Editor’s Note: Juhi Patel, 2022 SEBS Class Representative, is a double major in Exercise Science and Political Science.
Congratulations to my fellow members of the Class of 2022. Congratulations to the friends, families, deans, professors, faculty, and mentors who have supported us on our journey here today. And a special shout out to my mom who has answered every sad, stressed, and happy phone call regardless of the time or day. Thanks Mom.
During last fall semester, while walking from Red Oak Lane to Hickman Hall, the lyrics to a song almost caused me to have an existential crisis outside Mabel Smith Douglass Library–one of many I’ve had there in my four years. Taylor Swift sang “How can a person know everything at 18, but nothing at 22?”
As a freshman with a brand-new bob cut–because I’m an adult now–I moved into my dorm believing I was invincible. We were about to start college: a symbol of freedom, growing up, and the future. I spent the days between orientation and move-in learning the bus routes, figuring out my schedule, and making friends on the Class of 22 Facebook page. I was ready to start the best four years of my life.
Then, I had my first midterm, and I was knocked off my pedestal. I went from getting all As in honors and AP classes (including AP Biology) to getting a C+ in Gen Bio. Talk about a reality check.
This was the first of many struggles I would face, from paying my tuition’s worth in parking tickets to sitting on wet bus seats. These obstacles ranged from minor inconveniences to the completely unexpected. I never expected to spend a year and a half taking classes by video chat. I never expected to be able to learn how to keep a plant alive. I never expected to lose my dad the summer before my senior year.
SEBS has taught me that our experiences are not about what we will do, but who we will be. The common link amongst us is how we choose to address the challenges presented to us.
These four years have taught me that every single one of us has the power to grow, the power to dream, the power to act.
It’s not possible for me to fully encompass the vast number of unique experiences we have shared in the past four years at Cook into a single narrative. Instead, I hope that this message about the transformative nature of our school can resonate with you.
When we first came to Rutgers, we began with a common incentive to learn—learn about our chosen majors, learn about the people around us, learn about ourselves.
When COVID-19 sent us home, not only did professors create virtual classrooms, but as students, we transformed our clubs and organizations to thrive on a digital platform as well. This is why I believe innovation remains a core value of SEBS’ academic vision.
Each of us has the opportunity to continue to learn, innovate, and create. These principles make me and you a “Cook Kid”: today, yesterday, and tomorrow.
Now, recognizing that I am leaving Rutgers, feels like trying to catch an F or EE bus in the beginning of the semester—brutal and disappointing. This school has become a safe place to experiment—where getting knocked down means standing up taller, where professors have become friends, and where close friends feel like family. The struggles make the victories so much sweeter, just like the Neilson Dining Hall cheesecakes and the opportunity to graduate today as a double major with cum laude honors.
At 22, I can resonate with the song lyrics, “I don’t really know anything.” Yes, I have learned how to complete a titration and can finally cook something that doesn’t say “Kraft” on it. However, I’m not sure who I will be in another four years. That lack of certainty is something that would have horrified me at 18, but now I recognize its simply part of the journey.
Just like these red oak saplings, we are at the beginning of our newest endeavor. Some of us will part ways to attend graduate programs. Some of us will travel to exciting faraway cities to brave the unknown. Some of us will return home as we consider our next steps. All of us will be grateful to have made memories worth treasuring.
Today we celebrate our own reasons for graduating, the accomplishment of our goals.
My full name is Juhi Rakesh Patel. My middle name is my father’s. He brought my mom and an adorable one-year me to America when he had never even finished high school himself. Today I am graduating college for myself. Today I am graduating for the struggles faced and the victories celebrated. Today I am graduating for my dad, to have his name on a college degree as well.
SEBS has fostered a community to support growth through education, creativity, and perseverance. In essence, it’s enabled us to learn the skills to leave our mark on the school, our community, and the world. As we walk across the stage today, I want to congratulate all of us for what we’ve been able to achieve, and I urge you to remember your inner Cook Kid on your next adventure.
Thank you for the honor of being your 2022 Class Representative.