Martha Swan, Remarks at Commencement

May 20, 2012


Good morning, President Fox, trustees, faculty and staff, students, parents, family, and graduating seniors.  I am deeply gratified to receive the University’s “North Country Citation” and the recognition it brings to John Brown Lives!  Mostly, I am humbled to share this stage with the honored guests gathered and to address you, graduates, on this solemn yet proud and joyous occasion. 

A troubled, weary and beautiful world awaits you.  I imagine you are eager to make use of the knowledge and skills you have forged in the fine Laurentian tradition of liberal arts.  But in your understandable eagerness, also allow what you do not know, what you wonder, to unsettle you, seize your imagination, and stir you out of your comfort zone.  Some attest that life begins there.  Oriented, then, by St. Lawrence’s humanist tradition, plug in and be of use.

Margaret Mead exhorted us never to doubt the change that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can bring about.  But when you take into account the anti-austerity and pro-democracy Occupations sweeping the country and the globe; the worldwide movement for human rights, climate justice, the end of war and the abolition of slavery; and the cries of Spring from Tunis to Damascus, Madrid to Madison; clearly the change-makers Mead heralded are not so few after all. 

Plug in and be of use.  But also unplug and tune into the sounds of silence and what poet Wendell Berry calls “the peace of wild things”.  In that quiet, cultivate your singular voice and make loving the world your life.