UW Honors Graduation Address

by Roman Camarda, Honors class of 2013

Roman Camarda addresses the graduating Honors class of 2013. Video credit: Honors Staff.
Roman Camarda, '13
Roman Camarda, '13

Thanks so much, Jim, for that great introduction. I have to be honest, though, right off the bat. They initially didn’t want me to give this speech, they wanted someone a little more PC, but I told them if you don’t let me give this speech then I’m staying another year. Finally they caved. This is my 5th year, and they want me to get out, so here I am with you today, and thanks again for having me. The only real regret that I have standing here in front of you is that although I like to consider myself a pretty outgoing person, I actually don’t know everyone in this room. That’s a regret because I think that everyone in this room deserves to be here. All the students here have had extremely unique, special experiences over the past four, sometimes five years, and I think that any one of you could stand in front of the rest of us to tell your story, but as it is it’s me. I really want to use this time today to talk about my experience over the past five years, but also to reflect upon the reason why we’re sitting in this room, which at the end of the day is the University of Washington Honors Program.

Now, as Jim mentioned I’m a biochemistry and photomedia double major, and I always get asked, “What’s that all about?” As it turns out I didn’t start that way, not surprisingly. I came in declaring biochemistry as a major, which I’m sure many future pre-med students will do because Biochemistry is the one to pick when you think you’re going to be a doctor. I actually wanted to be an oncologist. I had an interest in cancer from an early point thanks to a man named Jim Johnston whose actually here today. He inspired me in high school to pursue science, and I’ve been going on that way ever since, so thank you, Jim. I started off in biochemistry, and at one point I got an email about an offer to work in an oncogenic herpesvirus lab. I said to myself, “Wow, I didn’t even know herpesviruses could cause cancer, but that sounds wild, so I want to be involved with that!” Krystal Fontaine and Erica Sanchez, two grad students from the lab, are also here today.

At the same time I was doing research and taking biochemistry classes I decided to take an Honors photo class, and I loved it. I decided that you know what I’m not in a rush. Med school can wait; it’s not going anywhere. Why don’t I try this whole 5th year thing; I’ll take 5 years to complete a biochemistry and photomedia double major. Early on at UW I was inspired to take this type of risk because I was taught a new form of intellectual discourse that I found through the Honors Program. I took a class called Eye and Mind with a professor named Phillip Thurtle, a very great professor here at UW. If I could sum up in one sentence what Eye and Mind is, I would say it’s a class that attempts to talk about the ways that art and science overlap in everyday life through a philosophical standpoint. Imagine how interdisciplinary that is. You have art, science, philosophy, and I think initially he wanted to throw in calculus and Germanics, but the people upstairs said no way Phil, people can’t handle that. I loved the class even though I couldn’t understand 75% of it, and I realized from it that it’s actually possible, and this is a key lesson of the Honors Program, to establish multiple perspectives from a single vantage point. You can stand and address a topic from many different perspectives, as an artist, as a scientist, as a philosopher, and that can all come from one person. I think that is what the Honors Program is really all about.

Being at UW is truly a privilege, but if that alone is a privilege then what can we possible describe being in the Honors Program as? Thinking about this, I realized just how appropriate the term Honors Program really is. Not only are we working towards elevated degrees that give us a certain honor and distinction, but also the act, the physical act, of working towards those degrees is in itself an honor and a distinction. We were all honored to be accepted into this program. We’ve all been honored to work through it, and now today we’re receiving the highest of honors by graduating from it.

