Remarks at Commencement - May 16,2 010

Today, I greet you, the Class of 2010, with a particular recollection of a moment when you first entered this place, taking your initial steps as a St. Lawrence student in time to the pageantry of chapel bells, rattling drum cadences, and echoing bag pipes. I was not here that day, as your last year at St. Lawrence has been my first year as its president; but in the fullness of college days, you have benefitted from the lasting good effect of superb teaching and were extremely well served by the vigorous leadership of President Daniel F. Sullivan.

And yet, I have been here before as a St. Lawrence student, a senior at commencement, and I have an ever deepening appreciation for the moment you now, for the first time, experience and share with your families. To the parents and families of our graduates, I wish to say that I think of my own parents today and what this occasion must have given them as a dream fulfilled and a day of joy. Today, we also honor you and thank you for the successful partnership formed between us, for the commitment and encouragement that helped see them through, the remarkable Class of 2010. Thank you for the encouragement given, the words of wise counsel when the phone rang at home, no matter how late the hour, and the many measures of support given our professors, coaches, staff members, and me.

To the graduating class, the Laurentian experience has a curious geometry; it is not at all linear, but rather it is spherical or circular. In many ways you end right where you started—and this will be one of the patterns of life growing out of this very day. Your belonging to St. Lawrence does not merely begin and continue on a straight plane to a vanishing point; rather, nothing of the sort, because the connection of mind, hand, and heart keeps coming ‘round.

One hundred years ago exactly, a graduating senior of a fine New England college, possessing all the uncertainty of what to do with himself, began to sense his promise in a literary career. Among the best lines T. S. Eliot ever wrote are words that particularly fit this hour:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning…

And so, for you, my friends in the Class of 2010, the exploration begins. One of you will enter the Peace Corps and serve in Sub-Sahara Africa; two of you will be commissioned as officers in the United States Marine Corps and one is entering the National Guard; several of you are beginning careers on Wall Street and State Street in cities nicknamed the Apple and the Hub; one of you will be in India teaching on a Fullbright Fellowship; Vanderbilt University Medical School will be the next stop for a classmate; some of you will be in the wilderness leading trips and caring for hikers in Alaska and New Hampshire; many of you will become teachers this year in private, public, and charter schools—Teach for America will claim members of this class, too. Graduate school already beckons and Laurentians will be represented at some of the continent’s very best research universities—Columbia, Michigan, Utah, Illinois, Indiana, Buffalo, British Columbia, Brown, and Boston Universities. A leadership management program at General Electric, an internship at The Nature Conservancy, and a staff position at the Fund for the Public Interest are among the recent placements of this class. This list is merely a sampler of “class notes” that will fill the columns of the alumni magazine in the years ahead.

Judge Learned Hand, a native son of this area of New York State, brought remarks to the community of Harvard University on the occasion of its 300th Anniversary, 70 years after this class (2010) entered St. Lawrence. He stated the cold fact, “we have no glimmering of the infinite varieties of those patterns which the future has in store. Besides, what is it we wish to preserve?” And about the question of creating the future, after much judicious discourse, he concluded, “that beyond and beneath all commandments is the commandment, ‘Be Thyself’.”

The story of this class is just beginning. We are genuinely and transparently proud of you. Over the years, we will be keeping an eye on you—watching you discover yourself, be yourself, and occasionally coming back to this place to know it again as if for the first time. Welcome to St. Lawrence’s 150th Commencement Day.