Matriculation Address to the Class of 2020

August 31, 2016

Each year, the President addresses incoming undergraduates on the occasion of their Matriculation.  This year’s new students included 1,342 first-year undergraduates, plus 55 students who will pursue Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees through the School of the Museum of Fine Arts (SMFA) at Tufts.

Good afternoon.  It’s a privilege for me to welcome all of you to Tufts University, and to this year’s Matriculation ceremony.  The beginning of this academic year is especially exciting as it marks the first since the School of the Museum of Fine Arts has become part of Tufts.  I offer a special welcome to all the members of the SMFA community here with this today.  I would like to extend a warm welcome to the parents and families who are here today to help our new students begin this next phase of their education and growth.  Students, I know that some of your families are not able to join us this afternoon, but I hope you will assure your families and loved ones that we consider them all vital members of the Tufts community.

Members of the Class of 2020: This is one of two occasions on which you will gather together formally as a Class.  The other is the Baccalaureate ceremony, which takes place the day before Commencement.   Between now and then, you will embark on a personal and intellectual journey unlike any other in your lives.  The course of that journey will not be entirely predictable.   Its route will shift as you change and grow here on this Hill and in the Fenway.

As you prepare to start your voyage of discovery, let me assure you of one thing: You have what it takes to succeed here.  You have already accomplished a great deal.  All of you arrive with outstanding qualities and the ability to flourish here at Tufts.  Don’t worry: we did not make a mistake!  You are here because we believe that you will take advantage of all that Tufts has to offer to grow personally and intellectually.  While Tufts will challenge you—and in fact, we will have failed if we do not challenge you—I know that you have what it takes to excel here and in the years to follow.

The world you will enter is continuously evolving—economically, geopolitically, technologically and culturally.  This change is anxiety producing; it is a natural reaction to want to be practical, to have everything figured out, to move down a straight, planned out path.  As a result, perhaps now more than at any other time in recent history, there is a drive to measure the practical value of a university education.  The MacArthur Foundation, however, estimates that 65 percent of young people today will end up with jobs that have yet to be created.  In other words, you need an education that will help you succeed over the course of a lifetime—not just in your first job.  Fortunately, a Tufts education has never been just about coursework, your starting salary, or building a resume for graduate school applications.  We are certainly proud of how well our graduates do when they leave here.  But, our real goal is to give you the skills, and help you develop the values, that will position you for success and fulfillment your whole life long.

Tufts is a special place.  We undertake academic and scholarly research of the highest international caliber, but we remain focused on educating individuals, one student at a time.  In our classrooms and labs, you will have opportunities to explore new fields and interests, and learn from faculty who are leaders in their fields.  I encourage you to take advantage of those opportunities by being fully engaged in your education.  Our faculty will prove to be crucial in broadening your horizons, letting you learn about areas of study you didn’t even know existed.  And in fact, they may well be how you will find your passion, your major, and a career or calling that shapes the rest of your life.  And once you’ve started working toward your major, I encourage you to really dig into it.  Taking courses that stretch you intellectually, conducting independent research, writing a senior thesis perhaps—all of these will give you a satisfaction like no other.  We celebrate academic achievement at Tufts.  And one of the highlights of each year, for me, is attending our annual academic awards ceremony.

But a flawless transcript does not, by itself, constitute an education, or promise fulfillment.  What you learn here ought to go far beyond the content of your classes and research projects.  You will learn a great deal, and grow as a person, through active participation in cocurricular life—whether in athletics, the arts, community service, TCU Senate, or other clubs and activities.  Whether you join an existing group or start your own, these will be opportunities to make strong friendships, to work effectively with others as part of a team, to develop leadership skills, and to advance a cause that is meaningful to you.  Active participation in the life of the campus is a critical part of a Tufts education.

You will also benefit from a tradition of active citizenship and civic engagement that is truly unique.  The inaugural 1+4 Fellows who served last year in communities abroad join you in matriculating today.  Tisch College of Civic Life and a tremendous range of student organizations will help you make a difference by addressing the critical needs of communities near and far.  This is what Jumbos have been doing for more than 150 years.  And it is a tradition that we hope you will carry on.  Those of you who are eligible can start by voting in this fall’s elections.  The JumboVote initiative at Tisch College will make it as easy as possible for you to cast your ballots.

As a university, Tufts is also committed to diversity and inclusion. These are challenging issues for our entire society, as events over the last two years have forcefully, often tragically, reminded us.  We want to ensure that the climate on the Tufts campus is truly welcoming to all the talented members of our diverse community, whatever their background or identity.  At the same time, faculty across the university are working to advance understanding of, and new approaches to, these perennial dilemmas.  I hope you will embrace the unique opportunity of being in a diverse and inclusive community, learning from those whose experiences and beliefs are different from your own.

