May 19, 2012
To the Class of 2012: Greetings and congratulations. It is said there is a first time for everything, and this is your first Tufts graduation and mine as well. It is an honor and privilege for me to deliver my first Tufts Baccalaureate this afternoon. Your Class will always be special to me, as the first to graduate from Tufts on my watch.
To parents, brothers and sisters, relatives, and friends of the graduates: Welcome to Tufts, and welcome to this Baccalaureate service. As we begin, I would like to ask the graduates to stand and recognize the support, care, love, and sacrifice of the parents, families, and friends who have made this day possible. Seniors, please give them a hearty round of applause.
Before I begin my remarks, I want to thank Allister Chang. I was delighted when I heard that he would be delivering this year’s Wendell Phillips address. That confidence was not misplaced. Thank you, Allister, for speaking so thoughtfully to, and on behalf of, your fellow graduates.
Tomorrow’s Commencement will be a wonderful and inspiring occasion. But while all Schools participate in that university-wide event, this afternoon is dedicated to your Class alone. Here, as at Matriculation, you gather together to mark a significant milestone in your lives.
In preparing for today, I went back to read the advice President Bacow gave you, when you gathered for Matriculation on the Quad in August of 2008. Earlier that summer, he had asked members of the faculty what they thought you should know as you started out at Tufts, so his suggestions really did reflect the spirit of the university:
• He urged you to develop your curiosity, and broaden your intellectual horizons.
• He urged you to welcome and accept challenges to your preconceptions and attitudes.
• He urged you to make friendships outside of your comfort zone.
• He urged you to establish your independence and to become active citizens.
One of the most distinctive features of Tufts is the extent to which it makes all of these things possible for its students. During your time here on the Hill, you have grown both personally and intellectually. You have forged ahead on new paths, often ones that you would never have imagined taking before you arrived here:
• You have chosen a major—many of you, more than one—and in the process of pursuing a body of knowledge deeply, you have developed your skills in critical analysis, in problem-solving, and in creative synthesis.
• You have become part of the Tufts community. You have participated in a sometimes dizzying array of activities on campus, expressing your own individuality and passions, at the same time that you have built strong connections with your fellow students.
• And you have explored your communities and the world. You have come to know Medford, Somerville, Cambridge, and Boston as well as your own backyards. You have brought what you learned here back to your hometowns. And you have experienced for the first time ideas, places and peoples you knew only from books, movies, TV, or the internet.
Membership in an intimate residential campus community is a unique opportunity for personal growth. You have developed your awareness of the different social, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds of your classmates. You have come to a deepened sense of responsibility to be good stewards of the environment. And you have learned how to look after your classmates when they needed it most.
As a Class, you leave Tufts with some indelible memories. Certain important collective experiences have helped to define your time here:
• Just a couple of months after you entered Tufts, the country held a historic Presidential election, the excitement of which you shared with each other in the Campus Center. And if the inauguration of the nation’s first African-American President seemed to mark the beginning of one era, the death of Osama bin Laden, just a little over a year ago, seemed to mark the end of another.
• You were reminded of the power of nature, when Hurricane Irene bore down upon New England at the start of this academic year. Many of you were helping to lead pre-orientation programs that week, in this area and in the White Mountains. Thank you for helping ensure that all went well, for the fellow students who were depending on you.
• Both the arts and athletics have flourished during your years here. You have seen the fabled Bubs on NBC’s “Sing Off.” And you got to watch our men’s lacrosse team take the 2010 NCAA national championship over perennial powerhouse Salisbury.
• You have worked hard at your studies and been active in the community. But you have also had fun together. I hope you will look back fondly on the many opportunities you and your friends had, to have a good time. I gather that waiting for your coats at the Sheraton Hotel after Winter Bash two years ago was not one of them.
• Back on campus, you have been passionate in your pursuit of new curricular and co-curricular opportunities that express Tufts’ values, and prepare you to make a difference in the world. A week and a half ago, just as many of you were preparing to take your very last exams as Tufts students, the faculty in Arts & Sciences voted to approve a new major in Africana Studies. You can be proud of your thoughtful contributions to the discussions that led us there.
