Honors Celebration Address | Evan Aroko ’20

Watch the entire Honors Celebration and senior Evan Aroko’s speech here

Evan Aroko ’20 (Salem, Massachusetts) and Grant Spicer ’20 (Indianapolis, Indiana) provided the keynote addresses for Centre College’s annual honors celebration, this year delivered virtually. Remarks from the speakers, who are selected by tallying votes from the senior class, are always a highlight of the annual showcase of student achievements.

Aroko is an anthropology/sociology major with a minor in film studies from Salem, Massachusetts. He is a Posse Scholar, a John C. Young Scholar, a Centre ambassador with the admission office, a residence director who joined the residence life staff his second year as an RA, and president of Humans of Centre College. Following graduation, he will travel to Japan to teach English as an assistant language teacher with the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program.

Greetings to everyone watching, wherever you may be.

Before I begin, and on behalf of the Centre College student body, I’d like to thank all of the first responders around the world, these are the people who have been devoting their time, intellect and skill sets towards those in need during this overwhelming and unexpected time. We are grateful for you all for what you have done and for what you will continue to do. We will continue to have you all in our thoughts and in our prayers.

When I learned I was chosen by my Centre community to give a speech for this year’s virtual honors convocation, I was truly honored but nervous. I was eager to type a speech that could empower all of you watching in the midst of these tough times. So, I got to work and put my mind in the right place to type the following message for my fellow students.

Take a long deep breath. Think back to the day you found out that you were going to college. Now, think specifically to the moment you decided to accept the offer to attend Centre College. Many of you may have felt a feeling of excitement and anxiety with the thought of finally breaking free from your overprotective but loving families breaking free from your outdated routines and lives as high school students to become a free spirited, independent, college student for the next four years. Many of you may have felt more sadness at the thought of leaving your home and longtime friends, the rest of you may still have been trying to process how in the world you ended up on your way to Danville, Kentucky for college! I was with the last one. Regardless of how you felt, you made it to campus, made it through orientation week, began your first week of classes and most likely took a long nap that same Friday, partied hard that weekend and then officially began a week filled with classes, study sessions, athletics the list can go on!

But let me ask you this, since your first week of college, how much have you transformed? How much have you learned about yourself and about the world around you? Speaking from personal experience I can tell you that ever since Wednesday, August 29th, 2016, which was first the day I first set foot on campus, I’ve learned so much about myself and about the world around me…

But most of all, during my time at Centre, I’ve learned about how to always have faith in humanity, in our potential to do extraordinary things and to be extraordinary people…

Learning this was not easy for me. Like most of you, I had difficult conversations in and out of class about issues like racism, mass incarceraton, poverty, human trafficking, gun-violence, global warming, and much more.

One of the most difficult and uncomfortable discussions I experienced occurred in 2017, during my first Posse Plus Retreat. The theme for that year was Us. vs. Them, and the event was not long after Donald Trump was sworn into office. Some of the older scholars at the time told us there would be lots of tears. I remember my friends and I asking each other, “Yo, you think you’re gonna cry,” many of us were like, NAH! I’ll be fine.

Long story short…I definitely cried… and personal opinions were met with harsh but valid criticisms…BUT wisdom was spread, love was shared and a tremendous amount of hope for the future was born…

Because of events like this, because of the tough conversations and the strong and meaningful relationships I’ve been apart of at Centre, I’ve learned to stay hopeful within a world that can be extremely dark…I’ve been motivated to leave a lasting legacy in this world before I leave it… and all of this would not have been possible without you all…my fellow students, my friends, my professors, faculty and staff members who worked so hard to take care of me throughout the past few years. You all are people who have taught me how to never give up…

Those of you who know me well, you know that I love…actually I’m really obsessed with superheroes! Within these past few years, I have exposed myself to so much superhero content ranging from movies like Black Panther and Avengers Endgame to comic book stories like Superman: Secret Identity… but more importantly I’ve come to meet and befriend new heroes…

I began this speech by thanking our first responder… they are our everyday heroes and like them…you students are heroes…

American professor of literature, Joseph Campbell once said that, “A hero is someone who has given their life to something bigger than oneself.” I can say with confidence that most of you students if not, all of you students have done this during your time at Centre and will continue to do this in your future lives. So, take the following four words to heart…YOU ARE A HERO…

Heroes who were called to an adventure right when you opened your acceptance letters, heroes who have experienced a plethora of trials ranging from pulling all nighters in order to finish last minute assignments, fiercely battling another team during an athletic game, helping a friend cope after a traumatic event and… dealing with having your year cut short due to a terrible pandemic…you all have gone through a variety of unique and overwhelming obstacles, that you probably thought you’d never overcome. But you did…and in the process you inspired your fellow peers to do their best and be their best…you gave ME hope that the future of our nation and our world is in good hands…. and to that I say… THANK YOU!

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve woken up on campus, stepped into a classroom and thought to myself, “DAMN, these students are incredibly smart and hardworking!” This experience most recently happened to me in my Anthropology seminar class. My classmates and I were tasked to develop several written pieces that were about a topic of our choice, as long as it somehow tied to anthropology or sociology of course. To say that the work my classmates produced is truly an understatement… they wrote about things relating to decolonization, the local food movement, survivor advocacy in relation to Title IX and much more…I am confident that they will continue to bring public issues to light and call people to action for social change.

As students I believe we all have a powerful and beautiful responsibility to use the skills and knowledge we have acquired throughout our educational careers, to help people in need… to elevate voices who have been silenced…. to inspire the next generation of students, doctors, lawyers, professors and social scientists who will eventually take our place when our time on this Earth is up.

We have the power to be heroes who risk our lives and reach out into the dangers of this world, heroes who serve as allies to those who are in need of a helping hand..and I have an incredible amount of faith in every single one of you students that you have the potential to leave a positive and lasting impact in the world before you leave it.

So, to all you students watching, specifically to my fellow class of 2020 seniors…I want to remind you all to.

  1. Be kind to AND patient with those around you… because you may never know what the person next to you has gone through…
  2. Be you! Don’t let anyone else tell you who or what you are not…
  3. Be proud of your accomplishments..share your gifts, your intellect, your privileges, your passions… SHARE YOUR YOU with the world.

Before I conclude, I would like to share my favorite quote, Life’s Motto, from my favorite film, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and I ask that after hearing this quote, you take time to reflect on its relevance to your own life.

“To see the world… things dangerous to come to…to see behind walls… draw closer…to find each other…and to feel. That is the purpose of life.”

Thank you.

by Evan Aroko ’20
May 18, 2020