Noah Martin ’18 (Spartanburg, South Carolina) and Amaryst Parks ‘18 (Florence, Alabama) provided the keynote addresses at Centre College’s annual honors convocation on May 1. 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.
Martin, a senior majoring in history, serves as the president of the student senate, captain of the men’s swim team and is a member of the student judiciary. He is also a Brown Fellow, residence director, Centre ambassador and is active in the Centre Christian Fellowship. Following graduation, he will likely serve as a high school history teacher with Teach For America Corps of Mississippi.
Thank you, Professor Badie, for your kind introduction. Thank you, Mom and Dad, for joining us for this occasion, and thank you all for sharing your time with me. I’ll begin by saying that even with just a couple of weeks separating me from the finish line of my Centre career, it still feels rather odd to be standing before you all as a “senior” speaker. For one thing, when I hear the word “senior,” I tend to associate it with a certain level of wisdom, and I can say with absolute confidence that at this stage in my young life, I have far more learning to do than wisdom to give. For another thing, hearing that word, “senior,” attached to my name makes me realize the breathtaking pace at which these four years speed by. But, simultaneously, it allows me to recognize how much I have gained in experience and perspective in what is a relatively brief span of time. And that’s thanks almost entirely to you all. So, in the next couple of minutes, I’d like to reflect on this learning process and, more specifically, on something that I feel has enabled all of these experiences and perspectives.
As I’ve taken some time to revisit the beginning of my Centre career and trace the memories that have since marked it, I’ve come to realize, with growing clarity, how centrally dialogue has factored into my college experience. Now, as a side note, if you’ve ever encountered any of the Martins, this likely won’t surprise you, given our trademark gregariousness. We are the kind of folks with whom a five-minute chat quickly turns into twenty minutes, which then turns into an hour, till, eventually, some people begin to wonder why they even started talking with us in the first place! But in all seriousness, I’ve found that virtually every unforgettable moment of my Centre experience has involved such exchanges as these—often thoughtful, and challenging, and poignant, and suffused with humor.
Even before my first year here, it was through these kinds of interactions that I began to think of this community as my four-year home. I’ll never forget those first visits as a prospective student, back when my sister, Grace Anne, was blazing the trail here. In the time that I was able to share with my sister and her friends, I was able to enjoy many of the social benefits of a Centre education without all the hassle of the education itself—you know, the going to classes and all that stuff. (Ah, it was a simpler time.) And as I would later discover, the rich conversations that I began during these early visits blossomed into lasting friendships when I arrived on campus.
When time came to apply to college, I had the great pleasure of getting to know Centre’s admissions team, a group of remarkable folks whose cordial reception immediately made Centre feel like home. I’ll always remember my first campus interview with the angelic Amy Lyons. On one of my first official visits, she invited me to sit down for a chat, and after forty-five minutes or so of pleasant, meandering conversation, I left her office completely unaware that I had just experienced my first college interview. What’s more, while we were together, she asked me, knowing my high-school swimming background, whether or not I would be interested in meeting with the swim coach here. Since it was angelic Amy, well of course I said yes. So, what began as a whim quickly developed into series of conversations with a doggedly persistent Coach Dean, who convinced me to “give swimming a shot, at least”—which I did, and after the first semester of early-morning practices, I was too tired even to remember to quit.
From this first chapter of my Centre journey forward, it has been the dialogues that I have cataloged as precious artifacts of my time here, that have etched themselves on my heart and conscience. As long as I live, I hope never to forget those late-night exchanges during my first year here, when my body wasn’t entirely used to the new sleep cycle—or lack thereof, more accurately. Despite the sizable sleep debt that accrued from that season, I still cherish those moments in which Amaryst, our friend Susie, and I would study into the wee hours on the second floor of the CC, and engage in some of our most memorable back-and-forths, which often towed that fine line between profundity and sheer lunacy. In retrospect, I still don’t know if the distinction is entirely clear. Additionally, I’ll forever prize the bits of wisdom, insight, and humor that I collected on the top floor of Crounse. I owe a great debt of gratitude to those professor-mentors who have guided me, challenged me, and acted as my constant champions. When it boils down to it, it has been the exchanges with you all—the people of Centre College—that has made my time here not merely memorable, but also sacred in a very real way. And it’s this experience of enlightening, vulnerable, and authentic dialogue that I hope all members of our community will have the great blessing of enjoying.
Having said all this, I would like to take a moment to recognize my privilege in being able to partake of the blessing that I’ve just described; and in doing so, I’d like, in a spirit of humility, to express my hope that this blessing become a reality for all Centre students. It is my earnest desire that on our campus, no one would be made to feel as though they are unwelcome at the Centre table. It’s my hope, in an atmosphere fraught with fear and discord and “alternative facts,” that our community would be a refuge; that those who choose to join our table are met with the nourishment of empathy and soul-satisfying solidarity; that our table would be a place where differences and disagreements manifest in a manner that honors and upholds human dignity.
Now, as a human being, with my fair share of flaws and brokenness, I realize how idealistic this may sound; therefore, I recognize that there are times when dialogue does not match this ideal. And so, the question to which I keep returning is this: When dialogue seems to founder, when it reaches a stalemate, when it salts the very wounds that it is intended to heal, where are we to turn? Time and time again, I return to the same conclusion: and that is, Love. When I’m tempted to despair at the vitriol that consumes our news-feeds, I turn my eyes, in faith, to one whose love is so bold that it says, “I’ll love you before you love me.” A love so radical that it says, “I’ll love you even when the hurt runs deep.” A love so complete and so gracious—that is, full of grace—that it says, “I’ll love you like life itself depends on it… ’cause it does.” A love that is patient, that is kind, that actively allies itself with the most vulnerable among us.
When I envision this love, the person who immediately comes to my mind is my mother. (And yes, I am a mama’s boy, thank you for asking.) All the corniness aside, it was my mom, Corinna, who sowed the first seeds of this love in my siblings and me—and continues to do so. Now, a moment ago, I spoke in terms of a metaphorical table; well, much of the loving that “Mama Martin” does revolves around a literal table, so I’m going to stick with this image! As early as I can recall, my mom has gathered people of all stripes and backgrounds around the family table to feed on good food and fellowship, and her motto has always been simple: Come as you are. Whoever you are, wherever you come from, whatever your story, come and be fed. Of all the people I know, my mom has an extraordinary ability to make an ordinary meal a space in which one can be known, nurtured, and, most importantly, loved… As for my dad, well, you’re okay too, I guess.
Amid the contentiousness and division of our time, it is this love—this beautiful, unassuming, sacrificial love—that I feel will guide us and finally deliver us, that will strengthen us to denounce the forces of hatred in all their hideous forms. And as I discover on a personal level daily, it is this love that humbles us in our pride, that commands us to examine ourselves and compels us to admit our insufficiencies and prejudices and overall messiness. It is this love that declares the glorious goodness of our diversity and that engenders our ultimate unity.
In short, my hope—and prayer—is that in those inevitable moments when conversation stagnates, frustrates, and deflates, love would arise, and permeate, and restore us—that it would reconcile us to one another when reconciliation looks like a mountain to try to conquer. It is with this hope for our coming century that I leave you all. And it is with gratitude and humility that I say thank you for humoring me in my idealism and perhaps joining me in my prayer that Centre become that table of true, unconditional, and abiding love for all.
by Noah Martin ’18
May 3, 2018