Prepared remarks for Commencement 2013 by Natalia Quintero '13.
The mathematical definition of an inflection point is a point on a curve at which the curvature of a given line changes from convex to concave. This point serves as a node that allows the line to rise upwards dramatically, forever changing its course.
I cannot help but be amazed at the tremendous power one single point can have on the course of a line. As a political science major I have stood at the nexus of literature, economics, sociology and technology—and to me there is something remarkable about the mathematical expression of an inflection point. From a non-mathematical perspective it seems to represent the point at which everything changes, it is the point that separates what could have been and what came to be instead.
I see my liberal arts education at Barnard in much the same way. Barnard has served as the inflection point that has exponentially grown the knowledge I brought into this campus by always serving as the node that led me towards greater knowledge and deeper understanding. In the moments where my intellectual path could have plateaued, Barnard always exalted it.
Now, that path began at freshman English seminar “Legacy of the Mediterranean” with clear sailing along side Odysseus as I joined him in his adventures navigating through the sea towards Ithaca. At first I was solely consumed by the underlying poeticism of the narrative that smoothly swayed Odysseus back and forth from island to sea, but quickly my curiosity was peaked when my professor asked us to answer why, we thought, it was valuable for Odysseus to experience this great adventure at all. Having never questioned this myself I went home to investigate.
It turns out in Odysseus’ journey he would have to be both creative and scientifically detailed to win each battle against his foes. He would have to engage trivium, which consists of rhetoric, grammar and logic and quadrivium, which involves arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy to outwit his enemies. Coincidentally, I learned that together, trivium and quadrivium comprised the seven pieces that make up the liberal arts. At this moment I became ecstatic as I realized that, like Odysseus, I too would have the opportunity to use the liberal arts to guide my own journey.
The Odyssey became an inflection point where I saw how my undergraduate education at Barnard would prove to a quest of my own. Each class became an island full of intellectual opportunities and in each course I would come to find sages, monsters, surprises and lessons.
It became an adventure to take history and art history courses simultaneously so that I could see how the tortuous emotions of a war aesthetically affected the artists of a civilization. The adventure continued through my exploration of the turbulent waters of computer science when in learning to write an effective algorithm I saw a direct analogy to writing an effective research paper. This journey was especially prominent on the days where we would be forced to attend dance shows, see theatre performances, and hang out in museums to complete class assignments.
These were just some of the fortunate instants of inflection towards greater knowledge, and every Barnard woman has experienced such moments. These very instances reveal our profound intellectual commitment as has been guided by our professors. Their vital support has helped us build vessels allows us to navigate into future adventures as heroes of our own epics.
My fellow graduates, at the end of four years here I can only say that it is certain that like Odysseus, we too are on an adventure. We came to Barnard as young, eager inexperienced navigators, but with the teachings of our professors we leave today as confident, seasoned explorers ready to take on the next adventure.
As our inflection point, Barnard has served as the node that allowed us to rise upwards dramatically forever changing the course of our lives. Today we stand in front of our loved ones as they see what we were just four years ago and give them a glimpse what will become of us. My fellow graduates, its time for a new adventure to begin.