Richard Guarasci, Ph.D.
Remarks to Graduates, May 17, 2017
Thank you to President Fox, the St. Lawrence Board of Trustees, Faculty and staff. Congratulations to the class of 2017! It is my distinct pleasure to be included as an honorary degree recipient with your class.
I had the privilege of serving St. Lawrence University for 19 years as a faculty member in the Government Department and as the founding director of The First Year Program which is now celebrating its 30th anniversary. The SLU Faculty and administration proved courageous in joining this new initiative way back in 1987, first as a pilot for a limited number of students and then in 1988 as the full program. The coupling of an interdisciplinary curriculum with a robust residential education component unleashed a period of innovation and creativity by the participating faculty.
Our goals were simple. We intended the FYP to serve as a gateway to the intellectual promise of a liberal arts education while allowing students greater engagement in linking their own autobiographies with the richness of the enduring texts of the common course. We intended that our first year students would more likely begin the process of authoring their own lives, now informed by encounters with great thinkers, critical issues and their own values and experiences.
All of you have benefited from this type of uniquely American form of undergraduate education. One, I dearly hope, we can preserve as an essential element in American higher education. Sometimes misunderstood, liberal education has nothing to do with liberal or conservative politics. Rather, liberal education dates to the Ancient Greek tradition of broadening one's learning so that you can "liberate" yourself simply from being a prisoner of your own limited experience. It offers you a deep education with a tapestry of different histories, cultures, values as well as an understanding of the natural world, the scientific method, as well as, the ways in which humans of all types have represented their experience and established their voices through the fine and performing arts.
The effect of a St. Lawrence education is to help you develop more perspective in engaging those unscripted problems and complicated challenges that you will face in the next part of your life's journey where you will face great joys and difficult challenges. A liberal education increases your likelihood of traversing the promise and pitfalls of everyday life. It doesn't guarantee success but by developing the habits of the mind inherent in a broad education you have a greater familiarity with the unfamiliar. At St. Lawrence you have been asked to see the world wide, to see the whole cosmos, to become cosmopolitan.
Every college curriculum should attempt to prepare you for the world your generation inherits. Hopefully, it is an intellectual design educating you for those challenges circumscribing your time. It is no great revelation that this is an era of destructive divides, racially, ethnically, culturally, and of course, politically. While your broader perspective prepares each of you to play a key role in addressing the problems of this historical moment, in and of themselves, the habits of the mind are not enough.
Developing the "habits of the heart " are equally critical if you are to be the generation that will forge the nonpartisan leadership that will temper our differences, heal the injustices and unite us across these debilitating divides. Become the leader in your family, your neighborhood, your workplace, your profession who listens to others, builds trust among your colleagues, forges direct solutions to complicated issues, and helps to shape a vision for a future of promise, prosperity and inclusion. Use this exceptional education to meet the vexing problems of your generation. Be the solution makers. Be the citizens we need today.
You are more than prepared. Keep reading, learning and reflecting on the world around you. And keep coming back to this special place to remember how it believes in you.
Congratulations class of 2017. It is an honor to be listed among you.