Daniel F. Sullivan 2009 Commencement Remarks

May 17, 2009

Colleagues and distinguished guests, faculty, trustees, parents, friends and family of graduating seniors and masters candidates, members of the wider St. Lawrence family, and—most of all—graduating seniors and masters candidates, whether you are summa cum laude, magna cum laude, cum laude, or “thank you Lordy,” a very warm welcome to this, the commencement ceremony of the Class of 2009, my last commencement as your president.

I've struggled for weeks to decide what to say to you today—so many different thoughts have been swirling through my mind in this very emotional time for me. Some of you know that I have an odd sense of humor—at least I think I have a sense of humor, and even an odd one is maybe better than none! Woody Allen wrote an essay entitled “My Speech to the Graduates” which opened with:

More than at any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.

I decided not to run with that theme today!

Others of you know how much I fell in love with the songs of St. Lawrence when I was a student here in the early 1960's, now as then heard most often augmented by the marvelous choral acoustics of Gunnison Chapel and almost all of them composed by students. Most appropriate at the end of a long senior week and a favorite of mine is this one from the early 1900s, entitled “Sucking Cider Through a Straw,” and the words go like this:

The prettiest girl I ever saw was sucking cider through a straw. Said I to her, “My dear, what for do you suck cider through a straw?” Said she to me, “Why, don't you know that sucking cider's all the go?” Then cheek to cheek and jaw to jaw, we both sucked cider through a straw. And if by chance the straw did slip, I kissed sweet cider from her lip.

We focus a great deal on active learning here at St. Lawrence, as you also know. Active learning requires active listening and saying clearly what you mean. Words matter, so I can't resist telling you this story about my favorite Minnesota Norwegian Lutherans, Ole, Lena and Lars:

Ole called his neighbor Lars and said: “I'm gonna build a brick fence about da same size as yours. How many pallets of bricks did you get?”

“Ten,” says Lars.

So Ole buys 10 pallets and proceeds to build a beautiful fence for Lena. When he's finished, Ole's surprised to find he used only four pallets. He calls Lars and says: “Hey, Lars, I yust finished wit buildin' dat fence, and I've got six pallets of bricks left over.”

“Ya, Ole,” says Lars, “so did I!”

Listening carefully would have saved Ole six pallets.

Another beautiful St. Lawrence song, from 1908, has this as its last verse: “Ev'ry friendship you have blest, Ev'ry joy remembered best, These shall crown the days we knew, Old St. Lawrence, Here's to you.” I say “Here's to you,” the great class of 2009. My wish for you on this wonderful day is that you will think of St. Lawrence as another home throughout your life, no matter where you are and what you are doing, and that you will come back home here many, many times in the years to come. Thank you!