Tag Archive for commencement 2017

Wesleyan Awards 763 BA Degrees at 185th Commencement

Asad Hassanali '17 accepts his diploma. (Photo by Will Barr '18)

Asad Hassanali ’17 accepts his diploma. (Photo by Will Barr ’18)

Graduates, their families, and other members of the Wesleyan community gathered for the 185th Commencement ceremony on May 28.

This year, Wesleyan conferred 763 bachelor of arts degrees; 38 master of arts degrees; 19 master of arts in liberal studies degrees; 1 master of philosophy in liberal arts; and 10 doctor of philosophy degrees.

eve_ruc_2017-0528121620The distinguished writer Claudia Rankine delivered the commencement address and also received an honorary degree. A poet, essayist and playwright, Rankine is the recipient of numerous awards for work described as fearless in its pursuit of new directions in American poetry.

Rankine began by congratulating the graduates on their many accomplishments.

“It matters to me that you know all you have achieved, because unless you understand that, you won’t be willing to attempt the impossible, you won’t be willing to work toward a goal knowing you might fail,” she said.

“What I personally love about this kind of uncertainty is that it allows for the creation of a habit of being that is willing to risk the self in service of the formation of some unknown. And the exciting part is that alongside failure lives possibility,” she went on.

Rankine Delivers 2017 Commencement Address


Poet, essayist and playwright, Claudia Rankine delivered the 2017 Commencement address on May 28. Rankine is the recipient of numerous awards for work described as fearless in its pursuit of new directions in American poetry. She is the author of five collections of poetry, including Citizen: An American Lyric and Don’t Let Me Be Lonely; two plays, including Provenance of Beauty: A South Bronx Travelogue; numerous video collaborations; and is the editor of several anthologies, including The Racial Imaginary: Writers on Race in the Life of the Mind. For Citizen, Rankine won the Forward Prize for Poetry, the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry, The Los Angeles Times Book Award, the PEN Open Book Award, and the NAACP Image Award. She lives in New York City and teaches at Yale University as the Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry.

Reunion and Commencement Wesleyan University May 28, 2017 photo by Will Barr

Her speech is below:

Good morning, Class of 2017. Thank you to President Roth, the Board of Trustees, the esteemed faculty and the staff of Wesleyan for allowing me to become part of the amazing class of 2017. I think every member of “my class” should turn to the person next to them and congratulate them.

All your lives you have worked hard, mighty hard. Today, this day, celebrates your success. In fact, the single reason I am here is to congratulate you. In case you were wondering, I was asked to come “say something”, but really I am here to be part of the congratulations.

Your parents should be congratulated too for their commitment to your success—“cha ching!” The rest of your family and friends remained alongside you these past years. Also, the coffee industry; Pi Cafe; Foss Hill; the Tomb; the cigarettes you don’t smoke; Instagram’s new live video feature; and the twitter account that keeps you informed and in direct contact with the White House during those all-nighters.

Your professors as well, I suspect, played an important role in your success. The staff committed themselves in ways known and unknown to your success. But all those long nights it was you in Olin Library, you in the lab, you at the computer, you on Facebook, you texting, you playing video games and then back studying, then back on Facebook, then discussing the FBI somebody who was fired, then back writing the thesis, then back on twitter, whatever. In any case, you did it. You worked harder and you let your best be better, and sometimes great. It’s not cool to admit it but you know how hard you worked.

Wesleyan, this incredible institution, which grew with you over the years, held you, challenged you, sometimes disappointed you, and always was only as great as you collectively are. It will forever remain as a symbol of your collective success.

Congratulations to all of you! There’s a good chance you just joined the 52 percent of college-educated voters who voted against the immigration ban, who voted against the defunding of planned parenthood, who voted against the dismantling of the affordable care act, against the building of a wall, against the denial of climate change, and against the push to popularize “Putin” as the most popular baby name in our Nation—in order to create the Putin x-generation. I wanted to add that I put forward the Putin baby name thing as an alternative fact, despite its disservice to babies. But really, seriously, congratulations again.

