Novelist and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Anna Quindlen P’07 did not apologize for her generation leaving the Class of 2009 with a failed economy, poor job market and uncertain housing market. Instead she charged the graduates with the opportunity to remold the nation and its spirit.
“On behalf of your elders and the entire country, I was expected to say I was sorry,” Quindlen said. “I’m not going to do that. I think, perhaps more than any generation in memory, all of you have an unparalleled opportunity to remake this nation so that it is stronger, smarter and makes more sense.”
Quindlen, a journalist and best-selling author who, until recently, wrote the “Last Word” column on the back page of Newsweek, shared her thoughts with more than 10,000 people during Wesleyan University’s 177th commencement ceremony May 24 on the Middletown, Conn. campus.
“If you become the first generation of Americans who genuinely see race and ethnicity as attributes, not stereotypes, will you not have done better? If you become the first generation of Americans with the clear understanding that gay men and lesbians are entitled to be full citizens of this country, will you not have done better? If you become the first generation of Americans who accord women full equality instead of grudging acceptance, will you not have done better,” Quindlen asked during her commencement address.
During the ceremony, 732 students received a Bachelor of Arts; 61 received a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies; two received a Certificate of Advanced Study; 31 received a Master of Arts; and 16 received a Doctor of Philosophy. Ten other students will receive a Bachelor of Arts upon completion.
In addition, Lisa Dierker, professor of psychology, and John Kirn, professor of biology, were conferred the honorary degree of Master of Arts ad eundem gradum. This degree is awarded to members of the faculty who are not graduates of Wesleyan at the bachelor’s level and who have attained the rank of full professor.
Wesleyan President Michael S. Roth ’78 focused his remarks on the importance of public service and the influence of Johanna Justin-Jinich ’10, who was killed by a gunman May 6 while working in a café off campus.
In remembrance of Justin-Jinich, Roth asked the Wesleyan community to share their ideas and energy in the areas of health care, gun control and violence against women. Justin-Jinich had worked to improve pre-natal services for poor women.
“Around the country, violence against women remains a sad and frightening fact of life. The status quo is unacceptable,” Roth said. “Too often rape goes unpunished; too often stalking is belittled until it explodes as it did here two weeks ago, “These are crimes of violence, and we need you to help us find ways of giving women the protection of law …Now we alumni are counting on you to join us in helping to shape our culture, so that it will not be shaped by forces of oppression and violence.”
Roth also encouraged the graduates to continue with the extraordinary efforts they initiated as students at Wesleyan.
“I have no doubt that over the years you will often find that the status quo is unacceptable, and that you will then join with others to do something about it,” Roth said. “When this happens, you will feel the power and promise of your education. And we, your Wesleyan family, are proud of how you keep your education alive by making it effective in the world.”
Ravid Chowdhury ’09, president of the Wesleyan Senior Class, said he is exhilarated to join a proud tradition of Wesleyan alumni who stay true to their values of social justice and civic responsibility. He applauded students in the Class of 2009 for beginning an ecotourism company to spread environmental awareness, for starting a prison program dedicated to breaking institutional barriers and for founding a non-profit organization to promote diabetes awareness.
“Wesleyan students have heart. We are not afraid to speak out. If anyone is prepared to face this [world's] mess and create a new way forward it is us,” Chowdhury said. “We came to this school four years ago with a bundle of ideals, beliefs and hopes. That Wesleyan state of mind has developed further in our time here together.”
Quindlen, whose son, Christopher Krovatin ’07, also is a novelist, became an official member of Wesleyan’s class of 2009 when she received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the university.
Jennifer J. Alexander ’88 and Mark Masselli, and Azim Premji P ’99 also were awarded degrees of Doctor of Humane Letters during the ceremony.
Alexander and Masselli were honored for being “tremendous supporters” of the Middletown and Wesleyan communities. Premji, who was named one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World” by Time Magazine, was honored for establishing an organization dedicated to providing quality primary education for children in India.
Molecular biologist Dr. Laurence H. Kedes ’59 and former director of the Center for Disease Control Dr. David J. Sencer ’46 each received an honorary Bachelor of Arts degree.
The Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching was presented to Douglas C. Foyle, the Douglas J. and Midge Bowen Bennet Associate Professor of Government; Irina M. Russu, professor of chemistry; and John Seamon, professor of psychology, professor of neuroscience and behavior.
Roth concluded his speech citing examples of students making contributions to the larger community around us.
“Wes students have been making a positive difference,” he said. “As scholars and artists, as scientists and as writers, you set an example – you take a stand against complacency, against the acceptance of the way things are as if that is the way they have to be.”