Baccalaureate Address to the Class of 2013

May 18, 2013

Thank you everyone, and welcome.  Members of the Class of 2013:  I hope that this service helps to start putting everything in perspective before the big day tomorrow.  Take a deep breath, look around you, soak it all in together, and allow me to extend my warmest congratulations.

To the parents, siblings, relatives and other loved ones and friends of the soon-to-be-graduates, it is a great honor to share this occasion withyou.  Welcome to Tufts and to this Baccalaureate service.  We all recognize that our graduating seniors have reached an important milestone, but we also recognize that they arrived at this happy day thanks to your support and care.

Seniors:  It is fitting that parents, relatives, and friends are now seated behind you, since they have backed you from the beginning.  They have been with you through toddler tantrums and teen-aged rebellion, many athletic contests in the rain and dance recitals that went on far too long.  They have sustained you with their enduring love and support.  Seniors, please rise and give them a hearty round of applause.

Before I begin, I also want to thank our talented Wendell Phillips speaker.  Please join me in recognizing Kristen Ford!  Well done, Kristen.

Class of 2013:  This is actually the first time that I have ever seen all of you sitting in one place, since it was President Bacow who officially welcomed you into the Jumbo family.  Most of you will remember that there was something at once timely and timeless about Larry’s remarks that day.  Even if you don’t, I guarantee that your parents will.

That day, Larry pulled out his iPod, and played a song by Bob Dylan:  “The Times They Are A-Changin’.”  At a time of great change in your lives and in the world, he said, “Tufts is where you will acquire the knowledge, wisdom, skills, and relationships that will equip you to lead a meaningful and productive life in a time of change.”

Today, as you sit together at another time of transition, I think it bears considering how you and the world have changed in the last four years.  And it also bears considering how your Tufts experience has prepared you, as Larry promised it would, for the changing world into which you are graduating.

I feel that Larry hit the nail on the head.  Your college experience has been characterized more by change and transformation than most—and not only because you have known two Tufts presidents, or because you are the last Class to remember trays in the dining halls.

During college your Class witnessed the invention of the iPad and the advent of other great technological advances.  The unfolding legacy of the Arab Spring during your sophomore year has reminded us of the complexity of change, and the uncertainty that often comes along with it.  It is fitting that when Bill Clinton delivered the Fares Lecture, he urged you to say, “I don’t know” at least once a day—to embrace the uncertainty of our changing world.

You have been essential partners for me personally; at the halfway point of your college experience when I arrived, you used the two years behind you to teach me what it meant to be a Jumbo, and I used the next two years to work with you on behalf of Tufts.  I think we learned to lead Tufts together.

Of course, all of these changes in the world around you have taken place in tandem with the dramatic changes that you have gone through personally.  You have pursued knowledge deeply and broadly.  You have honed skills of critical analysis, problem-solving and creative synthesis.

You have also taken your learning beyond the classroom in so many ways—from studying abroad…and serving local, national and international communities… to engaging in rigorous research projects and other work experiences in the field.  You have made Tufts proud in myriad athletic competitions…produced original works of art…and performed in outstanding concerts and plays.  You have all explored yourselves and the world, and begun to imagine how you ultimately want to contribute to it.

I know that you are better prepared for the transitions ahead of you now, than you were at Matriculation four years ago.  I have every confidence that just as you have come to lead in so many ways at Tufts, you are now prepared to lead your lives—with a sense of meaning, integrity, and the will to have positive impact.

But I also appreciate that your experiences with change may have left you with more questions than answers.  Your class has lived together through collective challenges and tragedies…from Hurricane Sandy and the Sandy Hook shootings to the recent Boston Marathon bombings.  And if you are to reckon honestly with what it means to live in a changing world—and especially to live well in a changing world—you must address events like these.

Just a few weeks ago, we were all in lockdown, “sheltered in place.”  The experience was confusing, unprecedented and frankly scary.  We all felt touched by the tragedy, even if we were sequestered in our dorm rooms, apartments or houses, and what it meant for the victims, their families, friends, and home communities.

That episode was certainly not representative of your college experience.  But the possibility and reality of tragedy and trauma teach us critical lessons.  As you learn to navigate times that are constantly changing, the most important of those lessons concerns how you embrace the uncertainty of the world in which we live.

