Tag Archive for Commencement 2009

Wesleyan Holds 177th Commencement Ceremony

More than 730 students received a Bachelor of Arts degree May 24. (Photo by Bill Burkhart)

More than 730 students received a Bachelor of Arts degree May 24. (Photo by Bill Burkhart)

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.

Azim Premji P ’99 received a Doctor of Humane Letters during the ceremony.

Azim Premji P ’99 received a Doctor of Humane Letters during the ceremony.

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.”

Chowdhury ’09 Leads Senior Class Welcome

Ravid Chowdhury ’09, president of the Wesleyan Senior Class, led the Senior Class Welcome during the Weseleyan University Commencement Ceremony May 24.

Ravid Chowdhury ’09, president of the Wesleyan Senior Class, led the Senior Class Welcome during the Wesleyan University Commencement Ceremony May 24.

Thank you faculty, President Roth, Anna Quindlen family, friends. And of course congratulations to the class of 2009.

I am scared. We probably all have good reasons to be scared right now.

When the nation was scared many decades ago, FDR said, “This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today.”

The truth is climate change is no longer merely a distant threat, it is happening now. The truth is Social Security and Medicare will likely be insolvent before 2020. We are likely to run out of oil within our lifetimes. That our sense of security proves false is when one of our own can be shot and killed within plain sight. The truth is nuclear weapons continue to proliferate around the globe. The world is in a mess.

Where do we go from here? My classmates will remember during orientation we all got a packet that outlined every hour of orientation. We received further packets on choosing classes. My RA gave us a packet reminding us to eat and bathe. And before I came to Wesleyan my mother gave me one piece of advice, “Everything in moderation, except RICE.” Well, I followed my packets and ate my rice, now what?

Effective this Monday, most of us will not have healthcare or any assets other than some graduation gift cards and our personal collection of pirated media. This is the first time we’ve all been together since orientation. Well, and at the thing yesterday but I forgot about that when I wrote this speech. We are gathered to hear commencement speeches which are all about advice. I don’t feel qualified to give advice. Where is our packet telling us what to do when and where?

I began with the word scared. Maybe scared is not the right word. It’s the same kind of ‘scared’ feeling you have when you are about to get on a roller coaster. Scared but excited, anticipating the adventure of the ride, knowing there will be ups and downs, and sometimes, even upside downs.

I am exhilarated to join a long and proud tradition of Wesleyan Alumni going out into the world on Wesleyan’s terms, broke and in debt, but most importantly, staying true to our values of social justice and civic responsibility. Just look at what we’ve started here. Students in this class began a college in prison program dedicated to break the institutional barriers that systematically hold groups of people down. We demanded that Wesleyan divest from arms manufacturers. Students recently founded the label Future Folk records, a label that rethinks the current music model to democratize the music industry. One student of this class began an ecotourism company to spread environmental consciousness. Another student founded a nonprofit to promote diabetes awareness. We have multiple tutoring programs at t-square and local middle schools. Long Lane farm is also student run, providing fresh organic local produce.

In the same way we recognize our own talents and accomplishments, I’d like to take a moment to recognize the talents of our faculty administrators and staff, whose combined efforts made us stretch our intellect and mold our Wesleyan state of mind. Most of you will be missed.

Finally, look around to your friends in the class. I think one great thing about Wesleyan, is when you graduate you are proud of your friends. I’m sort of proud of myself, for I am part of us. Wesleyan students are honest. Wesleyan students have heart. We are not afraid to speak out. If anyone is prepared to face this mess and create a new way forward it is us. 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. No packet will give you that.

Thank you friends and congratulations.

Quindlen P’07: Embrace Transformation

Anna Quindlen, P ’07, led Commencement Address during the Weseleyan University Commencement Ceremony May 24.

Anna Quindlen P’07 addresses Class of 2009 graduates during Wesleyan's 177th Commencement May 24.

(The Commencement Address by Anna Quindlen P’07 also is on video.)


When I was first asked to give the commencement address to the Wesleyan class of 2009, I knew I was going to have to begin with an apology: I am not, as you can see, Barack Obama.

But as the months passed between the invitation and this event, prevailing wisdom was that I was not only going to have say I was sorry for not being last year’s speaker, but for so much else.

On behalf of your elders and the entire nation, I was expected to say I was sorry that the economy had failed, the job market dried up, the housing market become uncertain—in other words, that we who came before you were handing off an unmitigated disaster.