• Tufts encourages you to engage actively with the world outside its walls. But as a great university, we also give you the chance to hear first-hand from leaders in intellectual and public life. You will remember the opportunity to learn from Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, Michael Pollan and Michael Sandel, Bob Woodward, and Muhammad Yunus.
I am personally grateful for the memories that you have given me this year. You have welcomed me warmly. In fact, you made me feel like a Jumbo even before I started on the job, when I got to know some of you—including Allister—while you studied in Oxford and London as juniors. Since then, I have gotten to know you at Senior Dinners at Gifford House and many more casual encounters. And you have made me proud to be President, at all the performing arts and sporting events that make this campus hum, and at the awards ceremonies this spring to recognize your many accomplishments.
You will take memories with you from Tufts, then. And I am willing to bet, that most of them will be about people. Here, you have made relationships that will last the rest of your lives.
At your Matriculation, Larry urged you to get to know the faculty, and I know you have taken his advice to heart. Many of you have developed tremendously valuable relationships with your teachers and mentors—faculty, like Sol Gittleman, who will be friends and advisors for life. Some of you have had the privilege to work alongside your teachers on research projects that have helped move important academic fields forward.
You have also built special relationships with staff—coaches, the staff in the dining halls, those in residential life, department administrators, and our dedicated facilities team. You will never forget the director who helped you give a great dramatic performance, or the trainer who helped you overcome an injury so that you could once again play a sport you love.
Probably no relationships you have made at Tufts, however, will compare with your enduring friendships with your fellow classmates. Many of you will be friends for life with the participants in your pre-orientation program, your first-year roommates, your teammates, and those with whom you studied abroad. You have learned much from each other already. I hope you will go on learning from each other for a long time to come.
The Tufts diploma you will receive tomorrow represents more than just academic achievement and four years of college. It signifies this university’s distinctive mission and ethos, and represents not only your coursework, but also what you have learned outside the classroom. You have learned that working together—collective effort—far exceeds the sum of the individual parts.
Most importantly, as you enter the community of educated men and women, we hope and trust you are prepared for leadership. Leadership is not a spectator sport. Knowledge without action put to the good is a vain enterprise.
Values may well be the most important thing you take away from this Hill. The values you hold and live by, more than anything else, will define you as a person. Your Class entered Tufts in September 2008, at a tumultuous time. Uncertainty, doubt, and an increasingly complex world are still with us today. But it is precisely your values that make us—and should make each and every one of you—confident of your success and your ability to make good decisions. As you contemplate who you are, and who you want to become, I hope that the values we subscribe to on this Hill will guide you.
First: Keep learning. As you do, your ability to think critically will lead to a productive path in life. A virtual mountain of information and data passes before us every day. The critical thinking you have learned here will help you make sense of it, order it, and prioritize it. It will give you the capacity to act on it, and to do so wisely.
Second: Remember how much relationships matter. Just as your relationships here defined much of your time at Tufts, the people in your professional and personal lives will shape the quality of your experiences. And collaboration and collegiality will bring you far more rewards than their opposites.
Third: Work to make this world a better place. That goal will lead you to the best and most fulfilling path forward. It may be that you will need to take risks or accept new challenges to get there, but I am confident that what you have learned here will make it possible. Don’t shy away from the challenges that will let you make a positive contribution. Accept and embrace them.
This is one of the special values that we live by at Tufts, because active citizenship and public service are part of our Jumbo DNA. It will be tremendously powerful to apply the kind of knowledge you have gained here in the ways suggested by these core principles, and if there is one single mark that Tufts has made on you during these four years, I hope this is it.
Take your active citizenship into the world to make a difference. Your next step in life may be graduate school, or a first job, but active citizenship should stay with you through all the years. If you bring your energy, your passion, and your values to bear, you will make meaningful change.
Tomorrow you graduate from Tufts. As alumni you will remain an important part of this community, while beginning your service as our best ambassadors to the world. Those of us who remain on this Hill will follow your accomplishments. We are confident that you will make Tufts proud. And we want you to come back, not just to tell us of your triumphs but also to let us share in your challenges.
While life is a serious venture, you will find it easier to navigate with two traits: a curious nature and a sense of humor. The world is a fascinating place. Open yourself up for all that it has to offer and enjoy the ride.
Congratulations and best wishes, members of the Class of 2012.