‘Impermeably and forever’: Reflecting on Rory Gilmore’s graduation speech
Mannion McGinley | Friday, January 27, 2023
“Gilmore Girls” has been a comfort show of mine for years. Through my many watches, I’ve processed that Rory Gilmore is no perfect character. In fact, she’s one of the farthest main characters from “perfect” that I have come to know in my 22 years of reading, watching and learning. While she and Lorelai didn’t always get everything right, they’ve shaped who I am from some of their best moments and I’ve learned from watching some of their worst.
One of Rory’s biggest, humblest moments (and simultaneously one of her best) is her Chilton valedictorian speech. In it, she touches on all that she learned and all those she loved. It is this speech that feels like the most relatable piece of Rory’s character for me at this moment in time. It felt that way at the end of high school, and it feels the most fitting now as the class of 2023 enters our final semester.
Because the speech feels so fitting, I’m going to follow its framework as I reflect on the people and the things that made these four years possible and made them worth all the work they required before I fully embark on my last semester on Notre Dame’s campus. A semester that I know will be full of light and laughs, but that ultimately came too quickly.
“I live in two worlds. One is a world of books.”
For anyone who knows me, they know I understand that the ability to read and write day in and day out has been a gift. I’ll pick up anything from a pop culture magazine to Proust and read them cover to cover. Sure, reading has been tedious at times, but this university gifted me with the space to explore. My very first class started with Sophocles and his stories about Oedipus and Antigone. I learned that a coffee mug has one side and is, in fact, a doughnut. We read everything from Plato and St. Augustine to Betty Friedan and Malcolm X. And I defeated George Foreman with Muhammad Ali after simulating an acid trip with Timothy Leary. I can’t thank my professors enough for introducing me to some of the greatest minds of every generation. Especially the professors that have become my mentors in other facets of my work, as well.
I have not only read as much as I wanted, but I’ve also had the chance to put pen to paper. I’ve written essays I couldn’t be prouder of (and some I wish to never see again). I’ve interviewed some of the coolest athletes and coaches this university — or the world — has ever seen. And I’ve told their stories the best way I knew how. Writing has been an outlet and an exercise throughout my four years. I am so grateful to have taken the classes I did. They really focused on using the knowledge I gained in the ways I knew how: in my own voice.
And to The Observer, for training my journalistic voice in ways I would never be able to just in the classroom. There’s nothing more important to me than the work I have done in the basement of South Dining Hall. I will carry those skills for the rest of my life. And I hope to always read all the important work student journalists do on our campus each and every day.
“It’s a rewarding world, but my second one is by far superior.”
I am so grateful for all that I have learned here, but that is a fraction of what Notre Dame has come to mean to me. My second world includes the people I have had the chance to meet here. These people, like the people of Stars Hollow to Rory Gilmore, are eclectic, fun and beyond intelligent. Everyone I have come to know on this campus is “supremely real, made of flesh and bone and full of love.” I could not have grown and learned in all the ways that I have without the discourse, the support and the care of my friends here.
From late nights in the library to similarly late nights out. From fabulous birthday parties to sitting on the couch playing a board game. I have come to recognize the people here as my family. Without them, my life here would not be the same. They let me cry in my hardest times, called me out in my stupidest and celebrated with me my achievements, no matter how big or small. I am every bit who I am after these four years because I got to know them. To the group of friends born of a math class we had to take — despite none of us wanting anything to do with math — I am so lucky we bonded as tightly and quickly as we did. To the friends who have come since then, you have come to mean the world to me, just as quickly.
“My twin pillars … from whom I received my life’s blood and … without whom I could not stand.”
While I love it here, I had to get here first to figure that out. And it’s at this point that I stray slightly from Rory’s speech. She thanks her grandparents at this moment (and while my grandparents have always been the brightest lights in my life) I’d like to combine her words for them and her words for Lorelai into some for my parents.
To be at Notre Dame would not have been possible without the love I know from Heather and John McGinley. They truly are my twin pillars. They created a space for me to ask questions, figure things out and learn from everything I do. My mother and father “never gave me any idea I couldn’t do whatever I wanted to do or be whomever I wanted to be.” My mother showed me every role model imaginable, but none as influential as herself. And my father? He is the reason for my confidence. I never feel more prepared for anything than I do after talking to them. Without them, succeeding here simply wouldn’t be possible. And it wouldn’t mean all that it does to me.
“But my ultimate inspiration comes from my best friend … the person I most want to be is her.”
And I save the rest of Rory’s words for my very best friend in the entire world. My little sister is the person I learned from the most and has guided me through these four years even without trying to. She knows my every move, how I react, what to ask when I don’t know where to start and how to respond to my answer.
Without my little sister, I couldn’t do what I do. She inspires it all and I am so grateful. Weekends she would visit for football or for the hell of it were bright spots in semesters. Watching her perceive the people and spaces around me gave me new perspectives. For a while, she practically knew me better than I knew myself, and it helped me to find the right people in my life. I have so much more to learn from Ry but I cannot thank her enough for all that she’s taught me already. She’s a “dazzling woman” and the Lorelai to my Rory. She helped me to shape the person I have become and pushed me in ways no one else knows how.
“Impermeably and forever”
The last thing I want to steal from Rory Gilmore is the sentiment that this isn’t an ending but a beginning. At least, that’s what everyone will tell us. We will get jobs. We will start new schools and we will do work in other ways and continue growing outside the gates of Our Lady’s University. Still, that doesn’t mean I want to reach my last days here and say goodbye to all of this. It has meant so much to me and become such a powerful part of who I am.
In spite of that, I know that at some point this semester, I will catch myself wishing it were all done. Wishing I could turn in my thesis as is and finish my finals already. I caught myself doing it in the seven semesters leading up to this one. This time, though, I refuse to hurry anything, even in those moments. I am going to cherish it all. For as quickly as this semester has come, I don’t want to see it go. As Rory Gilmore said, leaving here “means leaving friends who inspire me and teachers who’ve been my mentors, so many people who’ve shaped my life… impermeably and forever.” It’s going to hurt making that leap from our home under the dome.
But that’s the thing about it. Yes, we will be leaving, but Notre Dame will always be our home. “Impermeably and forever.”
Contact Mannion at [email protected].
The views expressed in this Inside Column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.