Because you don’t know me, I can understand if my congratulations sound like part of the rhetoric of what gets said to you today. But sometimes protocol lines up with sincerity, sometimes not; but in this case, yes. Congratulations.
It matters to me that you know all you have achieved, because unless you understand that, you won’t be willing to attempt the impossible, you won’t be willing to work towards a goal knowing you might fail.

That’s right, in addition to being part of the congratulations today, I have come to make a plug for failure. There are many ways to fail after all your successes. You can be a poet like me and research stuff that has already happened only to retell it using anaphora, rhyme, and alliteration. Poets, according to Lewis Hyde’s “The Gift,” are the failure of a market economy.

I recently read about the South African artist William Kentridge’s Centre for the Less Good Idea. Kentridge is a personal hero of mine. His deeply collaborative and engaged work on life in South Africa, from apartheid to the AIDS crisis to present states of poverty and violence, has been moving, informative and transformative. The Centre for the Less Good Idea, according to Kentridge, is a “safe space for uncertainty, doubt, stupidity and, at times, failure.” He believes we humans have too much investment in certainty and he personally feels “rescued by failure.” Consequently, he is more interested in provisional positions and in the “desperation present in all uncertainty.”

What I personally love about this kind of uncertainty is that it allows for the creation of a habit of being that is willing to risk the self in service of the formation of some unknown. This instability means failure is imminent but not inevitable. And the exciting part is that alongside failure lives possibility.

What I wish for you is that you will pursue your unknown and unrealized imagined possibilities, even though the imagined/unimagined resides with such close proximity to failure. To pursue something because it matters to you, to your moral expectations for the world; to pursue something because the way it occurs now is, to be blunt, unjust, to pursue and invest in change despite not having the power to implement it directly, is to be willing to fail. Then success is beside the point. That something matters to you, truly, madly, deeply, becomes the point. That someone matters is the point.

In the last years, while you were students at this eminent institution, we have had amazing examples of people willing to fail in the face of established power.

When activists Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi began with the premise that systemic racism creates a playing field of incommensurable experiences, and asked you to gather in the name of Black Lives Matter, many of you came. Okay, some of you came. You entered your classrooms and your streets and various venues and places of business and stormed the stage of events and requested more diverse representation, more just discourse and spaces for everyone. You made your requests even as the world around you continued to fail you. The white imagination, its weaponized fears and nurtured hatreds, continued to be triggered by black skin, people of color, and its own need to dominate and own spaces.

And when Black Lives Matter said we are “an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise,” you intervened on behalf of human lives because you remembered, without needing the exact language, that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in a commencement speech in 1961, said, “all life is interrelated. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality; tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

And when Black Lives Matter affirmed “Black folks’ contribution to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression,” you walked in solidarity in order to assert yourself or yourself in alliance with others.

Because of you we have returned to an everyday practice of participatory culture, and as the phenomenal feminist and social activist Cathy Cohen has pointed out, we expect sharing. A sharing that has made possible “a participatory politics that is peer based and more interactive with more dialogue.” And we are beginning to respect the insights of our own unacknowledged and too often disregarded experiences and understandings. Those understandings won’t always line up with economic or mainstream ideas of success, but they will be in line with what we need to form meaningful lives.

I don’t know about you all, but I came from a working-class immigrant family. Success did not present to them as the study of poetry. But at some point, while working in law firms, I came across the feminist poet Adrienne Rich’s answer to the question, “Does poetry play a role in social change?”. Yes, she said:

“…where poetry is liberative language, connecting the fragments within us, connecting us to others like and unlike ourselves, replenishing our desire. … In a time of frontal assaults both on language and on human solidarity, poetry can remind us of all we are in danger of losing—disturb us, embolden us out of resignation.”

Some of you have family members or friends who won’t agree with the justice you will fail towards. And your choices won’t always make for a comfortable and economically abundant life. But in your imagined world, carrying Skittles while being black won’t mean, won’t justify, being accosted or murdered by security, by police, by the weaponized white imagination. Having choice over your body won’t be something that needs legislation. Being undocumented will enter you into a process not a deportation center.Sexual violence against anyone will be recognized as such.

Life, friends, is not boring. (That’s a misquote of John Berryman’s “Dream Song 14.”) Injustice should never bore you.