I’m not going to do that. I can’t do that here. I’m not going to say that I’m sorry for all of you because I’m not. I think, perhaps more than any generation in memory, this Wesleyan class before me today, all of you, have an unparalleled opportunity to remake this nation so that it is stronger, smarter and makes more sense.

When generations past felt dissatisfaction with the prevailing culture, with corporations estranged from both line workers and consumers, with politics held prisoner by polls and personal ambition, they had to fight a comfortable and deeply entrenched, as you heard from your president, status quo. During the peace movement, the civil rights movement, and the beginning of a second wave of feminism in the 1960s, there was a pushback from millions of average Americans who believed that world dominance, military might, segregation and old familiar gender roles worked just fine. They didn’t want anyone blowing up the old ways.

You don’t have to worry about that because during the years you’ve been here, the old ways have blown up all by themselves, they’ve fallen under the weight of a system that was a Potemkin village of alleged prosperity and progress based on easy credit and crazed consumerism. A financial system in which it somehow became possible to become rich and powerful while investing in and trading nothing at all. An information system paralyzed by the technology that outstripped it. A political system for which many Americans had open contempt. A consumer culture making things that didn’t really work, and didn’t really need.

What happens to a nation that has developed the peculiar habit of shopping for recreation when it suddenly has no money? Well, it can either screech to a halt, or it can discover that its priorities need to be recalibrated, and that stuff is not salvation.

It is as though America was a house, and at a certain point the roof became so leaky, the walls so bowed, the termites so widespread, that it began to crumble.

Now, don’t misunderstand me: the bedrock is still fine, the bedrock which too often America honors in the breach but which we honor just the same, the bedrock of a free and fair society based on the constant, open exchange of ideas. A bedrock which, as I describe it, sounds very much like Wesleyan.

But it would be a tragedy, and a lost opportunity, if you rebuilt and constructed something that looked just like what we had before, tried to build the same old house, which we now know was in part a house of cards.

Your parents, and their parents before them, understood a simple equation for success: your children would do better than you had. Ditch digger to cop to lawyer to judge: that’s how I learned it growing up as an Irish Catholic kid.

We are supposed to apologize to you because it seems that that is no longer how things work, that you will not inherit the SUV, the McMansion, the corner office really ought to mean that you will not do better than we did. But I suggest that maybe this is a moment to consider what “doing better” means.

If you become the first generation of Americans who genuinely see race and ethnicity as attributes, not stereotypes, will you not have done better than we did?

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 nation, will you not have done better than we did?

If you become the first generation of Americans who accord women full equality instead of grudging acceptance, will you not have done better than we did?

And on a more personal level, if you become the generation that ditches the 80 hour work week and returns to a sane investment in your professional lives, if you become the first generation in which young women no longer agonize over how to balance work and family and young men stop thinking they will balance work and family by getting married, won’t you have done better than we did?

Believe me when I say that we have made a grave error in thinking doing better is merely mathematical, a matter of the number at the bottom of your tax returns. At the end of their lives people assess them, not in terms of their income but in terms of their spirit, and I beg you to do the same from the beginning even if we who came before often failed to do so.

Frankly, I already think of your generation as better than my own as a group. You’re more tolerant, more creative, less hidebound and uptight. You’ve done more community service than any other generation in the history of this country. It is no accident that as all of you finally became old enough to vote we finally became brave enough to have an election process in which Americans were really engaged.

And all this despite the fact that you’ve been bombarded by a culture that sends you so many confusing messages. Let’s see, you’re supposed to live clean, to drink Bud, to be Zen, to work tirelessly, to have sex without guilt but seek enduring love. And maybe because of that you have had to figure out for yourself what matters in a way past generations, with their bright lines of behavior, did not. In the first full sentences she ever uttered, Maggie Simpson took the pacifier out of her mouth and spoke of herself in the voice of all of you, “She did not live to earn approval stickers. She lived for herself.”

You’re the children of the new technology and the new tolerance, of gigabytes and gay marriage, the first generation of Americans who assume the secretary of state will be female, and the huggiest group of people who have ever lived. You are totally qualified to be and create the next great new thing.

