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SU Commencement 2011: Remarks by student speaker Teresa M. Soldner

May 16, 2011

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Representing the group of University Scholars and the entire SU graduating class, Teresa M. Soldner, a chemistry, international relations and Middle Eastern studies triple major in The College of Arts and Sciences, delivered the student address at SU’s 157th Commencement, Sunday, May 15.

Otto. Those of us who didn’t grow up around here didn’t really know what to think the first time we saw him.  He was silly and overly energetic and if you got too close to him, you never knew exactly what was going to happen. With the heart of a rambunctious 7-year-old, Otto is pretty hard to take seriously and not remotely intimidating to our rival schools. He’s more likely to fall over than make the varsity squad. So really, who picked this mascot and why did they stick us with a hyperactive piece of fruit that supposedly embodies the spirit of our school? I wondered this myself when I came to Syracuse, but here I am, four years wiser because of him.

For the past year, I’ve been watching all of you from inside Otto’s fuzzy orange skin.  It’s a blast. It’s hilarious. It’s exhausting. But it’s absolutely worth it. Both as a cartoon character and as a real person, I’ve learned a lot about what it means to be Syracuse and about what Otto gives to us that we don’t get anywhere else–a chance to be goofy.

In my time as Otto I was everywhere with you. We helped the freshmen on move-in day. We spent the night at Relay for Life. We raised money for special-ed programs. We were part of Say Yes to Education. We took silly pictures together. We made each other giggle.

There are good reasons why Otto is the only mascot to make both the ‘worst’ and ‘best’ mascot rankings at the same time. The ‘worst’ category comes from those people who focus only on the image of Spartans rushing into battle–all glory and limelight. They missed the point. The ‘best’ category comes from the thousands of students who have studied at Syracuse, because we’ve learned Otto’s Life Lessons. 

There are 5.      

1: Most things in life probably aren’t worth taking too seriously.

Otto tries to teach people every day to appreciate mischief and to care a little less about what’s expected in society because we’re all are working so hard constantly–you’re buried in piles of homework, or tangled up in social messes, or just trying to make it through until you can finally fall asleep again. Weaving simple joy into your life is rejuvenating, no matter what age you are. Don’t live life too seriously.

2: Dedication: success or failure, win or lose.

Most of you know this feeling. Whether we went to our volunteering, religious or sports events even though we had hours of homework awaiting us, we’ve all made our dedication a priority.  

Of course losing all that sleep was terrible, but we seized the moment. It was revitalizing, and we worked harder because of it. We learned that you don’t necessarily find time for the things you love–you make time for them. 

3: Learning a new way to express yourself is really hard. 

Whether you were learning the lingo of your new field, or I was desperately trying to make jokes without saying a word, we all learned some new way of communicating in the last four years. We also learned that in some moments you communicate without words–in a screaming crowd of 34,616 on game day, or in a flashmob on the Quad for elections 2008, or in a statement with a Day of Silence, or in a hushed crowd at Remembrance Week.

4: Know the incredible power of breaking social boundaries and how it can touch someone’s life.

Every Otto has that one story that will stick with us forever, and mine is simple. I was Otto-ing across the Quad to Schine and was teasing a kid on crutches–he thought it was funny too–when I just seized the next person who walked by in a hug for no reason at all. When I let go, he looked me in the eye very seriously and said, “You have no idea how much I needed that right now,” and walked away. Even the smallest act of being real can be more meaningful than we’ll ever know.

5: After our time here, the word ORANGE will never be the same to us.

When I was in high school, orange was nothing more than hunting season with my father and brother. Now, we think blaze orange is a comfortable color and there’s an entire section in each of our closets that looks like Otto attacked it with crayons. Orange is a sense of pride, a sense of home and a set of silly citrus jokes we all know.

Living around Otto has impacted us all in a common way, and it’s a bond that’s held with our class, and those who went before us and those who will come after us. For those of you who question the choice of an orange as your school mascot, know that an orange has more to teach you and is much more original than just another husky or wildcat. No other school has jokes as awesome as ours or laughs half as much as we do.

Otto wants you to know that a bad apple can ruin the barrel, but there’s no such thing as a bad orange. Never let your life be too busy for laughter. Laugh to relax and be comfortable with yourself, because oranges have thick skin and a soft heart. Laugh when things get awkward. Laugh when your team isn’t number one. Laugh to keep your sanity and to let go. And laugh when things are difficult, because there’s always joy to be found somewhere in life.

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