What I really want to say is that there are all kinds of deplorable practices that should compel you to want to fail forward; all kinds of everyday realities that should require you to move this entire room in new directions. These pathways of resistance won’t look like success, but they will exist in the direction of justice and truth. For example, Bryan Stevenson, the executive director and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, has recently won an historic ruling that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for all children 17 or younger are unconstitutional.

You might not have known about the ruling. You might not have known children were being sent to prison for life. But Stevenson knew and the children who were sentenced knew. Stevenson failed for a long time before he gave the justice system back its humanity. Failing was just part of the process.

Cornel West says that justice is what love looks like in public; therefore, no matter how much pessimism you might feel, no matter how much discomfort you might feel, no matter how much resistance you might feel or you might get, failure of Stevenson’s sort will just be you and your “justice-love” arm-in-arm in public.

For some of you, failure will mean stepping away from positions of white dominance. For others, it will mean non-conformity in the role of people of color “exceptionalism.” For all of us failing can be a kind of freedom. It can be a new understanding of our limits. In her book Ethical Loneliness the philosopher Jill Stauffer writes, “It’s important for those who listen to reflect on the limits of what they already know and how that affects what they are able to hear. Perhaps then people and the institutions they design will be able to listen for their own failures –and thus begin to live up to what justice after complex conflict or long-standing injustice demands.” This form of failure can mean understanding yourself as part of the human community before taking up the certainty of economic comfort, of dis-associative amnesia, of cynical collusion.

And justice, for me, feels like the love of “making common cause with the brokenness of being,” to quote the theorist Jack Halberstam. “The love of “making common cause with the brokenness of being.” It’s the work of failing toward an imagined fellowship with each other.

Halberstam’s phrase comes from the introduction to the Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study coauthored by Stefano Harney and Fred Moten. This book is my graduation present to all of you. It’s available free of charge as a PDF on line. Again, cheating the market economy. Another failure in our market driven economy! The Undercommons is waiting for you and for anyone else you would like to congratulate with a gift. You can thank me later.

I won’t spoil the gift by telling you what it says but I will read to you Stefano and Fred’s last sentences where they define what it is to feel and alert us to its radical possibilities.

They say, “This feel is the hold that lets go (let’s go) again and again to dispossess us of ability, fill us with need, give us ability to fill need, this feel. We hear the godfather and the old mole calling us to become, in whatever years we have, philosophers of the feel. Love, Stephano /Fred”

And love also from me, love from me for all the feelings honored, love from me for all the ways you have failed so far in the name of fellowship, and also love from me for all the ways you will bring discomfort to yourself and the world, and also love from me for all the challenges you will put in the way of dominance and violence and injustice. Love to our entire Wesleyan community for all our antidotes. Love to each of you and love to your bad behavior in the boardroom, on juries, in the office, on the street, at your dinner tables in all and every space that believes it can hold racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-muslim rhetoric and on and on. Love to you and your wild and unruly hearts imagining our world again. Again, congratulations.

President Roth Makes Remarks at 2017 Commencement


Wesleyan President Michael Roth '78. (Photo by Will Barr '18)

Wesleyan President Michael Roth ’78. (Photo by Will Barr ’18)

Wesleyan President Michael Roth ’78 made the following remarks during the 185th commencement ceremony on May 28:

Members of the board of trustees, members of the faculty and staff, distinguished guests, new recipients of graduate degrees and the mighty class of 2017, I am honored to present some brief remarks on the occasion of this commencement.

In the fall of 2013, the political situation in this country was frustrating as you began your Wesleyan careers. Washington politics were not plagued by the scandal, impetuousness and sleaze we see today, but instead presented a spectacle of stasis—with threats of government shutdowns and cynical declarations of pride in the agenda of doing nothing. Stasis and inertia, these are surely the enemies of liberal education. I trust you have found at Wesleyan opportunities for journey and discovery, even if it hasn’t always been clear where you were headed. I hope that over the course of your time here you have felt empowered, your capacity to make a positive contribution to the world around you has increased. This is in line with the oft quoted statement of the founding president of our university, Willbur Fisk. Your education should be for your own good as individuals and for the good of the world.