We cannot escape uncertainty, dismiss it, or willfully ignore it.  If you are going to make the most of your education, and get the most out of your lives, you will have to find ways to overcome the fear of uncertainty without suppressing it.  In fact, the trepidation that we all feel when we are on the cusp of big changes can be a source of inspiration and unleash tremendous potential, not unlike how you felt at Matriculation four years ago.  It is in those moments when we realize acutely that we do not know what comes next for us, that we may find out who we really are, and what is most important to us.

So I urge you to work through your fear of uncertainty, but remember that you do not have to do it alone.

The events around the Boston Marathon reminded us of the central importance of community if we are to confront successfully change, uncertainty, and fear.  It was in texts and phone calls and Facebook posts—with family, friends, and classmates—that you not only learned about what was happening, but supported each other through it, and tried to make sense of it.

We all realized that we needed to keep each other informed and supported.  And when we came together in Goddard Chapel that evening, it was out of a deep need to connect with each other and share our emotions.

But it is not only in extraordinary times that you will rely on the power of community.  Many of the positive steps you will take in life are also occasions for some anxiety around uncertainty.  Here too you must allow others to help you.  When you launch your chosen career, one of your first tasks will be to assemble a great team of colleagues and collaborators.  And when you reach milestones in personal and family life, you will want to share them with those who care for you and are there to support you.

There are no guarantees in careers or family, but the experiences are well worth the risks.  In order to live well, then, you must embrace uncertainty and complexity.  And if you have learned anything at Tufts, I hope that it is an appreciation for the idea that our world—in all its diversity—is anything but simple.

Indeed, our strategic vision of what Tufts can and should be, is tied to the values of knowledge, inclusion, innovation, and impact.  Each of these values requires embracing complexity, and all of them will help you confront it:

  • We believe that learning—the jump into the unknown and the vastly complicated—is a lifelong skill. No matter how troubling the truth can be, knowledge is ultimately energizing and empowering.
  • We aim to create an inclusive community because we know that diversity is essential if we are to achieve excellence individually and as an institution.  That requires awareness of everyone in our community…understanding of the disparities that are inherent in our society…and celebration of the relationships between us.
  • We hope that the variety of perspectives and ideas to which you have been exposed in the last four years will help you to think critically, and to address our current societal challenges through innovative solutions.
  • And finally, we believe that through these values and our actions we will have a positive impact on this world.

As the newest members of the community of educated men and women, you have the tools to confront the challenges that you and your generation face. Tufts has imparted knowledge to you.

That knowledge has given you the capacity to explore timeless and enduring questions as well as unconventional cutting-edge ones—and to fortify your dreams with the foundation of reality.  In the words of Robert F. Kennedy, you will be among those who do not see life merely as it is, but rather as it might be.

To get there—to get to the better place of life as it might be—you will have to embrace uncertainty and complexity.  In order to do that, you can always call on the values of your alma mater.  Keep learning; appreciate diverse perspectives; and think creatively.  When you do all of that I am confident that you will have an impact.

Soren Kierkegaard, the great theologian, wrote that, “You can only understand life backwards, but you have to live it forwards.”  That is your challenge.  But I would impress upon you that as you begin your journey, Tufts’ own values can help guide you.

And these values don’t just stand for themselves.  They stand for the power of your community: your families, friends, teachers, mentors, and coaches.  These people will give you strength and inspiration.  I urge you to put serious energy into developing your relationships with family and friends, and to broaden and deepen the richness of your network as you proceed on your path.

Tufts should remain part of that network.  You are soon to leave this place, but we want you to stay engaged.  As a class that was inducted into the Tufts family on notes of change, you now have the opportunity to take part in the next chapters of change in this institution—and you can start by modeling your vision of what it means to be Tufts alumni.

Support each other, call on other alumni to help develop your ideas and career paths, engage and mentor our current students, and take advantage of the lifelong learning opportunities at Tufts.  As Sol Gittleman likes to say, you pay for the first four years and get the next 40 free.

It is time for you to move on, so tomorrow we send you off.  But be sure to share your journey with us, remember that you are as prepared as anyone can be for what lies ahead, and don’t forget that you always have a home on the Hill.

Class of 2013:  Congratulations and best wishes!  The best is yet to come.