Tag Archive for reunion and commencement

The Vanguard Class of 1969 Offers Reflections After 50 Years

Steve Pfeiffer ’69, Bernard Freamon ’69, and Barry Checkoway ’69 addressed a standing-room-only seminar on May 25.

On Feb. 21, 1969, black students, faculty, and staff staged a historic takeover of Fisk Hall, Wesleyan’s main academic building at the time, to protest racism and advocate for increased administrative support for people of color at the University. Dubbed the “Vanguard Class” for their place at the forefront of that movement, several members of the Class of 1969 reconvened at Fisk Hall on Saturday, May 25, 2019, to reflect on what being a part of that momentous event 50 years earlier has meant for them and for Wesleyan since.

Speaking to more than 100 attendees in a standing-room-only crowd, the panel included moderator Alford Young ’88, Howard Brown ’69, Barry Checkoway ’69, Bernard Freamon ’69, Steve Pfeiffer ’69, and Rev. Edwin Sanders ’69 and featured each panelist’s personal recollection of the watershed moment, as well as a brief discussion of how life at the University for students and people of color—both on and off campus—continues to evolve today. That evolution has included Wesleyan faculty voting African American Studies into full departmental status in December 2018.

“At most 50th reunions, you are celebrating and remembering football games, or the glee club,” said President Michael Roth ’78 during his introduction. “Not at Wesleyan. We’re unusual in that we celebrate the takeover of a building and waking up administrations to get them to do the right thing . . . and the Vanguard Class marks that important turning point in Wesleyan’s history.”

Wilson to Receive Prestigious Baldwin Medal

Barbara-Jan Wilson (Photo by Olivia Drake)

Barbara-Jan Wilson (Photo by Olivia Drake)

At the University’s 187th Commencement on May 26, Wesleyan will present the Baldwin Medal, the highest award of the Alumni Association, to Barbara-Jan Wilson.

For over 36 years, Wilson has been a stalwart in the Wesleyan administration and a driving force behind the University’s fundraising efforts. Beginning at Wesleyan in 1982 as the director of Career Planning, she moved on to serve as dean of Admission and Financial Aid in 1990, and then as vice president of University Relations from 1999 to 2018. Throughout that time, Wilson has been one of the University’s biggest champions and cheerleaders, boldly and convincingly making the case for the value of a Wesleyan education and the importance of giving back to the institution.

“For so many of us, Barbara-Jan represents the heart and soul of Wesleyan,” said Donna Morea ’76, P’06, chair of Wesleyan’s Board of Trustees. “Her genuine love for the institution is infectious, but it is the way that she makes us feel that is her greatest gift. She cares about our success, our families, and our lives. Barbara-Jan has hundreds, maybe thousands, of people like me who genuinely believe we are one of her very best friends. And we all are.”

Wesleyan Announces 2019 Honorary Degree Recipients

At the University’s 187th Commencement on May 26, 2019, which coincides with the 50th anniversary of the historic Vanguard Class of 1969 and the founding of the African American Studies program at Wesleyan, Wesleyan will present three honorary degrees.

Saidiya Hartman ’84, a groundbreaking scholar and cultural historian, will deliver this year’s Commencement address. Hazel Carby and Edwin Sanders II ’69 also will be honored.

Anita Hill Delivers 2018 Commencement Address

Anita Hill, University Professor of Social Policy, Law, and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Brandeis University and a faculty member of the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis, delivers the 2018 Commencement address.

Anita Hill, University Professor of Social Policy, Law, and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Brandeis University and a faculty member of the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis, delivered the 2018 Commencement address on May 27.

In 1991, Hill’s name became indelibly stamped on the national consciousness when she accused Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment while he was her supervisor. Her courage in speaking out and her dignity in the face of vituperative attacks remain inspirational, and over the years she has provided frequent commentary in the national media on gender and race issues. She recently was selected to head the Commission on Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality in the Workplace, intended to address sexual abuse and harassment in the media and entertainment industries. She also served as chair of the Human Rights Committee of the International Bar Association.