This notion of the “good of the world,” is, I think, what many students at Wesleyan mean when they call for social justice. Over the last four years, this call has reverberated around campus in demands to eliminate institutional racism and in calls to eradicate the persistent poison of sexual violence. But as we have struggled with the subtler aspects of discrimination and power dynamics, it has often become clear that not everyone has the same view as to what constitutes justice, social or otherwise. This should lead us to recognize that political engagement and community participation must include discussions in which we can explore our differences without fear. A university is the place to have one’s ideas and one’s ways of thinking tested—and not just protected.

But political and social engagement are not just about testing ideas, they are constituted by actions in concert with others. The student culture you have created here at Wesleyan has fostered responsible and generous contributions to making the world around us more equitable and less oppressive. The plight of refugees has been one of the defining issues of our time, and a number of you gave your time and labor to ease their suffering—helping those in camps in the Middle East and smoothing the way for refugee families settling here in the United States. Many of you have worked in the community—tutoring at Traverse Square or the McDonough Elementary School, reaching out to the incarcerated through the Center for Prison Education, seeking to improve health care and food security for Middletown’s most vulnerable. Your efforts inspire others to do more to create opportunity and reduce suffering.

At a time when nihilism is cloaked in intellectual sophistication, and when many are tempted to retreat from the corruption of the public sphere, your cohort at Wesleyan has made a point to stay engaged. You reject retreat by working with environmental groups, from Long Lane Farm to international organizations combating climate change. You reject retreat by standing together to end mass incarceration, or by building solidarity with those marginalized by the dominant culture. You reject retreat by standing by your principles and standing with those desperate for allies.

At Wesleyan, your commitment to see those around you fulfill their potential has been inspirational. This commitment can be found all around the campus: in concert halls, in science labs, on stages or on the playing field. Your commitment to one another has strengthened our campus community; it is a promise that the work we do at this university will be relevant beyond its borders.

I am proud to be here on the podium with our honorary doctorate recipients: a scientist, an activist, a poet. All have found what they love to do, gotten very, very good at it, and found powerful ways to share what they do with others. Some of you may recognize in these phrases the three things that I like to talk about as essential to liberal education. All the same, as Wesleyan’s President Victor Butterfield put it in his final Commencement Address 50 years ago, “whatever the President might say about liberal education in community discussion, or in the college catalog, or in his speeches, he could not really define that education or affect it where it counts; that is, in hearts and minds of students. {Liberal Education} is defined and takes effect from what and how teachers teach, how both they and their students think, how they both listen and read, what they both ask, and by how vitally and imaginatively they respond to each other.” As in Butterfield’s day, this university takes enormous pride in the vital and imaginative responsiveness of its teachers and its students. We celebrate that responsiveness today.

Generations of Wesleyan alumni have benefited from this responsiveness. As I say each year, we Wesleyans have used our education to mold the course of culture ourselves lest the future be shaped by those for whom justice and change, generosity and equality, diversity and tolerance, are much too threatening. Now we alumni are counting on you, new graduates, to join us in helping to shape our culture, so it will not be shaped by the forces of violence, conformity and elitism.

We are counting on you because we have already seen what you are capable of when you have the freedom and the tools, the mentors and the friendship, the insight and the affection to go beyond what others have defined as your limits. We know that in the years ahead you will explore unfamiliar realms and see possibilities that others might not. We know that you will find new ways to make connections across cultural borders—new ways to build community, to join personal authenticity with compassionate solidarity. When this happens, you will feel the power and promise of your education. And we, your Wesleyan family, we will be proud of how you keep your education alive by making it effective in the world.

It’s been nearly four years since we unloaded cars together at the base of Foss Hill, four years since family members shed (or maybe hid) a tear as they left you here “on your own.” To me, it seems like such a short time ago. Now it’s you who are leaving us, but do remember that no matter how “on your own” you feel “out there,” you will always be members of the Wesleyan family, you will always be able to come home to Wesleyan. Wherever your exciting pursuits take you, please come home to alma mater often to share your news, your memories and your dreams. Thank you and good luck!

