Jan-Niklas Reisser
 Commencement Address Excerpt
Hanover College
May 2014

In this excerpt from his commencement address, Jan-Niklas Reisser (a member of the 2014 graduating class and a native of Nuremburg, Germany)
discusses the virtues of the liberal arts and of his Hanover education.

Full text available at Hanover College.

{1}Where has the time gone? I don’t mean this as a rhetorical question. Can anybody please tell me where the time went? Four years normally sounds like a long time but these four years flew by so fast. It felt like yesterday that we all moved into our dorms and met our roommate for the first time, thinking, “please God, don’t let this guy be a goober.”

{2}In addition to this, do you remember the first day of school, when you couldn’t find your class because every brick building looked the same and you were afraid to ask someone because you didn’t want anyone to know that you were a freshman? It was like hell finding your first class. I had the hardest time ever finding mine. For me finding my first class was harder than finding a job with a Franklin degree.

{3}Further, do you recall the strange classes the staff had us sign up for during our freshman year? We mostly studied these topics because the college course catalog required them. So physics majors, philosophy majors, mathematics majors, English majors, and biology majors — you name them — suddenly found themselves enrolled in an art appreciation class discussing the meaning of a Picasso painting.

{4}Hence, a variety of different interests, personalities and ways of thinking ended up in a room discussing something they had never discussed before, which was actually great! What many might see as a poor allocation of human resources, we always saw as a Hanover advantage over every other college student in the country.

{5}By creating this intellectual diversity in the classroom, you learn to tolerate different opinions and respect your peers. Moreover, it was astonishing to see the variety of solutions, ideas, and beliefs develop over this topic. We started to find solutions to problems we wouldn’t have come up with if we had all shared the same major or interests.

{6}This is what made our liberal arts experience truly unique. This is what we are leaving with today: an inimitable and certainly special way of thinking and viewing ideas. We are the crazy ones, and I mean this in an all-positive way. This is what Hanover College has given us, a way of thinking completely outside the box. . . . But let me tell you, this privileged way of thinking didn’t come without a price. We all had to work so hard to be where we are.

{7}For the students of Hanover College that are here today, I am not telling you anything new, but let me explain to those who are not Hanover students or graduates what studying here is like. It consists of three steps.

{8}The first stage is my favorite one: the optimism. You look at your assignments and study material and get this exciting grin on your face followed with an, “I can do this” attitude. “What? Only 50 pages to read, an eight-page paper and some short assignments in my other classes? I should be done with this before dinner!”

{9}But then here comes stage two: the realization. You have been studying for five hours already. The dinning hall is closed so you missed dinner, and you are not even halfway done with your collegiate studies.

{10}This leads into stage three: the frustration, which mostly consists of banging your head against a desk or a nearby wall while contemplating over and over again, “Why, oh why didn’t I go to a state school?” But the fact that we are sitting here today is proof that we got through this.

{11}But we didn’t just overcome our academic challenges here at Hanover College. Many of you dedicated yourselves to an athletic program and succeeded by beating our rival school, winning conferences or setting school records. A lot of you volunteered and helped out the community or other people in need. Some of you even held a job in which you progressed and dedicated yourselves.

. . . .

{12}Triumphs occurred regularly at Hanover College. But I don’t have to tell you about all your accomplishments because nobody but yourself has them better immortalized. With this being said, we also understand that we didn’t always win. There were plenty of moments during our college career in which we lost. In which things just didn’t quite go our way, and disappointment, agony, defeat and grief shaped our life at Hanover.

{13}For example, there could have been a failed test, a bad paper, a loss to our rival school, the termination of a friendship or a fight. I comprehend that those are the moments we don’t like to look back on. As a matter of fact, we often try to forget them and let our victories prevail. But in my opinion, our losses and disappointments in life are as equally, if not more important, than our victories.

{14}I understand that we all have been raised throughout our entire lives to think that winning is the ultimate goal. Don’t get me wrong, it is. But how can you win when you have never lost? Maybe this notion of constant winning is overrated and the true winners are the ones who have also experienced defeat.

{15}Boris Becker, a German tennis player, was considered the world’s best during the 80s. He won Wimbledon at the age of 17, and from there, went on to win many more major tournaments all over the world. When he was about our age, in his early 20s, he entered Wimbledon and everybody expected him to win effortlessly.

{16}But then to the surprise of everyone, he lost during the second round against a no-name player who had incredible odds against him. As you might imagine, the media lunged at Boris Becker, asking him how he could have possibly lost?

{17}His response was, “You know what? I don’t mind losing.” You can imagine the expressions on the journalists’ faces after hearing a statement like that. He explained further, “The reason I play this sport is to win, no doubt. But when I actually win, what do I get out of it? Sure, I get a nice trophy, prize money and fame, but that is it. A win doesn’t make me better.

{18}“But when I lose, I cannot stop thinking about the things I did wrong and how I can improve them, and this is what makes me better. So yes, you heard me right, I don’t mind losing because I get so much more out of a loss than a win, because a loss actually makes me better.”

{19}So Class of 2014, don’t be afraid to lose! See a loss as a learning experience. When life disappoints you, understand what you have done wrong, dust yourself off, and come back stronger and better than ever before. Losing is truly not a bad thing, but it depends on what you make of it.

{20}Thank you, Class of 2014. Don’t ever stop being the crazy ones. You made those four years one hell of a ride. I love you all.

History Department

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