So if you have bright ideas about how to save newspapers, restore confidence in Wall Street, get books into the hands of readers or make movies that aren’t merely comic book spin-offs, then we need to hear from you. We need you to make this a fairer place, a more unified nation, a country that wipes out the bright lines of class and race that have created an apartheid, an apartheid too long denied. I know you hate to hear your parents say it even when we’re driving to Great Adventure, but we’re lost. We’re counting on you to direct us. The tide has turned. We’re looking for you to direct us.

The president of this college recently was asked by The Wall Street Journal to write an admissions essay for Wesleyan. He wrote a moving account of his brother, who died before he was born, and how during all his life he felt like he was a surrogate for this boy who never got to be a man, how he was born to fill a void and what a sense of weight and responsibility that gave him.

The truth is he captured something important about all of our lives, and that’s that at some level we all live in place of others, fill a void, an empty chair. I stand here today, for example, in place of, in tribute to, generations of women denied the right to the pen and the podium. Each of you is here at Wesleyan because of countless others who didn’t get admitted. Some of you are here in lieu of parents or grandparents who couldn’t afford to go to college.

As a proud Wesleyan mother, I suspect there are some like me out there who are keenly aware that they sit here today in the place another woman, a woman whose daughter was violently and senselessly snuffed out, a woman who will never see her child come down Foss Hill in a bright red gown. In a world in which tragedy seems to strike too often and too randomly, we who have our children close to us today are, without question, extraordinarily lucky.

But as President Roth suggested in his essay, being the lucky one confers great responsibility and even a moral obligation. But it is not simply the obligation to live an examined life, to embrace each moment as though it might be the last. It is also to live each moment as though it were the first, to throw your arms wide to the new, the unexplored, even to those which may be afraid, as Ravid said.

So I beg you all today not to yield to the status quo. Don’t trade happiness for deferred gratification. Don’t give up adventure for safety and security, tempting as those things might have sometimes seemed these last few weeks. The safe is the enemy of the satisfying. Deferred gratification has a way of being deferred forever. And the status quo, business as usual, the way things have always been done has failed us.

How will this new audacious and authentic world work? I don’t know. Helpful, right? Except that “I don’t know” is one of the most exciting sentences in the English language because in the right hands it suggests, not ignorance, but discovery. It’s the beginning of news reporting, of medical research, of stage preparation, of business creation, of legislations. I don’t know.

I don’t know the answer to so many questions: can Twitter ever be more than dopey haiku for the mini-mind? Can government ever really see beyond the bombastic fog that hangs over Washington? Can family life ever really be egalitarian and prejudice ever become a distant cultural artifact? Can we ever learn to value the wealth of our spirit more than the size of our salaries?

I don’t know, but you do. Or you will. With the old house in ruins and the new one still to be built, you are the people who must have the creativity, the audacity, the ideals to answer these questions and so many more. Samuel Beckett once said, “To find a form that accommodates the mess, that is the task of the artist now.” The mess, the mess. That’s, finally, what we’re leaving you today. We leave you a mess. And I won’t apologize for that. Instead I want you to see it for what it is: an engraved invitation to transformation. Certainty is dead. Long live the flying leap. Take it. Use it. Bring it. Congratulations!

President Roth to Class of 2009: Don’t Accept the Status Quo

Wesleyan President Michael S. Roth '78 speaks during the Wesleyan University Commencement Ceremony May 24.

Wesleyan President Michael S. Roth ’78 speaks during the Wesleyan University Commencement Ceremony May 24.

Members of the board of trustees, members of the faculty and staff, distinguished guests, new recipients of graduate degrees and Class of 2009, I am honored to present some brief remarks to our graduates on the occasion of their commencement.

This year I’ve continued my “second Wesleyan education,” but I am still very much an underclassman. You seniors often asked me: “Roth, what are you going to major in? What are you focused on?” My focus as an undergraduate was on how people make sense of the past. My focus as your president is on how to link our sense of Wesleyan’s past to our ambitions for the future so as to make our university the best school in America for students who value freedom, diversity, intellectual adventure and creative effectiveness. My “major” now is to help Wesleyan live up to its best self, its highest aspirations, more consistently and more fully. I have no interest in copying the sophisticated, wealthier schools to the North. I believe Wesleyan represents something admirable and vital in American higher education, and it is my responsibility to make this even more visible and compelling.