Jiménez Moreta Makes Remarks at Commencement

Reunion and Commencement Wesleyan University May 28, 2017 photo by Will BarrCristina Jiménez Moreta, executive director and co-founder of United We Dream (UWD), the largest immigrant youth-led organization in the country, received an honorary doctorate during Wesleyan’s 2017 commencement ceremony on May 28. United We Dream played a leadership role in persuading the Obama administration to protect more than one million young immigrants from deportation through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Reunion and Commencement Wesleyan University May 28, 2017 photo by Will BarrOriginally from Ecuador, Jiménez Moreta came to the United States with her family at the age of 13. She is one of Forbes’s 2014 “30 under 30 in Law and Policy;” was named one of “40 under 40 Young Leaders Who are Solving Problems of Today and Tomorrow” by the Chronicle of Philanthropy; one of “50 Fearless Women” by Cosmopolitan; and named one of 25 disruptive leaders who are working to close the racial opportunity gap by Living Cities.

Her speech is below:

Thank you to President Roth, faculty, and students for this recognition.

I’m humbled by such distinguished honor and consider this to be a recognition for all immigrant youth and families that are part United We Dream and for one of our co-founders, Jose Luis Marantes, who is an alumnus of Wesleyan, class of 2006.

To the graduates and to your the parents and loved ones- congratulations!

As the daughter of immigrant parents who supported me didn’t let me quit despite the odds – I know that today is your day too!

And honestly this is a big day for me too. As the daughter of a father who grew up homeless, a mother who was told that girls don’t belong in school, and as someone who grew up undocumented, I could have never imagined to be with all of you today receiving an honorary degree from Wesleyan.

To my parents: I’m thankful for your courage, your sacrifice, and your love. Para todos los padres aquí, gracias por sus sacrificios y por su amor. 

As a kid growing up in Ecuador I remember getting letters from my school saying that I wouldn’t be allowed into school unless we pay our tuition. My parents did everything they could to support our family, but they just couldn’t find jobs. They could no longer afford to pay for school and some weeks we even struggled to have food at home.

They dreamed of a better life and for my brother and I to be the first ones in our family to go to college. So seeking those dreams, they risked everything and left Ecuador and our community and our families behind to come here to this country.

I was 13 and my brother was six when we settled in Queens, NY. A big shout out to all the New Yorkers here.

I attended high school with a constant fear that my parents could be deported or that I could be deported. Very early on, I learned that I was vulnerable not only for my lack of immigration status but because of the color of my skin. At 11 years old, I had to deal with the experience of my brother being a stop and frisk by New York City police in our neighborhood.

When I was ready to apply for college my college advisor told me that I couldn’t go to college because I didn’t have immigration status.
I was devastated.

But that same year I graduated, undocumented youth in New York pushed and pressured the State of New York to pass a law that allowed undocumented students like me to go to college. And Connecticut has done the same, and young people in Connecticut have done the same here, so big shout out to all the undocumented people and allies that have fought for students here.

I completed my bachelor’s and my master’s degrees with the support of my parents but also the support of institutions like the City University of New York, faculty and students that encouraged me, regardless of being undocumented. And Wesleyan is that kind of place.

Thank you President Roth and Wesleyan community for being an example of bold leadership in higher education by welcoming students regardless of immigration status in an era where racism and hate against immigrants and people of color has been normalized. Thank you.

And thank you for the great partnership that you have with the United We Dream affiliate here, Connecticut Students for a Dream, and we look forward to continuing that partnership.

As a person who lived too many years desperately afraid to reveal myself, and I go across the country and I see many immigrants and people of color that live in fear, I know how critical is for institutions and the people that work in them to create safe spaces for everyone and to treat everyone with dignity.

So graduates, it is a great privilege to be in an institution like Wesleyan and for you all to have had that experience. And with this great privilege also comes responsibility.

So today as you’re graduating, I invite you to own this responsibility with graciousness and ensure that wherever you go after today you create safe spaces for everyone. Spaces where people can be their true authentic selves without fears, without prejudice, and without any institution or any person holding them back.

Because as we speak there are some powerful leaders telling people like me and my family that we are criminals and that we don’t belong here. They are doing everything to target immigrants, refugees, women, Muslims, and LGBTQ and black people. And thousands are being detained, incarcerated, and separated from their families because of deportation.

So to be honest, immigrants like my family and other communities are going to need fellow humans who are committed to standing in the way of injustice and racism.