This reminded me of an experience I had in the summer of 2010. I was studying abroad with the Honors Program in Rome and Istanbul, and I decided that I wanted to see a sunrise over Rome. As it turns out that happens at about 4:30 in the morning. If anyone has ever been to Rome before they know that there’s only one hour of quiet per day. The Romans don’t stop serving gelato and listening to techno until 4, and then the open-air markets start setting up at 5. If you want silence and peace it’s only between 4 and 5 in the morning. I decided to climb to the top of the apartment that I was staying in, and after getting up to the roof I realized, wait a second, this apartment building isn’t tall enough. I’m not going to see the sunrise. Then I noticed that next door there was a hotel that was maybe 20 feet taller. It wasn’t my hotel, but it was a hotel, and they had a rooftop balcony. I was thinking no one’s out here, it’s 4:30 in the morning, all the Italians just stopped eating their gelato a half hour ago, so I decided to go for it. I climbed up on top of this hotel roof, and only then, on top of this extra level, was I really able to see what ended up being one of the most beautiful sunrises, probably the most beautiful sunrise, I’ve ever seen in my life happen over the city of Rome.

The reason why I bring this up is because I actually think that it is a perfect metaphor for what Honors is all about. The Honors Program at UW is about reaching the top, getting to one of the best schools in the world, the University of Washington, and then deciding you know what that’s actually not enough. I want to climb higher. I want to be at UW, and I want to be in the Honors Program. Every single student in this room today has that drive, that attitude, that ambition, and it is exemplified beautifully in every way imaginable. I study biochemistry and photomedia, but there is every different type of major represented in this room right now, and everyone is constantly working to climb higher, to do better. I love that about the Honors Program.

I think that at this point in the speech I’m supposed to say something about college being the best years of our lives, but my response to that is actually to say, “I certainly hope that they aren’t.” The reason why is not because I had a bad time. I actually had an amazing time. I met amazing people such as the Honors staff who have been so great to me over the past 5 years. I went to amazing places like Rome and Istanbul. I gained so much knowledge. Thanks to the Honors Program I can sit down with you right now for a conversation about existentialism and how new media and technologically advanced forms of communication are reshaping the way we consider personal responsibility in the year 2013. Or, conversely, I can sit down with you and have a discussion about how Kaposi’s Sarcoma-associated herpesvirus, vaccinia virus and dengue virus all alter host cellular metabolism to support viral infection and replication, but they do so in very distinct ways. The reason why I can do that is because of the Honors Program.

The reason why these are not the best years of our lives is because Honors has prepared us for so much more. If you look up the term interdisciplinary in the dictionary, which I did, you’ll find that it is defined as a study involving two or more academic, scientific, or artistic disciplines. Honors rightfully characterizes itself as prioritizing interdisciplinary education over anything else, but it’s clear to me that the Honors Program is about so much more than just this surface level definition. If I may, I would like to provide a definition of what I think Honors interdisciplinary is. I consider it to be the interconnection and integration of two or more academic, scientific, or artistic disciplines into a cohesive and thoughtful perspective that is meant to function as a tool to understand our experience of the world around us. The Honors Program is about forming connections; it is about integrating those connections into a life in order to change how we interact with the world, and how the world interacts with us.

People always ask me, “Are you interdisciplinary because you’re a biochemistry and photomedia double major?” I respond, “No, that’s not why I’m interdisciplinary.” I think I’m interdisciplinary because I’ve actively worked towards understanding the relationship between those two seemingly disparate disciplines as they relate to my life. That’s the same reason why the rest of the people in this room are interdisciplinary no matter what interests they have. Everyone is able to integrate different ideas into one perspective, and to address a singular problem from many vantage points thanks to the Honors Program.

With the perspective given to us we are ready to be dynamic, global citizens, leaders in our fields, because we can see connections to other fields around us. In this day in age I think it’s true, and everyone realizes it, that it’s seemingly no longer good enough to be good at just one thing. We’ve invented machines and we’re inventing more every day that can do one thing at a time. Something that we haven’t been model with technology yet is the ability to form connections, the ability to tie different ideas, thoughts and disciplines together. I am happy to say that everyone in this room is ready to do that. I don’t know about all of you, but that sounds pretty exciting to me. So I ask, “Was college the best times of our lives?” And I respond, “No” because thanks to Honors I consider this to be only a beginning, and I truly believe that everyone in this room has only just gotten started. Thank you.

Roman Camarda
Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry with College Honors
Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photomedia with College Honors
Class of 2013