Thank you so much, President Sullivan. I am honored by this honor. And extraordinarily so because Dana is a lifetime colleague and friend as is David Lloyd. So this is a doubly special occasion.
I remember distinctly the day that I received the letter, indicating that I would receive this honorary degree and I called Dana - I thanked him and noted in the letter that I would be invited along with my fellow honoraries to offer 47 minutes and I said “Could you give a little sense about that?” and he said “Yes, be mercifully brief”. And secondly he said, “You'll note while you are standing at the platform that you are actually standing upon a trap door, which will open soon after those 7 minutes expire.” So let me move directly to two thoughts.
One is a thought about the gathering storm which is going to face our colleges and universities, and the second is about some words of hope about our institutions. About the gathering storm - for the better part of this decade, American higher education has faced relentless assaults upon these institutions. There are those who would homogenize the very special mission of an institution. There are those who would federalize the very programs of study and the ways in which we learn and judge quality. And there are those who would intrude into the day-to-day life of our colleges in such a way that they would not resemble, in the future, what you as members of this class of 2008 have experienced.
These are persons, some of whom in the executive branch, some of whom in the legislature, some of whom are self appointed, critics of our institutions. Who seem to have entirely ignored or did not know what it was that Mr. Justice Felix Frankfurter said in a Supreme Court decision in 1959. Mr. Justice Frankfurter said, “Colleges and universities have four freedoms which they will determine on academic grounds. Who may teach? What may be taught? How shall it be taught? And who will be admitted to a course of studies?”
All of those four freedoms are under assault, this day, and this hour by those who would would trivialize the very high purpose of our colleges and our universities. And these forces within days, if not weeks, will come together in something called the 'Higher Education Act' and all of us sitting here have a chance to state our case about the centrality of American higher education as we know it today.
Now let me a set a word of optimism, because when the day is done I am the house optimist on these questions. We need to reclaim the higher ground of higher education, we need to reaffirm what it is that is so distinctive about the 3,706 colleges and universities in this country.
We are, when the day is done, the ladder of opportunity and access for the vast body of Americans who never, otherwise, would have a chance or a choice to change their lives. We are a significant engine, of the economy, that transforms the day-to-day life of individuals and institutions. And in the end we are the repository of all that is good and great in the minds and in the art of what this country and every other country have stood for.
St. Lawrence University to a degree exceeding almost every other institution has been that ladder of opportunity irrespective of class, race, or income - it has brought to this institution and graduated from this institution. That most representative array of Americans, and this institution has been a significant engine of the economy to this village of kin, to the North Country, and well beyond this nation to other nations of the world.
This is a place which is vouchsafed the most important things that have been thought, written, and performed. And my friends these are those issues that will be at stake.
Now I believe that we can and will prevail in this struggle. I am certain if students, faculty, parents, and citizens simply stand up and say about our colleges and universities, they are at the heart of the matter of this nation, and we will defend it.
I am honored by this honorary degree, and I urge you to join in making that difference for a college that made such a difference for you. Carpe diem a Carpe Potestatem - Seize the day and seize the power to change the day.