19 December 2010

The Graduate's Speech

They say time flies when you're having fun. When you're having the time of your life, time kicks it up a notch by packing rocket boosters and hitting warp drive!

It's hard to believe two years have gone by, and there's a melancholy sense of déjà vu as I pack up my belongings and get ready to leave Longwood. Two years ago I packed up my apt in LA and headed east, not knowing what I would find here. What I found is treasure: A home that I've loved more than any other place I've ever lived, friends who love me for who and what I am and with whom I can share a common passion (some might say neuroses but that only draws us closer together!), and more wonder than one human can behold. If you told me ten years ago that I would end up here, I'd have laughed you off the planet!

The last two years have been the most amazing two years of my life!

Longwood December 2010 054

The PG graduation ceremony was a much anticipated celebration of our accomplishments. It was held in the Ballroom in Longwood's famed Conservatory, where Mr. and Mrs. DuPont hosted many lavish balls and parties. And we are now part of that illustrious history. My classmate Emma became a PG legend by winning three awards and the PG Alumni Association travel grant (guess who bought drinks that night!) and for the first time ever the Director gave a joint award! There were also two who earned the top GPA award and apparently there were two more in contention, making it a tough race (considering we all finished our last final literally the day before, I can only imagine the furious tapping on calculators to figure GPAs!).

Our awesome Landscape Design and Construction instructor Dan Maffei was our keynote speaker and gave an amazing speech that started my eyeballs squirting. I'll post the transcript once I have time to transcribe it from the video. Dan's a pro at public speaking so he was a hard act to follow and I was nervous enough about getting up in front of 100+ people but somehow I managed to get through my speech, only choking up once (I cried plenty while writing it). My cinematic brain kept going to the newsroom scene in Bruce Almighty where the star news caster is stricken with fits of gibberish. It is with a great sense of relief that I made it through my entire speech sans gibberish! For my friends who couldn't be there and who generously gave me assurances that I wouldn't suffer the humiliation of tripping on my way to the podium, forgetting my own name, or sweating through two layers of velvet, here it is. Side note: I discovered that speeches are much easier to write when you quote other people, so I did - the opening quote from a fabulous "why-to" (as opposed to "how-to") gardening book, and my friend Andrew, who was one of three friends to whom I posed many probing questions about passion and legacy. Their words carried me as I wrote the speech!

(After taking my place behind the podium and saying something with dripping sarcasm about it being not at all intimidating):

"In his book, The Passion for Gardening, Ken Druse writes:

'The horticultural community is one of the few places in contemporary Western Society where elders are revered for their wisdom. Part science, part intuition, knowledge of gardening is invariably cumulative, and while much of it can be read about in books, learning takes place in the garden – hands on. Sharing is a hallmark of horticulture, and sharing this accumulated wisdom to help enrich the next generation may be the most important thing a gardener can do'.

When I first read that quote I thought how perfectly it summed up our experience as PGs at Longwood, and it still does. At this time of year it’s fitting to think about gifts, and giving and receiving. Because of Pierre DuPont’s passion and legacy, we have been granted the opportunity to spend two years learning, working, and living in one of the most amazing gardens in the world, but the real gifts came from you. You have selflessly given us the gift of your time, your interest, your friendship, your knowledge, your wisdom, and your passion. Because of your willingness to share, we have been immeasurably enriched, personally and professionally.

To quote one of my classmates, “the amount of knowledge I’ve gained in the last two years has made me feel dangerous in the gardening world” (and if you’ve ever seen Emma in action with a machete, you know just how accurate that statement really is!). We have learned more than we could have imagined (and had fun doing it!) and we owe all of you a debt of gratitude.

In preparing for this speech I thought a lot about passion and legacy, and tried to find a way to define both in the context of the last two years. Here’s what I came up with:

Passion is something that comes from the heart…that brings its own rewards for being pursued. In pursuing our passion, each of us landed here, and while our debts are numerous and heavy, our rewards are countless and their worth incalculable. Legacy is what we leave behind after we're gone - our fingerprint on the world. It has both a present and future and posthumous reflection. It is something each of us bequeaths, whether we know it or not, and we can only strive to leave a legacy worthy of remembrance.

While at Longwood we have been afforded amazing opportunities, and we have been given many challenges."

(I cut out this next part because the head of the Education dept. covered it in his introductory remarks)
 "Our class experienced many ‘firsts’ in the program: we are the first class to fully matriculate in the new January – December schedule and separate blocks of academic and work rotations. We’re the first to be mentored by an incumbent “senior class” then have the chance to mentor the incoming juniors during our second year. We are the first class to travel to Spain. Thanks to Gavin‘s leadership, we’re the first class to embark on an ambitious fund raising project of growing and selling vegetables to Longwood staff and the Terrace Restaurant, ultimately delivering over 1,000 lbs of vegetables to the Terrace chefs (1018 lbs. and 6 oz. to be exact!). We are the first class to maintain not one but two gardens during our stay: our personal gardens on The Row and the new Student Exhibition Gardens, an extraordinary feat requiring team work, ingenuity, lots of sweat, and help from several of Longwood‘s talented staff without whom the gardens would never have happened (there‘s that sharing thing again). Last but not least, we are the first class to graduate in December – and I can’t think of a more joyous season in which to end our time here.