Most of you began your careers at Wesleyan in the fall of 2005. Do you remember your first meetings with teachers and friends that you see around you today? When you arrived on campus, Hurricane Katrina had recently wrecked havoc along the Gulf Coast. I’m sure you recall the images of flooded streets and frightened residents of New Orleans. Issues of race and class were brought to the fore so as we watched the spectacle of governmental failure in the 9th Ward and at the Superdome. We were staggered by the lack of competence and accountability but also impressed by private acts of compassion and generosity. In your four years at Wesleyan, you have also seen that even on campus efforts to create a more just community with regards to race and class are far from complete. The status quo here at Wesleyan is unacceptable. Much remains to be done, and I count on you as alumni to hold me accountable for making improvements in the coming years.

In the fall of your senior year many of you participated in political campaigns with either a local or national focus. There were vigorous debates on campus, and many students joined in efforts to organize voters. Apart from any partisan perspective, I was encouraged to see Wesleyan students using their skills in the context of concrete decision making and organizing. I was encouraged to know that Wesleyan students now as in the past were using their talents and energy to work on problems of public import so as to serve not only their own ambitions, but also the goals of our society. I am still encouraged.

I am encouraged, but I am not naïve. I know how difficult the struggles in the public arena will be. During my two years as your president I have often spoken of the importance of public service. Over the last few weeks that importance was brought home to me, brought home to all of us, by the killing of Johanna Justin-Jinich, whose short life was full of exuberance and study – and public service. In remembrance of Johanna, and with visions of the future, I’d like to mention three of the areas of public concern that her life and her death have brought to mind.

The first arena is health care, an area in which Johanna worked to improve pre-natal services for poor women. There is a great battle brewing in Washington concerning how we will pay for and distribute health care in the future. The status quo is unacceptable. Too many of our neighbors are deprived of reasonable health services because of their inability to pay. Our current path promises excellent care for a shrinking percentage of the population, and no care at all for larger and larger numbers of people. We must change, and we will need your ideas and your energy to ensure that this is change for the better.

The second area where we need your help is gun control. I know many regard this as a lost cause because of the passionate effectiveness of the NRA. But it is only a lost cause if we give up. Johanna’s murder should remind us all of the idiocy of our hand gun regulations. The status quo is unacceptable. With more than 30,000 people dying annually from gun violence in this country, and with more than 12,000 murders committed with guns, we need you to help us enter the world of nations governed by laws not by violence. Debates about the 2nd Amendment and about the glories of hunting need not stifle reasonable law aimed at reducing violent deaths.

The third area of public import brought to mind by Johanna’s life and death concerns violence against women. When I was an undergrad at Wesleyan 30 some odd years ago sexual harassment of students and of young women on the faculty was as common as parties. But women fought against these practices, and, sometimes aligned with men and transgendered people, made enormous strides toward greater equality. Around the country, however, violence against women remains a sad and frightening fact of life. The status quo is unacceptable. Too often rape goes unpunished; too often stalking is belittled until it explodes as it did last here a few weeks ago. These are crimes of violence, and we need you to help us find ways of giving women the protection of law still too often used to preserve male privilege.

The status quo is unacceptable – that is a sentence that would generate enthusiastic assent from generations of Wesleyan graduates. Wes alumni used our education to shape our culture because we have known that otherwise it might be shaped by people for whom creativity and change, freedom and equality, diversity and tolerance, were much too threatening. 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.

You have already begun that shaping this culture with your research and your performances, with your studies and with your contributions to the communities around us. At the Green Street Art Center or at Traverse Square, at MacDonough School or the state prisons, Wesleyan students have been making a positive difference. You have refused to accept permanent inequality as you refused to give in to anti-Semitism when it raised its ugly head. 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.

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. 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.

My dear friends and colleagues, thank you and good luck!

Commencement on Video Clips

Wesleyan’s 177th Commencement is featured in several video clips below. The latest version of Quicktime Player is required to view the videos. The player can be downloaded for free, for both Windows and Mac, by clicking here.  A high-speed internet connection also is necessary to view the broadcasts.




Chair Welcome

Senior Class Welcome

President’s Remarks by Michael S. Roth ’78

Conferring of degrees

Honorary degrees

Commencement Address by Anna Quindlen P’07

Doctorate and graduate degrees

Additional honorary degrees

Undergraduate degrees (last names A-D)

Undergraduate degrees (last names E-L)

Undergraduate degrees (last names M-S)

Undergraduate degrees (last names T-Z)

Singing and recessional

(Videos filmed by Wesleyan’s Instructional Media Services)

Honorary Degree Recipients Speak at Commencement

Jennifer Alexander ’88, Mark Masselli and Azim Premji ’99 were awarded Doctor of Humane Letters honorary degrees during the 177th Commencement. Remarks from the ceremony are below:

Remarks by Jennifer Alexander ’88
Has anyone here ever read Charlotte’s Web? You remember the story of Wilbur the pig and Charlotte the spider who became best friends – But spiders don’t live very long: we all cried when Charlotte died and left Wilbur behind to care for her egg sac full of tiny baby spiders.

