Expanding Temporal Bandwidth: Video Transcript

Chris Makaroff [Dean of the College of Arts and Science; Professor of Chemistry]: It is now my pleasure to introduce our Student Commencement Speaker.

Jacob Bruggeman is a graduating senior from Brunswick, Ohio majoring in Political Science and History, along with a Master's degree in Political Science.

Jacob is a Miami standout who has been actively engaged and highly visible around campus since his freshman year when he was elected hall president of Dennison Hall and the national communications coordinator of the Residence Hall Association—only the first-year student member of the RHA's executive board.

On the academic side of things, Jacob has racked up an impressive array of scholarly positions and awards. To name just a few: the 2017-18 Gilder Lehrman History Scholar Award, the 2018-19 Joanna Jackson Goldman Memorial Prize, an Ohio Public Leader Fellow for three years, history editor of The Cleveland Review of Books, review editor for the Urban History Association's blog, The Metropole, and chair of my own Dean's Student Advisory Council.

On top of that, Jacob has hosted at least 15 episodes of the new podcast called "Major Insight," which explores what college students can achieve when ambition meets opportunity.

If only I'd shown that much enthusiasm and initiative during my undergraduate days, no telling where I'd be!

Generously, Jacob attributes much of his success at Miami to our liberal arts curriculum, which provides the opportunity to pursue different paths of inquiry for continuous, lifelong learning. He said, "You would be hard-pressed to find a CAS major that isn't represented by well-rounded, developed people in terms of their interests and worldly perspectives. Part of that is being able to understand others' points of view, to develop this ability for empathy."

Jacob has demonstrated his empathy in his extensive study of the historical concepts of homelessness, for which he was awarded his Joanna Jackson Goldman scholarship.

Jacob starts his Master of Philosophy degree in Economic and Social History next year at Cambridge University. No doubt he is going to continue his amazing momentum long after he graduates today from Miami.
Please join me in welcoming Jacob to the stage.

Jacob Bruggeman [Political Science and History, senior]: Thank you, Dean Makaroff, for that gracious and probably a little bloated introduction. I don't know if I deserve all that attention. So, first and foremost, congratulations — you and I — we, the class of 2019, have made it. And sadly, this is "our last ride together" as such.

Gathered here in red gowns, accompanied by friends and family, adorned with tassels, ropes, medals, and maybe a few tears to come, probably soon for me, we await the dawn of our new worlds. What lies ahead is planned for some of us; for others, there's a range of possibilities; for others still, it's an entirely open road.

As soon-to-be-graduates only moments from receiving our degrees and departing from campus, we are encouraged to consider what our time at Miami will be worth. In answering this question, it is tempting to make like our friends in the business school and weigh our degrees' costs against their benefits, to catalog the time and coin we've invested in our years at Miami and measure it against the job prospects, networking possibilities, and earning potential we can expect as Miami alumni.

Answering the question of worth in this way will give us important answers — after all, we have to put food on the table. But the more interesting question lies in the past and the present: "What was and is our time at Miami worth?"

When we ask if our degrees were worth what we have sacrificed in the pursuit of them, we should be asking what they are worth to us, as individuals, as people — not just as future employees. How we've lived at Miami, and how we might live better still because of what we learned here, and what we remember of our friends and mentors, matters just as much as any job or salary.

What these years are worth is ultimately a question only we can ask and answer. It is an open question, and our answers to it will undoubtedly change as we grow older. What will not change is this: to answer it, we must revisit our memories of Miami — we must dwell in the past.

Yet ours is a society not too concerned with the past. History has become a pastime — though it remains a major for super, super cool people like me. What matters most to most people is the next big thing, and we've constructed our communities and personalities around the anticipation of whatever that thing is. Indeed, many of us have animated the last few years of our lives in anticipation of this day. Each time we completed an assignment, aced an exam, or excelled in an internship, we were motivated by the promise of commencement, a day of goodbyes both final and temporary, when our families and friends come together in celebration of the Miami community's achievements. College culture orients us to the future.

What is being lost in this orientation, but which we still have the power to save, is what the American novelist Thomas Pynchon called "temporal bandwidth." In Pynchon's 1973 novel, Gravity's Rainbow, a character explains that temporal bandwidth is "the width of your present, your now […] The more you dwell in the past and future, the thicker your bandwidth, the more solid your persona." Temporal bandwidth is an awareness of our experience as extending into both the past and the future. At present, we focus too much on the future.

We can strengthen our ability to dwell in the past, beginning with how we evaluate the worth of our Miami degrees.

Dwelling in the past is not reading dusty scrolls. It is asking those around us, "What was it like?" or "How did you cope?" and then asking the same of ourselves. It is asking our mentors, mothers, fathers, and grandparents questions about their lives. If we are wise enough to listen, their stories will be lessons for us in how to live.

Dwelling in the past is not nostalgia, and it does not require us to romanticize or run from the brutalities, cruelties, and fears, however small or large, that loom in memories of it. When we face the past and its written and spoken histories with intent, courage, and patience, we will learn from it, yes, but we will also peel back its mystery, revealing people more like ourselves than we might otherwise imagine.

To dwell in the past is to make it into our home, to interpret and reinterpret it for us — to help us live better here and now, and in the future. To dwell in our memories of Miami is to make our time here worth something to us, here and now, and for years to come.

Again, congratulations on this momentous achievement. I wish you all nothing but my best, and I hope I stay in touch with many of you. Love and Honor!

Dean Makaroff: Thank you, Jacob. We wish you the very best.

[May 2019]