Lynn Smith Fox
Remarks to Graduates-May 22, 2022
President Morris, trustees, faculty and staff, graduates and your guests, President Cornwall, P. Fox – thank you for the extraordinary honor today, and for the wonderful days of my St Lawrence life. I am deeply touched by the many ways in which you have recognized me and Bill, and proud beyond imagining. Thank you.
I will readily admit that I was a bit nervous about speaking today. So I said to Bill that I would likely deliver the shortest commencement talk in history. “Not possible,” he offered. “George Plimpton already has that nailed.” In a 1977 commencement address the writer said briefly, and memorably, “I strongly recommend that you don’t go... Go back to your rooms and unpack… There’s not much out here.”
Today Plimpton’s comments resonate, in part because what is “out here” is a frightful array of challenges topped with more than a dollop of uncertainty. The Class of 2022 is well versed on the work you need to do to address the problems so visible “out here.” And congratulations to the class and those who have supported you for managing the challenges “in here.”
Our daughter Hallie went to a school that celebrated the saying “Function in disaster and finish in style.” Well, you have!
The other part of Plimpton’s wisdom is the admonition – “Don’t go!” I get that. When Bill’s retirement was announced we were touched by the many thoughtful calls and notes and we heard repeatedly “don’t go.” Certainly there was a bit of ritual in the plea -- and better to hear that than the opposite, which I guess is “good riddance” -- but in the context of a very substantial life change the words had meaning. Actually, as I thought about “going’ in the context of leaving St Lawrence, I came up with a myriad of ways in which that is completely impossible.
OK, we’ve all been told we are “Laurentians for Life” -- and frankly I wouldn’t be surprised to find the scarlet and brown flying in the hereafter. (As you know, the alumni network is incredibly powerful.) But there is also the life wisdom we take from here. It begins with the words of the founders and goes right through the talk in the last class you attend, the final conversation with dorm and teammates, the smells and sounds and -- oh my goodness the chapel bells -- you simply “can’t go” from here. It goes with you.
I did not attend St Lawrence as a college student but in 12 years here I learned a lot. I learned things that I use every day – how to dress for winter, how-to cross-country ski, play golf, avoid black flies, celebrate the night sky. I learned from faculty members in the econ and education departments a bit about teaching (I was humbled by their mastery) and from staff members a bit about the work in almost every corner of this campus. Students from across the country and especially from around the world taught me about being an independent person, tied to family and culture but making your own way.
Over those years I served with extraordinary teams of staff, trustees, students and faculty. What I learned from them about commitment to an idea, to an institution, to each other will be with me always. And of course, I learned every day from P Fox who had a hard job, many times in the harshest of circumstances, and managed not just to get through those times himself but to extend a hand or a word or a hug.
During my years at the Federal Reserve Board, I served as chief spokesperson for then-chairman Alan Greenspan. One speech I enjoyed seeing him write was a commencement address. In the end it was clearly an economist’s talk (yes, “intermediate production and distribution processes” were mentioned). But his advice to the graduates was brief, and, as they say, actionable. “I could urge you all to work hard, save and prosper” he said. “And I do. But transcending all else is being principled in how you go about doing those things… for you to gain those you deal with should gain as well.”
He believes, as do I, that how you do things matters, and that doing the principled thing brings mutual gain. After my years of living on this campus, I know this lofty ideal is achievable -- it is “the St. Lawrence way.” The St Lawrence way allowed me, encouraged me, to be my best self. I am deeply, fervently grateful for this place, for all who have done the work to make it as it is.
President Morris, trustees, faculty, and staff, thank you for every moment you have committed to these graduates and to the ones who follow.
Congratulations to all of us for being part of this happy day – and here's to never, ever going.