Satrio Wicaksono ’10 Senior Voices Address

“Senior Voices” Address by Satrio Wicaksono ‘10 as delivered at Memorial Chapel on the morning of Wesleyan University’s 178th Commencement ceremonies, May 23, 2010:

It all started more than four years ago, when a big red envelope sent via FedEx arrived at my boarding school, a modern madrasah, in the suburbs of Jakarta, Indonesia. Inside the envelope was a congratulatory note from the Dean of Admissions at Wesleyan University, saying that I had been selected to receive the Freeman Asian Scholarship to attend Wesleyan.

The Freeman Foundation decided to send a group of incoming Freeman Scholars, myself included, to attend the English Intensive Program at Yale before we matriculated. The balmy days of the 2006 New England summer and Yale’s dusky gothic structures were the backdrop against which eight overly excited teenagers from six Asian countries conversed about their future and how four years at Wesleyan could possibly be the most transformative, gladdest years of their lives. I remember telling my fellow Freeman Scholars that my Wesleyan experience would be a stepping stone for me to achieve my personal long-term dream: to be a scientist in an environmental-related field who can contribute fully to the betterment of the global society. Now that my Wesleyan days are drawing to a close, it is more than appropriate to ask: How has my Wesleyan experience helped me achieve my personal goal? Do I still have that optimism which characterized the 17-year-old mind of a madrasah graduate from Indonesia?

The past four years of my life have been composed of so many flavors and little wonders, ups and downs; all relating to my endeavors to follow my dreams and maintain my identities. My freshman year tale was a story of exploration. Apart from those quirky and exceedingly varied classes I took and the high numbers of student clubs I joined, I will particularly never forget the week-long community service trip to New Orleans I attended during spring break 2007, organized by the Wesleyan Christian Fellowship. I saw first-hand how natural disasters woefully affect the lives of many, and those who have less are always affected the most. The whole time I was in New Orleans, staying in a church, rebuilding houses and trying to live frugally, I kept thinking of Indonesia, my home, where there is the ever-present possibility of natural disasters and where poverty is commonplace. In the evenings, I joined the Bible study in which I often offered insights and stories from my Islamic faith to enrich the discussions. Realizing that having interfaith discussions are crucial to make our place a better place, shortly after spring break, I arranged a series of interfaith dialogues between the Muslim Students Association and the Wesleyan Christian Fellowships, revolving around universal themes such as gratefulness and happiness. The trip reminded me that giving back to the society is ever crucial and that I must always increase my Islamic knowledge so that I can have fruitful and meaningful dialogues with others, particularly when it pertains to issues such as social justice and alleviating disasters. There is no doubt that my subsequent activism on campus was greatly shaped and inspired by my experience in New Orleans.

Wesleyan not only gives me the opportunity to learn about other faiths and cultures; this place provides me with a chance to grasp my own culture. I remember entering the World Music Hall and seeing the gamelan set during the orientation with a feeling of admiration and a sense of coming home. Little did I know that the first day I came to the Javanese dance class at the World Music Hall, I was about to begin a long lasting love relationship with Javanese dance. A relationship that has provided me with sustenance and comfort and which has confirmed my identity as a Javanese, an Indonesian. Before coming to Wesleyan, I had little interest in the traditional dance and music of Indonesia. Throughout my Wesleyan career, the World Music Hall has been a place where I regularly rehearse and perform the music and dance of Java and Bali.  It is also only here at Wesleyan where an Indonesian can be found to study Balinese dance under the tutelage of a Japanese master-dancer.

My academic interests have also developed considerably. Various research projects that I had conducted in the past, both on and off campus, in the US and Australia, were mostly climate-related. I believe that the study of past climate changes provides a crucial source for modeling and understanding the current and future global environment, which can further be linked to the realm of public policy and most importantly, our own lives. As with natural disasters, the anthropogenic climate change would also immediately and severely impact people at the lowest socio-economic hierarchy. My side interest in the intersection of climate studies, social justice and development studies have led me to double major in Earth and Environmental Sciences and Environmental Studies and also obtain the Certificate in International Relations. This coming fall, I will be starting my PhD in Geological Sciences at Brown, where I am hoping to work on understanding climate-related systems in the tropical Indonesian archipelago. I know, however, that at the end of the day, God will not be impressed by my academic knowledge nor my professional accomplishments alone. I aspire to judge myself on how well I have addressed the problems in my society through my scholarly pursuit.

Professor Suzanne O’Connell, who was my faculty advisor, major advisor, and research advisor, convinced me that I can produce high-quality work and that I can be a good scientist. I aspire to emulate her intelligence, impressive work ethics, and her passion in the interconnection of science and public service. Brother Sohaib Sultan, now a chaplain at Princeton, once told me that the essence of Islam is social justice. Sister Marwa Aly, the current Muslim chaplain, helped me understand what it means to have a responsible and meaningful freedom. Ibu Maeny Sumarsam, my Javanese dance teacher, has played the role of grandmother ever since I arrived on campus. These are a few names, along with other professors, mentors and friends, who helped define my Wesleyan experience, and more importantly, shape me into who I am now. I want to ensure that they know today is not only about celebrating my graduation. Today is also about celebrating the people around me.

The World Music Hall, Exley Science Center, Turath House, New Orleans, Australia, Cairo, Fiji, China; all of these have encompassed my Wesleyan experience that I will cherish for years to come. I could not be more grateful; I am leaving Wesleyan today more enriched, socially conscious and knowing that my Wesleyan experience will never leave me.