When I was at Wesleyan, Professor Anne Greene would sometimes read children’s books out loud to us in class. In that spirit, I’d like to read this passage from the end of Charlotte’s Web, after Charlottte is gone and her egg sac has hatched. To Wilbur’s great surprise, the hundreds of baby spiders each take their first steps and float away on a little balloon of silk web. One of them finally stops to explain:

“We’re leaving here on the warm updraft. This is our moment for setting forth. We are aeronauts and we are going out into the world to make webs for ourselves”.
“But where?” asked Wilbur.
“Wherever the wind takes us……We take to the breeze, we go as we please.”
…The air was now so full of balloonists that the barn cellar looked almost as though a mist had gathered. Balloons by the dozen were rising, circling, and drifting away through the door, sailing off on the gentle wind. Cries of “Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye!” came weakly to Wilbur’s ears. He couldn’t bear to watch anymore. In sorrow he sank to the ground and closed his eyes… [and] cried himself to sleep.
When he woke it was late afternoon… He walked drearily to the doorway where Charlotte’s web used to be… [then] he heard a small voice.
“Salutations!” it said. “I’m up here.”
“So am I” said another tiny voice.
“So am I,” said a third voice. “Three of us are staying. We like this place, and we like you!” (EB White, p. 180, Charlotte’s Web)

Now, it was a Sunday morning, 21 years ago, when I was sitting where you are now, graduating with my class from Wesleyan. That very afternoon the exodus began. San Francisco, Seattle, Brooklyn. Like Charlotte’s babies hatching from the egg sac, my friends floated away to wonderful futures. But I had fallen in love – with Middletown and with my partner – and so I stayed. At the time, it felt like a failure to dream big enough, but it later turned out that the simple act of staying brought more joy and accomplishment to my life than I could have imagined.

And so as you go in every direction this afternoon – with our blessing – I hope you find something in your life that makes you want to stay – in a place, in a discipline, in a friendship. The lesson I want you to take from Charlotte’s Web is this: When some of the spiders decided to stay, it didn’t just matter for Wilbur and it didn’t just matter for the barnyard: it mattered for the spiders.

Remarks by Mark Masselli
Mr. President – members of the Wesleyan Community – thank you for this distinguished honor – it comes to a grateful son of a Wesleyan alum/class of 42 . Jennifer and I know that this recognition today reaches beyond us and belongs to all who care about building communities.

To the class of 2009 – let me add my voice to the chorus of congratulations – today is a special milestone, one that makes you and your families rightfully proud.

From my very narrow perch – here in Middletown, Connecticut – working at the Community Health Center – let me add some words that aren’t being used a lot at graduation ceremonies today in America. “We are hiring” – let me say that again for the parents – “we are hiring.”

We are not looking just to fill positions but rather looking for people who care deeply about principles. Ours is that “health care is a right, not a privilege.”

It’s what Wesleyan students in the class of 1972 cared about when they joined with Middletown activists to start a small free clinic on College Street. They believed in a cause and they challenged a system not as a protest but because they stood by their principles–

We are not looking just to fill positions – but rather we are looking for people who are driven by a passion to relieve injustice. Our passion drives us to build a system of world-class health care that values the poor, those who speak other languages, and those who are new to America.

It’s passion that motivates the Wesleyan students from this class – the class of 2009 – and we’ve seen it in your work in the Middletown community in the last 4 years. You volunteer because you believe in the values of inclusion and diversity, values that are fundamental to building a fair and just society and values that are worth spending a lifetime fighting for.

We are not just looking to fill positions. We are looking for you .

But I understand that you might have other plans – and I know that young people leave because they are restless for change.

But wherever you find that change, you will find that there are people like myself all over the world who are enriched by the fresh breeze of ideas, insights and idealism that comes from working with Wesleyan graduates – and you will change the contours of communities like Middletown for the better – because you learned how to bring together your principles, passion and purpose to a cause.