Her commencement address follows:

Good morning. It really is a great pleasure to be here. I want to thank the Board of Trustees, President Roth, and the faculty and staff of Wesleyan who have made this singular recognition possible. I proudly accept this honorary degree and the privilege of addressing the Class of 2018.

Class of 2018, so far you have been fairly reserved and quiet. And I suspect that at some point, maybe right now, you want to make some noise.

I want to say to my fellow honoree, Dr. Boger, you’re now my new model for how to do well in the world and also to do great works.

Boger ’73, P’06, ’09 Makes Remarks at 2018 Commencement

Joshua Boger ’73, P’06, ’09, founder and former chief executive officer of Vertex Pharmaceuticals and former chair of the Wesleyan Board of Trustees, received an honorary doctorate during Wesleyan’s 2018 commencement ceremony on May 27.

Joshua Boger ’73, P’06, ’09, founder and former chief executive officer of Vertex Pharmaceuticals and former chair of the Wesleyan Board of Trustees, received an honorary doctorate during Wesleyan’s 2018 commencement ceremony on May 27. As the founder and former chief executive officer of Vertex Pharmaceuticals, Boger led the discovery and development of new pharmaceuticals for treating some of medicine’s most daunting challenges, including HIV, hepatitis C infection, and cystic fibrosis. Currently, he is chair of the campaign for Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Setti Warren, vice chair of Boston’s Museum of Science, chair of the board of the Celebrity Series (Boston’s premier performing arts presenter) and chair of the fundraising campaign for Harvard Medical School, where he is chair emeritus.

 

Boger’s speech is below:

Wesleyan Class of 2018: When I sat where you sit now, some 45 years ago, in 1973, we impetuously embraced a popular mantra of the times: “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” Now I thought that was a pretty good idea then . . . and I think it’s an even better idea now.

My generation has done some good things. We ended the war in Vietnam. We sequenced the human genome. We brought you the personal computer and then the iPhone. But on the biggest societal challenges of our time—such as the environment, income disparity, and the affordability of higher education—we haven’t done so well. Overall, I’d give us a solid “C.” (That’s a “Wesleyan A-Minus.”)

President Roth Makes Remarks at 2018 Commencement

Wesleyan President Michael Roth ’78 addresses the Class of 2018 during the 186th Commencement ceremony on May 27.

Wesleyan President Michael Roth ’78 made the following remarks during the 186th commencement ceremony on May 27:

Members of the Board of Trustees, members of the faculty and staff, distinguished guests, new recipients of graduate degrees, and the mighty Class of 2018, I am honored to present some brief remarks on the occasion of this commencement.

Do you remember the summer before you began your first year at Wesleyan? Were you working a tough job, attending an interesting program, or volunteering at an engaging not-for-profit? Like many in the summer of 2014, you might have been complaining about inertia in Washington, wondering whether things could get worse. Little did we know. There was cynicism in the air, to be sure, but nothing like the craven disregard for principle and process that we are witnessing today. The invective, insult, and manipulation we see today are antithetical to the inquiry, compromise, and reflection that are crucial for democratic governance—and at the heart of liberal education—one that aims at empowerment through learning.

Price ’18 Delivers Senior Class Welcome

Zenzele Price ’18 delivers the senior class welcome during Wesleyan’s 186th Commencement ceremony on May 27.

Zenzele Price ’18 delivered the following remarks during Wesleyan’s 186th Commencement ceremony on May 27.

Hi, my name is Zenzele Price, and I’m the 2018 Commencement speaker.

I’m trying to be optimistic, but right now graduating from college feels like being told to jump out of a plane. Standing here, with the wind battering my face, staring out at the great, terrifying expanse of the future, it’s easy to want to step back. Back to the cocoon of Usdan and Red and Black, back to saying “points please,” back to a sea of familiar faces.