And you know what, looking at all of you here out here today and knowing you came from this place, I am very hopeful.

I am hopeful that you will lead with boldness and idealism, just like the mission of Wesleyan, and stand for inclusion and dignity for all people.

So thank you for this honor. Thank you for affirming to me and undocumented families that we belong here. That this is our country too. I am grateful, and I look forward to building the next chapter of this country together. Congratulations.

Handelsman Makes Remarks on Superpowers

Reunion and Commencement Wesleyan University May 28, 2017 photo by Will BarrJo Handelsman, the director of the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, a research institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, received an honorary degree during Wesleyan’s 185th commencement ceremony on May 28.

Handelsman recently concluded service as the associate director for science at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy under President Obama, where she advised the President on policies to address current and future challenges in science, engineering and mathematics. A distinguished scientist who helped create the field of metagenomics, Handelsman’s current research focuses on the way bacteria communicate among themselves to create robust communities. In addition to her internationally recognized research, Handelsman is also an international authority on evidence-based science education, which she terms “scientific teaching.”

Her speech is below:

On Superpowers

Thank you for inviting me here to share this very special day with you today. It is indeed an honor to receive a degree from an institution as venerable as Wesleyan University. Congratulations to all of you. To us!

You may not know it yet, our graduates, but you will know a few years from now that today is actually  a celebration of the superpowers you have acquired in college. Powers that will enable you to live lives of action, goodness, and wisdom. No, sorry to disappoint you—you won’t be able to fly or shoot lasers from your eyes—but you have superpowers that are just as transformative and much more useful in the modern world.

Today, the last four years of toil and struggle, doldrums, self-doubts, fun, epiphanies, and awakenings coalesce into four superpowers that few people on Earth possess, and you must therefore treasure them and use them wisely.

The first is the power to think. To engage in rigorous evaluation and separate fact from fiction, science from belief. The power of thought will enable you to use logic and be persuasive. Thought will empower you to live a rational and meaningful life.

Your second superpower is knowledge. Your knowledge of yourself will form the platform upon which you will build your values through thoughtful consideration, not inheritance. Your knowledge of the world will remind you that everyone is not like you—that you are just a tiny and privileged bit of life on a large and complex planet.

Your third superpower is independence. This power will ensure that you can rely on yourself, that you won’t be afraid to be alone, and that you will stand for unpopular causes and be the exception. Your independence will provide you the courage to speak truth to power and give voice to those whose voices can’t be heard.

Your fourth superpower is community. You sit here today in a community that will never assemble in this form again but will nonetheless fortify you throughout your lives. No one can take from you the great Wesleyan community to which you have belonged for four years. It has taught you the importance of being part of something larger than yourself and the power of balancing your independence with relying upon and supporting others. And caring about members of a community has given you the gifts of compassion and generosity.

So, 2017 Wesleyan graduates, thank you again

for allowing me to join you at this moment when you will launch into the rest of your lives. Now go forth and use your superpowers to make sure your lives are well lived.

Alumni Honored for Professional, Creative Achievements, Service

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At the Assembly and Annual Meeting of the Alumni Association on May 27, seven alumni received Distinguished Alumni Awards, and one Outstanding Service Award was presented, along with the James L. McConaughy Jr. Memorial Award. Robert G. McKelvey ’59 (front row, far left) received special recognition for his many years of service, leadership, and generosity: Wesleyan’s historic College Row lawn was dedicated as McKelvey Green. Also pictured are (front row, l. to r., following McKelvey): Donna S. Morea ’76, P’06, chair of the Board of Trustees; Distinguished Alumni Nicholas J. Rasmussen ’87, Amy Schulman ’82, P’11, Isaac O. Shongwe ’87, and McConaughy Memorial Award recipient Matthew H. Weiner ’87 P’18. Back Row, Distinguished Alumni Santi “Santigold” White ’97 and Michele A. Roberts ’77; President Michael S. Roth ’78; Distinguished Alumnus Robert L. Allbritton ’92; Outstanding Service award-winner Rick Nicita ’67, Distinguished Alumnus Tos Chirathivat ’85, P’14, ’17, and Chair of the Alumni Association Tracey K. Gardner ’96.