At Wesleyan, you stepped out of the shadows of self-interest into the sunlight of civic engagement.

So as you go forth into that sunlight – continue to stand up for what you believe and help others to reach up and lift their sky.

Peace and health.

Remarks by Azim Premji P’99
Over the years I have come to know Wesleyan, because my son graduated from here in 1999.

Interestingly, 1999 is also the year that I graduated. It certainly is a slightly odd and unusual phenomenon…father and son graduating in the same year…nevertheless it did happen in my case.

I joined Stanford in 1964. In 1966, in my last year at Stanford, I had to leave without graduating as my father passed away suddenly and I had to go back to India to take charge of Wipro. As the years flew past and became decades, Wipro grew from a small vegetable oil making company to a $5 B Global IT Enterprise.

Through these years of growth of Wipro, I had the privilege of interacting with thousands of ordinary people who did extraordinary things and overcame insurmountable odds. The more I got to know these people, who came from every walk of life, every kind of economic and social back ground imaginable, I grew deeply convinced about the singular power of Education especially in the developing world, where not all have equal access to a quality Education..

I am convinced that Education indeed has the unique power to enable not only personal success but also to drive social transformation, and therefore the power to create a more equitable, humane and sustainable society.

Convinced as I am about the critical importance of Education, it was only natural that I direct all my personal philanthropy towards this end. Our efforts in trying to catalyze systemic Education reform in India, now reaches out to over 3.3 million children across more than 25,000 schools. I am acutely conscious that these numbers are still small drops in a very large ocean; we have a long way to go.

Along this exciting, multi decade long journey of Wipro and my own journey of realization of the transformational power of Education, my own education had remained an unfinished agenda. I set out to complete this agenda in 1998, and finally completed my Electrical Engineering degree in 1999 from Stanford, along with the singular pleasure of graduating in the same year as my son.

From this brief narration it would be clear, that for me, Education is indeed special. And when committed, genuine and respected people like you from the world of Education have chosen to bestow an honor like this on me, it is indeed very, very special – I sincerely and with humility thank you.


More information on Alexander, Masselli and Premji is online here.

Fins ’82 Delivers Phi Beta Kappa Address

Joseph Fins '82 spoke to members of Phi Beta Kappa.

Joseph Fins '82 spoke to members of Phi Beta Kappa.

Joseph J. Fins ’82, M.D., chair of the Alumni Association, spoke to members of the Wesleyan Gamma Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa during Reunion & Commencement Weekend. His speech was titled “Minding Time.” Membership for Phi Beta Kappa is conferred for high scholastic achievement.

It is a delight to be here with you today to celebrate your induction into Phi Beta Kappa. Let me add my congratulations to those of The Faculty, President Roth and your friends and family. This is a memorable day in your life and it is good that you savour this accomplishment. A former professor of mine once told me we should, “Cultivate resting points of satisfaction.”

And this is one of those resting points. A moment that seems to encapsulate all that has happened to you at this marvelous university. It is an occasion when time seems to stand still. Memory is flooded with images of your first academic success, the hard work, and the epiphanies when you figured something out and, as importantly, the failures, which really led to intellectual growth.

As I think about how you must feel, I am reminded of a distant College of Letters class with Professor Howard Needler. We were reading St. Augustine’s Confessions and I remember stumbling upon Augustine’s notion of the “eternal present.” Referring to God, Augustine wrote the following:

In your “today” you will make all that is to exist tomorrow and thereafter, and in “your today” you have made all that existed yesterday and for ever before.

When I was a student here, I sometimes felt there was a coalescence of past, present and future — certainly not on the Celestial scale envisioned by Augustine — but on a personal one. These were formative moments.

And in many ways, that is how it must seem to you now, as you sit back and reflect in this moment about the distance you have come and the paths you are yet to take.

But the cultivation of resting points of satisfaction is not so simple. It is not about the eternal present, about this moment. Instead, what is implicit in the message is that sense of evolution, of progress of moving on. We are not talking about early retirement here. Rest should be temporary.

This is but a resting point. The line of a life is made up of such points, but it remains a line facing forward. Soon it will be time to leave here, move on, and make continued progress.

Your lives will continue, you will refine your passions, settle into careers and make the contributions to society that we expect of you. I was reminded of this forward march when I found my copy of Augustine’s Confessions in my library, circa 1980 margin notes and all.