But, in reality, there is no stepping back. In reality, we are dispersing, seeds cast to the wind, tumbling into the real world with painful, exhilarating, hopeful gravity. And it’s hard to trust my parachute.

Updated: Wesleyan’s 2018 Honorary Degree Recipients Announced

Wesleyan will present two honorary doctorates at the University’s 186th Commencement on May 27, 2018. Anita Hill, who for decades has fought against discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace, will present the Commencement address, and Joshua Boger ’73, P’06, ’09 founder of Vertex Pharmaceuticals and chair emeritus of Wesleyan’s board of trustees, will also be honored.

Anita Hill

Anita Hill

Anita Hill

Anita Hill is University Professor of Social Policy, Law, and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Brandeis University and a faculty member of the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis.

In 1991, her name became indelibly stamped on the national consciousness when she accused Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment while he was her supervisor. Her courage in speaking out and her dignity in the face of vituperative attacks remain inspirational, and over the years she has provided frequent commentary in the national media on gender and race issues. She recently was selected to head the Commission on Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality in the Workplace, intended to address sexual abuse and harassment in the media and entertainment industries. She also served as chair of the Human Rights Committee of the International Bar Association.

Hill is a scholar of contract jurisprudence, commercial law, and education policy. She is a prolific author, publishing numerous law review articles, essays, editorials, and books. Her most recent book, focused on housing and the 2008 foreclosure crisis, is Reimagining Equality: Stories of Gender, Race, and Finding Home.

She previously co-edited Race, Gender, and Power in America: The Legacy of the Hill-Thomas Hearings with Emma Coleman Jordan. In 1997 she published her autobiography, Speaking Truth to Power, in which she discusses her role in the confirmation hearings.

Among her many honors, she received the UC Merced Alice and Clifford Spendlove Prize in Social Justice, Diplomacy and Tolerance in 2016 and the Ford Hall Forum First Amendment Award in 2008. Hill holds a BS degree from Oklahoma State University and a JD from Yale University.

 

Joshua Boger ’73, P’06, ’09

Joshua Boger ’73, P’06, ’09

Joshua Boger ’73, P’06, ’09

Joshua Boger is an outstanding scientist whose vision transcends the lab. As the founder and former chief executive officer of Vertex Pharmaceuticals, he led the discovery and development of new pharmaceuticals for treating some of medicine’s most daunting challenges, including HIV, hepatitis C infection, and cystic fibrosis. At Wesleyan, where he served as chair of the board of trustees, he helped ensure the success of Wesleyan’s $482 million THIS IS WHY campaign and consistently urged the board to anticipate challenges years ahead. He continues to contribute his skills and wisdom to various scientific, cultural, educational, and political ventures.

Boger is the author of over 50 scientific publications, holds 32 U.S. patents in pharmaceutical discovery and development, and has delivered over 100 invited lectures—in the United States, in Europe, and in Asia—on various aspects of drug discovery and development. Prior to founding Vertex in 1989, he headed the departments of Biophysical Chemistry and Medicinal Chemistry of Immunology & Inflammation at Merck Sharp & Dohme Research Laboratories. He holds masters and doctoral degrees in chemistry from Harvard University.

Currently, he is chair of the campaign for Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Setti Warren, vice chair of Boston’s Museum of Science, chair of the board of the Celebrity Series (Boston’s premier performing arts presenter) and chair of the fundraising campaign for Harvard Medical School, where he is chair emeritus. Among many other present and former volunteer activities, he was the founding chair of the board of the nonprofit MassChallenge (the world’s largest start-up business incubator), and, while a member of the board of the ACLU of Massachusetts Foundation, co-founded their ongoing Technology for Liberty and Justice for All Projects.

A list of past honorary degree recipients and Commencement speakers is available here. Suggestions for future recipients of honorary degrees are welcome. Contact presoffice@wesleyan.edu.

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!