first two years here was, and continues to be, an extraordinary one. I feel humbled before your leadership and guidance. You are more than my role model—you are my hero. And, though you may have never saved a life, you’ve changed mine for the better. When I grow up, I want to be just like you. Thank you.
And Sara—Sara Morency. You have made an immeasurable amount of difference to me. I feel painfully small before your smile, your thoughtful behavior, your beautiful and relentlessly loving spirit. I will always appreciate you. Thank you for everything.
There are so many people I need to thank. So many people who I want to make aware that they have changed my world forever. And if, at some point tonight, you were to stop and think about the experiences you’ve had in this place, I’m sure you, too, would feel overwhelming gratitude for the people we share this bubble with.
Centre is filled with extraordinary people who are constantly making a difference in the lives of those around them. And that’s something I hope never changes about this place.
To conclude, I want to go back to the second half of that email I sent to Pam, the person who is responsible for me choosing to come to Centre four years ago. And, the person I can’t wait to give my honor token to in a few short days.
March 15, 2012; 12:18 p.m.
You have been an amazing influence in my life in the few months I’ve known you, and I want you to know that I will always feel indebted. If you ever need anything of me, please ask and it will be my first priority. I cannot promise to be the smartest student you will ever see, or even the most talented, but I can promise you that by the end of my four years I will have made some large difference.
Thank you, Pam. And to my 18-year-old self, I do believe that I have made some difference. I believe that everyone in this room has made a difference and will continue to do so as we change the lives of our brothers and sisters in the Centre community through uncountable small actions.
I feel unbelievably humbled everyday as I receive love and knowledge from all of you. And I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. So that’s what I want to leave you with, thoughts on the people and lessons and experiences you’ve had here that put you in the background of some picture much more magnificent than yourself.
Thanks for a great four years—I’ll see ya’ later, Centre Dear.
by Dexter Horne ’16
May 3, 2016