Tuesday, May, 23rd, 2023 President's Desk Speeches and Messages
President Monaco delivered the following address to the Class of 2023 at the Baccalaureate service on May 20, 2023.
Thank you, Micah, for that introduction and good afternoon…family, friends, colleagues, and distinguished guests.
It is a pleasure to be here with you this afternoon. Most of all, it is a pleasure to help celebrate the Tufts University Class of 2023.
Graduation from Tufts is a milestone—not just for our students, but for all those who are close to them. A college career can bring with it unforeseen challenges as well as hoped-for triumphs.
Therefore, before we begin, I would like to ask the graduates to please stand and recognize the support…care…love…and sacrifice…of the parents…grandparents…siblings…partners…children…and friends, who have helped make this day possible. Seniors, please give them a hearty round of applause.
I would also like to recognize the devotion and excellence of Tufts’ faculty, deans, coaches, advisors, and staff. In countless ways visible and invisible, academic and personal, they have supported and guided our students throughout their college experience.
I am also grateful to the students who have enriched our campus and this day with the important messages of their faiths, traditions, and philosophical perspectives. Thank you to the string quartet and jazz ensemble for sharing your talents with us today and bringing life to the ceremony through music.
Special thanks to Reverend Elyse Nelson Winger and her colleagues in the University Chaplaincy for organizing this afternoon’s celebration.
Finally, thank you, Isabelle, for that thoughtful Wendell Phillips address. You are an outstanding representative of the Class of 2023.
Before I share my reflections on your Class and what lies ahead for you, I would like to pause for a moment in memory of two members of the Class of 2023, whose time with us was tragically cut short.
Although they are no longer with us, they left an enduring legacy in the hearts and minds of their friends and family, classmates and faculty, and everyone whose lives they touched. Let us pause in a moment of silence in memory of Maddie Nicpon and Matthew Gesell.
Class of 2023: This Baccalaureate service and the Illumination Ceremony later tonight are the final times your class will gather as one.
Today’s ceremony is also the final time that I will have the honor of addressing a graduating class as Tufts’ president. Baccalaureate is always a special day at Tufts, and it has been a privilege to celebrate this joyous occasion with our graduates, families, and members of our community.
In the years since we first gathered for your Matriculation in August of 2019, you have gone on to excel in your chosen pursuits with passion and creativity.
The outstanding students who received this year’s Academic Awards, Presidential Awards for Civic Life, and Alumni Association Senior Awards reflect just how exceptional your Class’s accomplishments have been.
Merely six months after you arrived at Tufts, the COVID-19 pandemic uprooted nearly every aspect of our lives, including many aspects of your college education. But the pandemic did not define your experience at Tufts.
Over the last four years, I have seen you flourish on stage as musicians and in galleries as artists. I have watched in awe as you brought to life theater productions like The Interrobangers and Red Rainbow.
And I have cheered on our athletics teams as they won NESCAC and NCAA championships, and took home the Learfield Directors’ Cup for the first time in Jumbo history.
Over the course of your time on the Hill, our campus has changed. Your Class was among the first to board the T from the new Medford/Tufts Green Line station, bringing Tufts closer than ever to the heart of Boston and our SMFA and Health Sciences campuses.
Your Class was also among the first to take advantage of the beautiful new Joyce Cummings Center, which has become a bustling and beloved space on our campus. And you were among the first to cheer on our Jumbos in new, state-of-the-art athletics facilities like the Squash Center, Sol Gittleman Park, and the newly updated Ellis Oval field.
Your class has stood up and spoken out in support of social justice and against racism…supported international students, and students with undocumented status…and requested changes in university policy and process.
Thanks to your advocacy, our campus saw the launch of the Indigenous Center to support and increase representation of indigenous students at Tufts.
You participated in focus groups and surveys to help inform us on our efforts to fight antisemitism on our campuses, to better support student mental health, and to recommend a new hybrid arming model for the Tufts Department of Public Safety.
You have been tireless advocates on campus, in our local communities, and around the world.
You’ve demonstrated that young voters should not be taken for granted and through your participation in Jumbo Vote, you have increased awareness and participation within the political process in our country.
As you join the over 120,000 alumni of Tufts University tomorrow, I hope you will retain that same spirit of public service and active citizenship. I encourage you to stay connected with the University, with your advisors and mentors, and to hold on tightly to the cherished friendships you have nurtured during your time at Tufts.