Finn, Rubenstein, Roberts Honored with Binswanger Prizes

John Finn, Mary-Jane Rubenstein and Andrea Roberts and are the recipients of the 2017 Binswanger Prizes for Excellence in Teaching. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

From left, John E. Finn, Mary-Jane Rubenstein and Andrea Roberts are the recipients of the 2017 Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching. Wesleyan President Michael Roth is pictured at right. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

During Wesleyan’s 185th commencement ceremony on May 28, Wesleyan presented three outstanding teachers with the Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching. These prizes, made possible by gifts from the family of the late Frank G. Binswanger Sr., Hon. ’85, underscore Wesleyan’s commitment to its scholar-teachers, who are responsible for the university’s distinctive approach to liberal arts education.

Recommendations are solicited from alumni of the last 10 graduating classes, as well as current juniors, seniors and graduate students. Recipients are chosen by a selection committee of faculty and members of the Alumni Association Executive Committee.

This year, Wesleyan honored the following faculty members for their excellence in teaching:

John E. Finn, professor of government, has been a member of Wesleyan’s faculty since 1986, serving as chair of the Government Department in 2007 and from 2009–11. He has a BA in political science from Nasson College, a JD from Georgetown University, a PhD in political science from Princeton University, and a degree in culinary arts from the French Culinary Institute. Finn is the author of three books on constitutional law, including Peopling the Constitution (2014), and numerous articles and book chapters. Finn’s scholarship also encompasses the study of food, recipes and politics, and includes his most recent book, The Perfect Omelet: Essential Recipes for the Home Cook (2017). At Wesleyan, Professor Finn’s courses have included American Constitutional Interpretation, The First Amendment, The Judicial Process, and Culture and Cuisine. He is the recipient of five distinguished teaching awards at Wesleyan, including two Binswanger Prizes, two Caleb T. Winchester Awards for Excellence in Teaching, and the Carol A. Baker ’81 Memorial Prize. He is retiring from Wesleyan this year.

Andrea Roberts, associate professor of the practice, chemistry, began teaching in Wesleyan’s Chemistry Department in 2004 as a visiting instructor while pursuing her graduate research at Wesleyan. She earned a BA in chemistry from Cornell University, an MS in polymer chemistry from Polytechnic University, and a PhD in organometallic chemistry from Wesleyan, where she studied under the direction of Professor Emeritus Joseph Bruno. She has written two theses, is the author of several publications, and holds more than 30 U.S. and international patents. In July 2010, as a graduate student, Roberts rewrote the entire organic chemistry lab curriculum, making it safer and more relevant for students and greener for the environment. Using her 15 years of experience in the industry, she has developed curricula for the general, organic, and the advanced integrated laboratory courses. She also teaches science outreach classes that introduce STEM lab activities to Middletown-area school children. In 2016, Roberts was awarded a teaching and pedagogical grant from the Andersen/Rosenbaum Teaching Endowment, which she used to create a tutorial for graduate and undergraduate students interested in teaching and curriculum design. The result was the development of a new introductory chemistry lab manual, which was piloted this spring.

Mary-Jane Rubenstein, professor of religion, joined Wesleyan’s faculty in 2006. She also is a core faculty member in the Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program, and an affiliated faculty member in the Science in Society Program. She holds a BA in religion and English from Williams College, an MPhil in philosophical theology from Cambridge University, and a PhD in philosophy of religion from Columbia University, where she also received a certificate in comparative literature and society. Rubenstein’s courses at Wesleyan include Christianity and Sexuality, and Worlding the World: Creation Myths from Ancient Greece to the Multiverse. Her research interests include continental philosophy, theology, gender and sexuality studies, and the history and philosophy of cosmology. She is the author of Strange Wonder: The Closure of Metaphysics and the Opening of Awe and Worlds without End: The Many Lives of the Multiverse, as well as numerous book chapters, magazine articles and online essays. She serves as cochair of the Philosophy of Religion Section of the American Academy of Religion and on the Smithsonian Institute’s advisory board for the study of science and religion.

Previous Binswanger recipients are online here.