Not only did my “Penguin Classic” edition cost $2.95, I also realized that while that volume had not changed, as I read it, I certainly had. When I first read it 30 years ago, it was an older man’s reminiscences and making sense and even atoning for an errant youth. To put it bluntly, Augustine wasn’t always a saint.

When I was twenty, I was interested in his tales of youth, wondering how did this start of a life end up as accomplished and saintly as it did. Perhaps naively, I wrote in the margins that Augustine, “did not appreciate when young the gift of life that God gave him. He did not realize that his study of rhetoric was shallow and useless because it was the use of words without substance. He tries here to atone and retrospectively judge afresh his old deeds.”

If I were to judge my notations three decades later, I am struck by the sense that my marginalia precisely did what I accused young Augustine of doing. My words were true, but as yet I did not understand them. My rhetoric was shallow and I wrote of things I did not yet understand, and could not know. It remained the stuff of platitude.

My margin notes were written absent the lived experiences that tests ideas, challenge theories and temper stances. Over the decades, I have gained a deeper insight into what I wrote through life experience, or as the American Pragmatist, John Dewey succinctly put it, “learning by doing.”

As a physician and a parent, I have since come to understand that when I wrote of young Augustine’s inability to appreciate the “gift of life” given to him, I too had yet to fully appreciate life and loss and how precious each life is.

Sadly, this is a lesson that each of you learned prematurely when this community was touched by unspeakable tragedy weeks ago. This too is now part of this moment, this shared present, as you reflect upon your past and contemplate your future. A future that is made all the more precious because of the pain that comes when it is irretrievably lost.

We prize the future for the potential that each of you embody and for the ways it will manifest the unfolding of the education you have received here. At this point your knowledge and skills remain mostly latent, still unapplied to the great works and good deeds that you will undertake. And in realizing those accomplishments, none of us knows which aspects of your education will be relevant decades later, when the future becomes present.

Perhaps an illustration will make my point clearer. When I was an undergraduate and read about Augustine’s “eternal present,” I never thought I would have an occasion to invoke this conceptualization decades later this afternoon or in connection to medical research considering how the brain recovers from injuries severe enough to cause a disorders of consciousness, like coma or the vegetative state.

Most would see that as a purely scientific quest and reasonably ask, what could a 4th century theologian, much less a Saint, add to scientific studies exploring the natural history of brain injury and mechanisms of brain repair? And truth be told, if the question were narrowly cast, the answer would be, “not much.”

But if the broader dimensions of the injured self are invoked, Augustine and the humanities would have a lot to add. His Confessions became relevant again when my colleagues and I found a brain-injured patient who was physiologically — and I dare say — metaphorically stuck in the eternal present.

You may of heard of the case, the remarkable tale of a patient named Terry Wallis who sustained a severe brain injury in 1984 when he was in a car accident. For nearly two decades he lay in a nursing home bed diagnosed as being in the vegetative state. He came to international media attention six years ago, when he began to speak spontaneously.

Like Karen Ann Quinlan or Terri Schiavo, Terry Wallis carried the diagnosis of being in the permanent vegetative state. As the years rolled by and he ceased to improve, he and his family were ignored by the medical community. He was marooned in a nursing home bed. His parents who visited him regularly asked that he be seen by a neurologist or have another scan of his brain. They were told that he was immutably injured, that he would never recover from his vegetative state and that further assessment was futile and too expensive.

The medical system had written him off as forever gone in a vegetative state of “wakeful unresponsiveness” in which his eyes were sometimes open but there was no awareness of himself, others or his environment. He had been relegated to what is euphemistically called “custodial care.” And there he lay, day after day, minding time.

But his parents thought they saw glimmers of awareness, only to be told that they were in denial or overly hopeful. Sometimes he would follow them with his eyes when they came into the room. At other times he seemed to follow an isolated command or nod his head. But these signs of awareness, of minimal consciousness, were not reproducible when the occasional doctor visited.

All of this changed in the summer of 2003 when Terry began to speak spontaneously. His first words were “Mom” and “Pepsi” and over time he gained greater fluency. But what was really interesting was that for Terry, it was still 1984. Ronald Reagan was still president. Like Rip Van Winkle he was locked in time.
Terry has continued to live in an eternal present since then, although his speech has become more fluent and he is laying down new memory. For example, he now knows the song “Bad Boys, Bad Boys, what you gonna do?” — which may or may not be an improvement. But it is important because his brain is learning and it seems, also changing structurally.