Your experience at Tufts prepares you to enter a world that is evolving every day, in ways both positive and negative. During the pandemic, you demonstrated that you are capable of navigating times of uncertainty and difficulty with flexibility and compassion. I encourage you to hold onto those skills, and trust that they will help you to overcome challenges throughout your life.
This is not just a question of adapting to circumstances: You can never know when an experience or interaction will unlock new opportunities by encouraging you to move in an unanticipated direction.
When I was not much older than you, as a graduate student, I heard a talk by a young faculty member that inspired me—quite unexpectedly—to switch my graduate research from neuroscience to human genetics. The outcome of that impulsive decision was the identification of the gene for Duchenne muscular dystrophy 3 years later and a model which led to the first FDA-approved drug for treatment of DMD in 2016.
I followed my gut instinct about accepting a challenge. Taking that leap had an impact I could not have imagined. Eventually, following my gut instinct also led me here to Tufts, to the unique opportunity to work with outstanding students, faculty, and staff to make a great institution even stronger. As president, I’ve had the opportunity to draw on everything I’ve learned over the course of my career. Over the past 12 years, I have been able to grow as an individual and be part of a truly exceptional university community.
So I encourage you to be open about your chosen path. College is famously a time for intellectual and personal exploration. But the process of intellectual and personal exploration should never end with college. Even if you have a careful plan in mind now, be open to revising it when an opportunity to make a difference comes along.
During your time at Tufts, you have gained compelling long-term skills—skills such as critical thinking, complex problem solving, written and verbal communication, and habits of mind that enable the questioning of established thought and social assumptions.
You have acquired these invaluable skills through transformative learning experiences ranging from rigorous course work, study abroad, and independent research and scholarship to energetic participation in athletics, leadership in campus activities, and service in the community.
All of those experiences have given you the confidence, and enhanced your ability to be flexible and succeed in a changing environment. These are skills that will help you navigate transitions in the present and into the future.
The world is facing great challenges: from institutional racism and health disparities; to climate change and continuing economic transformation; to political instability and conflict in regions around the globe.
The complex and intertwined challenges we face require solutions that go beyond individual areas of study, public policy, or industry.
If we are to work together to find innovative and equitable solutions to the major problems facing our society, it will require excellence and depth in our disciplines; a commitment to the truth, and to scientific and data-driven facts; active listening; recognition of differences and disparities; and finding common goals.
It will also require taking on issues larger than your own self-interest, and advocating for issues that impact society at large.
If all of this sounds overwhelming, I understand. We often tell students they are going to change the world, but unfortunately, you don’t get an instruction book along with your diploma. So as you begin to chart out your life and career, I would like to offer two small pieces of advice:
First, always live and make decisions according to a code of ethics and strong sense of personal responsibility. You never want to look back and wish you had acted differently or simply failed to act. In a short time, you will all find yourselves as new members of institutions for further study or employment. If you feel your community or institution is acting in an unethical manner, even if unintentionally, you must always take the personal responsibility to speak out or tell someone in authority. There are future CEOs, presidents, elected officials, and leaders of all types among you today. Your code of ethics is your most important value that sets the tone for the entire organization you oversee.
Second, don’t be a lemming. If you see your colleagues or peers all following an ideal or goal which doesn’t make sense to you or seems not well thought through…walk away and rethink your position. Group think is one of the most dangerous ways to make a decision or reach a goal, especially if it is based on the wrong values or set of principles. Evaluate the situation yourself and understand its complexity, then make your decision. It is your personal responsibility.
You might wonder how you can practice these lessons in your own life. The good news is that many of these skills—breaking molds, making change, and leading with a strong moral compass—are ones that you already possess as Jumbos.
We believe that your Tufts education has prepared you to follow your passions, to tackle the challenges of our time, and hopefully, to change the world for the better. And no matter where your careers may take you, that is exactly what we expect you to do.
As a community, we have always been inspired by Charles Tufts’ wish to “put a light on” the Hill. I hope that your experience at Tufts has indeed been a source of light, just as you have been a source of light and inspiration for all of us.
I challenge you, the Class of 2023, to make that light shine even brighter as you leave the gates of this campus and go out into the world.
Congratulations, Class of 2023!