Shackney ’17 Delivers Senior Class Welcome


Elizabeth Shackney ’17 delivered the following remarks during Wesleyan’s 185th commencement ceremony on May 28.

Good morning. My name is Lizzie Shackney, and today I will graduate with the Class of 2017.

I realized what Wesleyan meant to me as I packed up my room yesterday and noticed three similar titles on my single shelf of books: How Should a Person Be?, On Becoming a Person, and How to Be a Person in the World, all acquired in the past four years. My time at Wesleyan, it seems, has been about learning how to be and become a person. Of course, I’ve always been a person. But it was just me, alone. Being here meant understanding, adjusting, and navigating my personhood in a sea of other identities. Like molecules in a heated state, we bounced around and sometimes crashed into one another, creating energy and pressure that could be both productive and exhausting.

A lot can change, a lot can happen, when it’s no longer just you. Wesleyan is a place where, after an hours-long conversation with an unexpected friend, a cloudy part of your world becomes clearer. It is where you can accomplish that thing that you didn’t think was for people like you, where you find a home with others telling stories or flying drones or opening up about grief. Despite the abundance of closeness and connection, sometimes Wesleyan can be paradoxically lonely. Sometimes it is a breeding ground for frustration or uncertainty. Sometimes, we worry that we are too much for the people around us.

In the messiness of our time here, we are forced to ask ourselves: What does it mean to exist as a human being among others? How do I do it? And how do I do it well?

Those books I mentioned haven’t given me comprehensive answers. Wesleyan hasn’t either. but it has helped to move me forward. What I do know now is this: The key to being a person within a community lies at the intersection of accountability and belonging. Accountability means taking responsibility for the fact that what you do and what you say has an impact. I felt this most as a student government leader, as I realized that my work wasn’t just about doing what I believed was best; instead, I engaged with members of my community and learned through trial and error to speak with, and not for or over, my peers.

At the same time, becoming a person is facilitated by feeling that you belong somewhere, by believing that you will be loved even if you make a mistake. When you drove ten hours to my dad’s funeral in the middle of the summer; when you watched me dance, play tennis, or tell a joke and still let me hang around—many big and tiny memories remind me that here, I have been loved. Those moments when I felt most that I belonged were also when I felt most committed to the betterment of this community. A sense of belonging is sustained by accountability, and accountability relies upon a foundation of care.

Today, we celebrate where we have been, where we will go next, and the lives that we will lead there. But I hope that beyond all of our accomplishments, we find new places where we can belong, and where we can create a sense of belonging for others, too.

Today, I am grateful for the many ways in which you have taught me to live well within a community. It’s been a pleasure to be, belong, and become alongside all of you.

Thank you.

Driscolls Honored with 2017 Baldwin Medal

John and Gina Driscoll.

During the commencement ceremony, John ’62 and Gina Driscoll, at left, received the Baldwin Medal. The Baldwin Medal is the highest award of the Alumni Association.(Photo by Olivia Drake)

During the 185th commencement ceremony on May 28, John ’62 and Gina Driscoll were honored with the Raymond E. Baldwin Medal, the highest award of the Alumni Association. John and Gina have each provided exemplary service to Wesleyan for more than three decades, during which they have been truly remarkable ambassadors of goodwill. Among Freeman Asian Scholars, their names are synonymous with devoted friendship and unstinting support. For many years the Driscolls traveled extensively throughout Asia with the late Houghton “Buck” ’43 and Doreen Hon. ’03 Freeman P’77 to interview prospective Freeman scholars. The Freeman Driscoll Endowed International Scholarship was named in their honor.

Commencement Speaker, Honorary Degree Recipients Announced

Wesleyan will present three honorary doctorates at the University’s 185th Commencement on May 28. The distinguished writer Claudia Rankine will deliver the Commencement address. Wesleyan will also honor Jo Handelsman, former associate director for science at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Cristina Jiménez, executive director and co-founder of United We Dream, the largest immigrant youth-led organization in the country. The Baldwin Medal, the highest award of the Alumni Association, will be presented to John ’62 and Gina Driscoll.

Claudia Rankine
Poet, essayist and playwright, Claudia Rankine is the recipient of numerous awards for work described as fearless in its pursuit of new directions in American poetry.