Note: The following is President Rebecca S. Chopp’s prepared remarks to the Class of 2009.
Graduates – congratulations!
Today is a graduation – recognizing hard work and achievement in the classroom, the laboratory, the studio, the stage, and the athletic field.
Quite wisely, we call today’s event a commencement, a beginning, because you are not finishing your education as much as you are preparing to live your life of learning.
As John Dewey, one of America’s great philosophers, once said, education is a process of living and not a preparation for living.
Calling your graduation a commencement underscores that your education is not something behind you but something in front of you, something you will live forward for yourself and with others.
What an amazing four years you have had at Colgate. What a great impact you have had on the school.
• You raised awareness about sustainability and helped us make real strides to become a more environmentally sound campus.
• You excelled in the classroom, working with faculty members on research projects, creative endeavors and in locations from Uganda to Washington, Denmark to Wollongong.
• And outside the classroom, your intellect pushed our speaking union to great heights–as demonstrated by the Colgate Debate Society being ranked third in the country.
• Through the COVE and the Upstate Institute, you made a difference locally and around the country, supporting area not-for-profits with your research and time and traveling off campus to build homes in New Orleans.
• You thought of the future as more than 90% of you contributed to the senior class gift–an endowment to support programs in the beautiful new Donovan’s Pub, which you also helped design.
• You achieved great things in athletics–in this year alone you won Patriot League championships in women’s lacrosse and swimming and diving, and men’s soccer and football.
• You brought excitement to campus with your artwork and performances–Masque and Triangle, University Orchestra, the Year of Chinese Art, and the recent outdoor sculptures that challenged and invigorated how we look at our campus.
• You engaged national and international figures – the Dalai Lama, Colin Powell, Newt Gingrich, Fareed Zakaria – in conversation, and learned from them, and sometimes challenged them, with your insightful questions.
• And when hateful, racist graffiti was found on campus, you stood together, proclaimed that we are “one Colgate,” and drafted a diversity initiative that will make a difference for your successors.
• I want to mention two special members of your class. First, Kelly Henderson, recently awarded a St. Andrews Scholarship to study at the University of Edinburgh, is performing on bagpipe with the Fraser Highlanders.
• And Charlie Gaylord, son of Colgate alumni Wendy and Ritter, is graduating with you today having survived a near fatal ski accident. Charlie–congratulations! Your persistence, irrepressible spirit and the love and support of your family have brought you to this moment. We share your joy and celebrate your wonderful achievement.
According to our tradition, the president gives the senior class a charge for their future.
I want to give you a charge today that is composed of three gifts: a toolbox, flypaper for your soul and body, and ice cream with different flavors and styles.
For the rest of your lives, I charge you to use and enjoy these gifts for yourself, your community, and for Colgate. These are metaphorical gifts – so you can dress them up, paste them anywhere, and choose your flavors.
Gift 1: Your education – the doing of your education – is a toolbox for life assuming you carry it with you as you leave this place and that you use the tools gained here to build your life and our world.
Education, especially a liberal arts education, prepares you for life. By engaging critical thinking, by mastering fundamental approaches in the sciences, social sciences, humanities and hopefully the arts, you should be prepared to figure out what you need to know for the rest of your life.
What an astounding gift!
No profession will remain stable in our changing world. The rate of change is accelerating faster than ever — 1,000 times faster in the 21st century – your century — than in the last. The world belongs, as Eric Hoffer has said, to those who learn how to learn.
Please use your toolbox not only to get a job and provide for your family, but also to build a better community in New York City, Chicago, Seattle, Cape Town or Hong Kong.
We need culture-building desperately right now. We are in the greatest financial and social restructuring of the world since the Great Depression.
Many of you will struggle to find jobs you want, but keep your tools sharp by working where you can. As you do so, remember that all of you must use your tools to build a future by keeping your community strong and vibrant in the arts and culture, in politics and education, in recreation and religion.
Your toolbox is for building your life and our life together.
Which brings me to the second gift that, metaphorically speaking, I will hand you as you cross the stage: may the values you have learned here stick to you like flypaper as you create your world and our life together.
The act of living your life forward means using the values acquired at Colgate to navigate your life and our life together.
May all sorts of Colgate values stick to your soul like flypaper. Hard work and discipline, doing the right thing, skepticism rather than cynicism, love of friendship, respect for difference and the ability to create connections, curiosity, profound determination, the Spirit that is Colgate – these values are precious and important.
You have been shaped by and shaped your values here – they will cling to you and you, in turn, must cling to them through daily practice. Your values will guide you through the accelerated changes ahead and will give great pleasure to your life.
And this leads me to the third gift that I will actually give you – in reality as well as metaphorically – after the ceremony. Ice cream.
From day one at Colgate we have given you ice cream: at the arrival day reception when you said goodbye to your parents, during the year just for fun (even when it was snowing), at special moments for celebration, in the summer because it is so beautiful, and now to celebrate this special day but to comfort us in our sadness of departure.
Colgate has the best ice cream and the best education in the world, I think. I have come to understand that on some deep level this link of ice cream and education means quite simply that ice cream is an apt metaphor for seizing opportunity, the satisfaction, of drinking deeply of life, for actively stepping into life instead of passively waiting for it to come your way.
Education is about opportunities in this country – the opportunity to get ahead, the opportunity to gain capacity to appreciate life, the opportunity and the obligation to learn skills to serve others.
Education provides opportunities for employment but also for pleasure: for understanding art, dance, new sports, and travel in other lands. See your opportunities; seize your opportunities; step forward in them.
Toolbox, fly paper and ice cream. Those are the gifts you have achieved and receive this day in order to live your well-lived life and to build with others our life together.
I hope you receive living well, daily, and your education as gifts.
And so let me conclude by asking us all to begin by reflecting on the deep gratitude we feel to those who have supported us.
We have a tremendous faculty at Colgate who has taught you, cared for you, challenged you and supported you in and outside of the classroom not only in Hamilton but also in London, Madrid, Wollongong and Beijing.
You have been supported by an incredibly energetic and dedicated staff that supports this small city, which is now forever your home.
Your friends have supported you by having fun, pushing you to study, challenging you, taking care of you, sharing your experience.
Your families – parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and sisters and brothers have been there for you and cheered all your successes at Colgate.
All of you are here today due to the generosity and support of others.
Many have given much so you can graduate, so now begin living out your Colgate charge in an act of gratitude by joining me in thanking your family and friends and this school for the precious gifts you have earned and you receive this day.