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Guermazi ’24: Exploration at Brown and looking ahead

I want to address the elephant in the room: Yes, my name is Dorra. I used to hate how my name sounded like that of a certain cartoon character with a watermelon-shaped head and a talking monkey. I realized, though, that I can relate to Dora the Explorer in more ways than I thought, and I’m sure you all can too. Just hear me out. 

Dora likes nothing more than to explore, and at Brown University, we do just that. One can’t reflect on Brown without mentioning the open curriculum, so I’ll just get that part out of the way. The open curriculum — paired perfectly with our interdisciplinary interests — allowed us to probe a plethora of disciplines, from archaeology to computational biology. From classes on Tai Chi to astronomy, we learned everything under the sun. 

And we didn’t just explore academically, but culturally too. Whether you studied abroad, learned a new language or went to one of the ever-increasing Bajas on Thayer Street, at Brown we engaged in activities that enlarged our horizons and allowed us to become more well-rounded individuals. And even if you never left our beloved Brown bubble at all, our classmates are from all over the world, and we were able to travel simply by getting to know one another, embarking on a journey through each other's stories.

When I was trying to figure out what to write in this column for my fellow graduating seniors, I wanted to make sure it wasn’t too cheesy, yet still inspirational. After asking ChatGPT and binge-watching all the commencement speeches I could find, I was still stuck. 

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So naturally, I turned to the place where it all began: the Brown University website. That was the first place many of us learned about Brown, so it must be doing something right. And among the “open curriculum this” or “collaboration that,” one particularly struck me: “Brown brings people together in creative, unexpected ways.” 

It got me thinking: Who would Dora the Explorer be without her talking monkey sidekick, Boots? How could Dora go on all these adventures without her best friend by her side? This applies to us more than any other class, because though we all tried to forget about it, we are, in fact, the “COVID-19 class.” You could even say that COVID was our Swiper. Like the thieving fox that hinders Dora and Boots, it came out of nowhere wearing a blue mask and gloves. 

I remembered how the first time I met some of my classmates was in our enormous GroupMe chat, or during chemistry office hours hosted on Twitch or in a painfully awkward breakout room where everyone was muted with cameras off. Parents who had previously congratulated me on my acceptance to Brown were now saying, “It must suck starting college off like this.” Indeed, that’s how I felt as well. 

But the Brown website is right about one thing: “Brown brings people together in creative, unexpected ways.” I mean, did you expect your best friend to be the person who you went on weekly trips to the Olney-Margolies Athletic Center to take regular COVID tests with? Would you have ever thought your new gym partner would be the person who stayed up with you until 12:01 every night to reserve a spot at the Nelson? Did you think your future roommate would be the person ahead of you in line to pick up your daily hard-boiled egg breakfast bag from the Sharpe Refectory? I can’t speak for everyone, but I can confidently say that I have found multiple Boots here at Brown — people who want to explore just as much as I do and embrace every adventure together. We have all learned so much from each other, which is something I will be eternally grateful for.

And now that I’m pretty deep into the Dora the Explorer metaphor, let me tell you about my friend, Backpack. Backpack is equipped with all the tools you may need during your adventure. For example, one thing I am confident is in each and every one of your backpacks is resilience. We had to stay in our dorms for a sweaty summer semester. Many of us were students for 5 semesters in a row. Class of 2024, we are nothing if not persistent (and a little bit crazy too). And that’s just one skill in all of our collective backpacks, but we all acquired many more, such as creativity, strength, ambition, rigor and open-mindedness, to list a few. 

Our time here has been more than just an academic journey, but an exploration of our creativity, diversity and unexpected connections. The essence of Brown lies not only in what we’ve learned but in how we’ve learned it — collaboratively, creatively and often in ways we could have never anticipated. One could even say that Brown has been the map for us all to pursue our passions. It’s in the classrooms where every voice is not just heard, but celebrated. It’s in the Dear Blueno posts, and the craziness of shopping period and the swarm of people waiting to get late-night fries at Jo’s. 

“Brown brings students together in creative, unexpected ways.” I quoted this before and I’m quoting it now. But now it has a new meaning, doesn’t it? Now — hopefully — you actually are starting to believe it. From the Naked Donut Run to the Halloween Midnight Organ concert, this school does just that. It’s not just the endless lecture content and the intensive studying, but rather the discussions you have in the monstrous Andrews Commons yogurt-bowl line, or the random encounter you have with someone in the Brown Design Workshop, or even the conversations on the bathroom wall of the Sciences Library basement. These are the times when being at Brown allows us to learn and grow from one another and make deeper connections. Whether we met each other online or face-to-face, on purpose or by accident, Brown has brought us together and fostered an environment for us to learn and grow from one another. 

Sure, there may have been Swipers along the way that tried to bring us down, but that never stopped us. In the end, we always had our Boots — our peers, our friends, our mentors — to help us along the way and our Backpack to provide us with all the tools we needed to face adversity. 

So, my fellow soon-to-be graduates, as we embark on this exciting journey ahead, let us be the architects of unexpected connections, the champions of creative collaboration and the ambassadors of unity in diversity. Just like Dora, you all are resilient explorers, equipped with a plethora of skills in your Backpacks, ready to face any Swipers that might come your way because you will always know that you have Boots by your side. I am so excited to see where each of our Maps will lead us next.

Dorra Guermazi is a graduating senior in Brown's class of 2024.

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