Neuroimaging studies using advanced MRI techniques at Weill Cornell showed what was described as new axonal sprouting or new connections between existing neurons in his brain. Over an 18-month interval two scans revealed dynamic changes in his brain with both axonal sprouting and pruning.

We don’t know if these neuroimaging changes were responsible for his ability to speak but they are suggestive. In tandem with his improved functional status, the neuroimaging findings show that while Terry was temporally locked in an eternal present, his brain injury was not immutable. Some degree of recovery was possible, even decades after injury.

But despite this forward progress it remained 1984. A couple years ago, Terry and his family watched President George W. Bush deliver the State of the Union Address at their home. Terry turned to his mother and asked, “Mama, who’s that?”

Mrs. Wallis said, “That’s President Bush.”

Terry responded, “What happened to Reagan?”

In preparation for this talk, I called the Walllis family last week to check in with them and to secure their on-going permission to share their story. They graciously have allowed me to continue to talk about Terry and his progress.

In our conversation, Terry’s mother, Mrs. Wallis told me that Terry’s daughter, Amber had graduated from college the night before. Since 2003, Terry has had difficulty reconciling that Amber was his daughter and not his ex-wife. Amber had been born after his accident and resembled her mother. Terry confused her with his former wife because in 1984, he was still married and had no children.

So it was all the more remarkable when Mrs. Wallis told Terry about his daughter’s graduation and he responded, “Amber’s graduating college? She’s not a kid anymore. She’s a young lady.”

Although Mrs. Wallis tells me that it’s “still 1984, most of the time”, Terry’s appreciation that Amber is getting older suggests the return of a temporal sense, at least on an inconsistent basis, now 25 years after he was injured.

Terry is not alone in his temporal dislocation and the slow march of recovery. The brain injury literature recounts other cases. In one case, a psychologist described his own disorientation after regaining consciousness:

During this period, I had no awareness of time. I existed in a world of the here and now. I was not even aware that such a concept of “time” existed. I knew who “I” was but did not think of myself as being a child, a boy, or a man…One day, however, my “mental clock” began ticking again and the concept of time began to become significant. (Cited by W. Winslade, Confronting Traumatic Brain Injury. New Haven: Yale U, Press, 1998. pp 78-79.)

Cases like these raise perplexing questions about time and personhood. Can you fully be you stuck in an eternal present, not knowing whether you are “a child, a boy or a man”? Imagine the thought experiment of self-awareness devoid of temporal reference points.

Although neuroscience may be on the way to answering this age-old question, the humanities have already weighed in on the issue over the course of millennia. Augustine saw the eternal present as that which divided us from the deity.

Deities aside, humans are not meant to reside in an eternal present — or as the psychologist put it, “a world of the here and now.” We are destined, instead, for a temporal grid with a past, present and future.
And in more modern times, Martin Heidegger would write in his aptly titled masterwork, “Being and Time” that we achieve our potentiality as Beings only after fully assuming a temporality and appreciating their broader place in History. Fundamentally, we need to be aware of the march of time for an authentic understanding of our Being.

Milestones like the one we mark this afternoon — and on Sunday — are reminders that the passage of time is inextricably linked to the realization of one’s potentiality and to the cultivation of a perspective on personal growth.

As the Wisdom of the Ages and newer insights from the Neurosciences show us, though we might savor these resting points of satisfaction, they do not define what we are but rather who we are in the process of becoming. It is the stringing together of these moments that make for a reflective life. So as we celebrate your accomplishments, let us also mark the passage of time, which allows us to appreciate such moments, knowing that they are singular and fleeting, and indispensable to the trajectories of each of our lives.

Commencement Ceremony Broadcast Live

The 177th Commencement Ceremony will begin at 11 a.m. on Andrus Field. The ceremony will be simulcast in the Memorial Chapel, Patricelli ’92 Theater, Crowell Concert Hall, and Tishler Lecture Hall (Room 150) at Exley Science Center, rain or shine.

The ceremony also will be broadcast through a live video stream at http://condor.wesleyan.edu/openmedia/webcast/cast1.qtl.

The latest version of Quicktime Player is required to view the webcast. The player can be downloaded for free, for both Windows and Mac, by clicking here.  A high-speed internet connection is also necessary to view the broadcasts.