The characteristics of Tufts that I have mentioned—a combination of intellectual breadth and intimate scale, a commitment to making the world a better place, and a diverse learning environment—will all help shape your educational experience.  By the time you graduate, you will realize that it has been transformative.

Between now and when you sit together with your friends at Baccalaureate, you will also grow as a person, in ways you cannot even imagine.  Much of this growth will come through the hundreds of choices you will make, large and small.  For most of you, this will be your first extended period of living on your own, away from home and family.  You will have to learn to structure your own lives; how to use your time well; and where to devote your energies.  You will even learn how to do your own laundry!

These choices will not always be easy, and some lessons may come the hard way.  Over time, one very important thing you will learn, is that you cannot do it all.  This means that you will need to get over the fear of missing out.  Because at some point, you will realize that you really need more sleep.  Listen to your body when it tells you that.  Your body and mind will also work better if you eat healthy foods.  That should be easy, thanks to our wonderful dining service.  And I hope that the state of the art Tisch Sports and Fitness Center will make it enticing for you to exercise.  Your body and your mind will thank you for it.

You will have important choices to make, in how you socialize.  I urge you not to put yourselves, and others, at risk by drinking too much.  The consequences can be much more severe and long-lasting than how you feel the next morning.  The myth that “everybody does it” is just that—a myth.  The large majority of your peers have had a great Tufts experience without drinking too much during their time here.  And it would break my heart to see any of your lives forever altered because of alcohol.

You will also be making important choices about how you conduct your intimate relationships.  I hope that mutual respect and consent will be your guide and goal: it is not only the right way to behave but the path to meaningful relationships.  We are committed to promoting healthy relationships and preventing sexual misconduct.  Over the past several years, we have strengthened our policies, resources and support; we take every allegation seriously, conducting full investigations and providing the support and resources our students need and deserve.

We also expect you to be responsible neighbors.  Tufts is fortunate to have strong relationships with the residents of Medford and Somerville.  They take great pride in the university’s presence in their communities and the partnerships we have developed.  Please get to know them and always treat our neighbors with respect.

In addition to making choices as to how you live your life, you will also inevitably have to cope with setbacks and adversity over the course of the next four years.  I can’t predict for any one of you what they will be, but I can assure you they will come along, whether in your personal or academic life.  They too are part of the educational experience.  Don’t be too hard on yourself: sometimes, you have to give yourself permission to fail in order to grow.  Find healthy ways to work through disappointments without losing your bearings, and you will develop resilience—a vital characteristic that will stand you in good stead for the rest of your life.

Don’t worry that you have to learn all these lessons alone.  I urge you to make connections with the many formal and informal advisors whose doors are open to you.  Seek advice from your faculty, and take advantage of the support available to you at Dowling Hall and the Academic Resource Center, the University Chaplaincy and Hillel, the Health and Wellness Center and its Counseling and Mental Health Service, the Group of Six, the Campus Center, and many others.  All of these people are here because they want to help you thrive and grow.

The friends you make here at Tufts will also help you thrive and grow.  They will be learning alongside you, providing support and serving as sounding boards.  I hope that you continue to expand your circle of friends during the next four years—and that many of them will remain your friends for life.  It is the bonds of friendship and shared experience that form the fundamental basis of our strong worldwide community of Jumbos.

My wife and I took our oldest son to his college move in and orientation earlier this morning. So I will need to remind myself of the advice that I always offer at this point in the matriculation ceremony.  To parents and families, I hope you will understand that it is important for you to let go.  The young people you love need to have the independence to learn their own lessons and chart their own course during their time here.  I certainly do not mean, that you should not be active and caring parents.  But college students need room to make their own decisions, and sometimes their own mistakes.  With your love and support, they will emerge the stronger for it.

Students, I hope you will stay connected with your families who love you.  Even with text messages and social media, your parents and siblings will miss you—probably more than you may imagine.   I know that my mother cried the whole way home after dropping me off at college.   It must have been one of the longest drives of her life.  So before you go off to explore the campus with your new classmates, don’t forget to call your parents this evening and make sure they are OK.  You are not the only ones who are experiencing a transition in your life.

During my five years as President, alumni around the world have said to me: “Tufts changed my life.”  As you chart your own course over the coming years, make sure you remain open to all the new friends, new interests, new challenges, and opportunities that await you here.  I look forward to getting to know each of you better during your time at Tufts.  Today, you begin a new chapter of your life and it is a privilege for me to be part of it.

Thank you.