And that’s the real tragedy of the PG program: it ends! Tomorrow we scatter off into different directions and after two years of working, studying, laughing, crying, and living together, who knows when some of us will see each other again? The good news is: we carry Longwood with us. Knowledge we gained here will be applied, associations we’ve made will aid us in our future careers, friendships that have been forged will last a lifetime.

Whenever someone asks me what I enjoy most about the program, I tell them: the people. My classmates are some of the most passionate, intelligent, driven, witty people I’ve ever had the pleasure of being stuck in a room with. They are what make this program so special. As the class spokesperson I feel I have been given bragging rights so I want to take a moment to brag about my classmates:


Not only is he an expert in the art of Bonsai, he is a consummate master in the art of discovering food. His fashion sense is unparalleled and his wit singular. Greg brought a sense of much needed levity to situations that often threatened to weigh us down. Not only did he rise to the challenges at Longwood, he did it while raising a family. Often sleep deprived and seemingly starved, Greg worked harder than anyone to get to today. If anyone deserves to have their cake and eat it too, it’s Greg!


No one – and I mean no one – who has ever met Steven can be in any doubt of his enthusiasm. His passion for geophytes is unmatched this side of the Netherlands, and his unrestrained expression of vivacity is inimitable. Memorable moments of him abound, and whenever I see a display of bulbs I’ll recall his voice proclaiming: No bulbs, no Steven!


To us, he’s Hudsonia, but to several teenagers in Spain, he’s a rock star! No one who witnessed it will ever forget the throng of admirers who mobbed him at the Alhambra, or how deeply he blushed! But don’t let the rock star façade fool you - Hudson is an artist and is well on his way to forging a creative path for himself. I’ll miss the camera wars to see who took the most pictures during a student trip. Whenever I think of Hudson I’ll think of his smile, and will always remember The Alhambra!


At the beginning of the program Nate had a little trouble with the clock, earning the unflattering nickname “Late Nate” but his easygoing manner and quick sense of humor endeared him to us all. As I’ve gotten to know him, I’ve found him to be a man of deep caring and faith-filled passion, with an artist’s view of the natural world and a poet’s heart. His ability to get along with everyone, his willingness to always lend a hand..(this is where I choked up and had to pause or risk drenching the Director's notes on the podium)...and his steadfast friendship will always make me think of him as “Great Nate”.


With impeccable comedic timing and a radiant smile, Shannon has an uncanny ability to elevate even the most tedious subject to memorable heights (not that any of our studies were ever tedious). As some of our instructors can attest, she launched our studies into new and unexpected directions – just ascus and we’ll tell you! As design partners in the Student Exhibition Garden, I’m the one who had it easy, and her hard work and dedication have constantly inspired me.


Beautiful in both countenance and spirit, it is her musical laugh that I’ll remember most. It’s the laugh of someone who absolutely embraces life. She has a love of people that has given her the ability to navigate vastly different social circles, from plant geeks to foodies. Her talents are endless and her passion is infectious (I had a note to insert joke a from plant pathology here, but that’s really Shannon’s job).


If there’s something that needs doing, he’s the guy to get ‘er done. Gavin puts the Energizer Bunny to shame. During a work rotation at the nursery he earned the nickname The Subordinator (if you don't know what that means, ask a horticulturist!). Between the regular work day, studying for night classes, maintaining his gardens, running his business, and practicing guitar, I figured he worked about 87 hours a day, and could often be heard proclaiming the motto: I’ll sleep when I’m dead. Nothing gets him down, and with his faith to strengthen him, he’ll be a force to reckon with!


As an aspiring historian and class spokesman I’ve been able to boast about my classmates and our accomplishments. I’ve seen places that I never dreamed I’d see, have met people who made indelible marks on my life, and got to live here, which makes me the luckiest person on the planet! And when I write my book, be warned that no names will be changed because there are no innocent to protect!

We are the PG Class of December 2010. We are proud to be part of Longwood’s legacy and we hope the legacy we leave behind is one that Pierre DuPont would be equally proud of. We’ve worked hard to make things better for those who follow and to them - the Class of 2011 - I offer this charge: You will get out of this program as much as you put in, if not more. Work hard and don’t squander the opportunities you’ve been given. We walk among giants here. But they’re friendly giants, and they’re willing to help you succeed. Get to know them, work with them, learn from them, and let them share what they know so that you can pass it on.

To the talented staff at Longwood, our new friends from other gardens, and our families who have supported and encouraged us during this adventure: we would not be here without you.

It seems such an insufficient end - only two small words - but they are imbued with the fullest sense of meaning: Thank you!"

To everyone at Longwood, the PG Alumni Association, our friends at Chanticleer, the Delaware Center for Horticulture, and other gardens I'm sure I'm forgetting, my instructors, mentors, and especially my classmates: you've changed my life and I will never forget you!

Longwood December 2010 067 - Copy
The PG Class of December 2010

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