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September 2, 2015

Good afternoon. It’s a privilege for me to welcome all of you to Tufts University, and to this year’s Matriculation ceremony. 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 be here this afternoon, but I hope you will assure your parents and loved ones that we consider them all as vital members of the Tufts community.

Members of the Class of 2019: This is one of the two occasions on which you will gather together formally as a Class. The other is the annual Baccalaureate ceremony, which takes place the day before Commencement. Between now and then, you will have embarked 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.

But as you prepare to start your voyage of discovery, let me assure you of one thing: You have what it takes to succeed here. All of you arrive with outstanding qualities and the ability to flourish here at Tufts. Don’t worry: Dean Coffin did not make a mistake! 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.

Tufts is a special place. We assert that Tufts is a student-centered research university. What does this mean? It means that we undertake academic and scholarly research of the highest international caliber, but remain focused on educating individuals, one student at a time. You have access to a wonderful array of opportunities here that will provide transformative experiences, but you will not get lost in the crowd.

You will also benefit from a tradition of active citizenship and civic engagement that is truly unique. This past week, a cohort of students admitted alongside you, left campus for a bridge year of service learning abroad through our new 1+4 Program. Here on campus, Tisch College and a tremendous range of student activities and organizations will help you make a difference by addressing the critical needs of communities locally and globally.

And here, let me say that taking advantage of the right to vote is one important way to make a difference—so I hope that all of you, who are eligible, will cast a ballot in the Presidential primaries that begin next spring. Tisch College will help ensure you have the information you need to participate.

As a university, Tufts is also committed to diversity and inclusion. These are challenging issues for our entire society, as events over the last year 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 was very moved when I read this year’s Common Reading book, Eboo Patel’s memoir Acts of Faith. I hope it resonates with you too, and that it provides a valuable starting point for thoughtful conversations about faith, identity, and nationality in this country and the modern world.

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—all help shape the educational experience you will have here.

As Tufts students, you will have opportunities to explore new fields and interests. I encourage you to take advantage of those opportunities. They 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 for the better.

As you take time to explore, however, I hope you will also keep in mind the value of ultimately pursuing your chosen field in depth. Really digging into your major—taking courses that stretch you intellectually, conducting independent research, writing a senior thesis—will all give you a satisfaction unlike any other. And, if you are taking the long view, experiences such as these are likely to be the best preparation for making a vital contribution in a meaningful career.

If there is one aspect of Tufts’ identity that most defines us as a student-centered research university, it is the opportunity you will have to forge close relationships and connections with your professors. Take advantage of those chances and seek them out. Our faculty have chosen to teach at Tufts because they want to work closely with outstanding undergraduates. They want your active participation in classes. And they will be responsive when you want to work on substantive research projects with their guidance. I first got involved in scientific research by working in a lab over the summer as an undergraduate. It was an exciting experience which I continued during the academic year, and one that was formative in my career choice.

At the same time, I encourage you to pay attention to the advice of your professors and mentors when you are choosing courses and fields of study. I will never forget when my undergraduate biology advisor recommended I take a course on genetics. Having decided to study Neuroscience and behavior, I could not understand what significance genetics had for the understanding of the brain, and we argued about it. I mean really argued about it. Little did I know I would spend the remainder of my career using genetics as a powerful tool to understand the workings of the brain and how it affects our behavior. So, have confidence in your advisors and professors to help you find your path of study. They have experience and wisdom, and they want nothing more than to help you succeed.

What you will learn at Tufts goes 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.

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 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 fellow students 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. I am personally chairing a university-wide Task Force of students, faculty, and staff committed to preventing sexual misconduct. 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 reach out to get to know them. And please always treat them 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. Find ways to move through them 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.

Now, all of this may seem like a tall order, but you do not have to make all of these choices, and learn these lessons, unaided. Tufts is here to help, and 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 succeed and grow.

Throughout the next four years, your friends will be learning alongside you. I really don’t need to tell you that developing strong friendships is a crucial aspect of the college experience.

I know you have already started to build your Tufts friendship networks, first on Facebook and then for many of you, in Pre-Orientation programs. What I will say, is:

  • That I hope you will take advantage of opportunities to get to know students from backgrounds very different from your own.
  • That I hope you will remain open to making new friends throughout your time here, not just during the first few weeks.
  • And that I hope you and your friends will have the courage and judgment to watch out for each other when that is what is needed.

Your friends will be at the heart of your Tufts experience, and I hope 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.

Parents and families, I hope you will understand that it is important for you to let go. Your students 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 these bright young people 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 the families who love you. Even with texts and Facebook, your parents and siblings will miss you—probably more than you can 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 big change in your lives.

I have met many Tufts alumni in my four years as President and many of them have said to me: “Tufts changed my life.” As you chart your course over the coming years, make sure you open yourself up to all the new friends, new disciplines, new challenges, and new activities here at Tufts.

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.