President Brown’s 2017 Commencement Remarks
May 13, 2017
We have a really wonderful speaker as our honorary ” one of our honorary degree recipients today, but I get to say a few words to you now. And, that’s a very cherished thing for me. We’ve been a part of each other’s lives for four years, and this celebration is one of, at best, mixed emotions in seeing you leave us and go out into the world.
Hanging on a wall, an office wall in Shaw Hall, across the way from this tent is a very large, four-foot-square photograph of a beautiful farm that existed in 1917. Where this tent stands is a broad open field. Where the Vet Tech labs are located, cows are hanging out, doing what I guess, is what cows do. And where the Design School and Athletic Buildings are now sits a big forest running all the way to the Charles River.
It’s a true scene from another era; bucolic and pastoral and it’s an era that’s long past and won’t return.
If you stare long enough at that photo, it is really enticing. There’s Nahanton Street with no traffic. There’s Shaw Hall with formal gardens straight out of Downton Abbey. But, even in this moment that’s caught on film, if you look closely, is the impending thunder of change. Trees are being cut in the forest. At the edge of the photo, tiny automobiles are running along Dedham Street and just below Longfellow Pond are the first sand traps of what will become Charles River Country Club.
As humans we’re ambivalent about change. We’re sentient creatures and we’re conscious of the world around us and that consciousness produces both joy and Fear. On one hand, we count on the world being stable and predictable. We want our homes and families and friends to be there for us, our landscapes to look familiar and comforting, our grade school and our neighbor’s house and our old soccer field to be right where It has s always been so we can return to those places when the world gets to be unstable.
But, sameness is also not very satisfying to us. It’s too predictable. We need change. We need progress. We need growth and we need movement.
Keeping the things as they are is not what we as humans are about, as comforting as that may seem.
How do we manage that duality? It is in fact, built into us, embedded in our genes and DNA. We experience it every day at this wonderful college. With each of you as our graduates ” each and every day for the past four years.
It’s simple. Really simple. We teach you the past and the present and you teach us the future. How great a deal is that? It’s so great that it keeps me and all of us amazed every single day. You made us uncomfortable every day and we love it. Yeah, you did.
You designed fashion out of rubber balls and paper towels and they’re beautiful. You run lacrosse, basketball and field hockey plays just a little differently than your coaches told you to. And then you do that and crush Lasell and Emmanuel.
You’ve lived through the tragic passing of a dear friend and classmate and have shown each and every adult on this campus a level of compassion for Mike and his family that is the true spirit of this college.
You challenge us on gender and bias and race, on love and friendship and sustainability and diet. We can’t stop you from defining pizza and fries and cheeseburgers as part of a healthy diet.
You embrace the importance of the education of small children. You save animals in Utah and Belize. You make pathways for students at West Roxbury high school. You travel to countries that never heard of Mount Ida and you make friends for life.
You mess up so much. You’re too loud. You’re too funny. You’re too passionate .You’re too strong. You’re too smart. You’re so giving, You’re so kind. You’re in fact, everything that you should be and we’re so very, very proud.
A few people need to stand today to be recognized who had a lot of impact on what you’ve done. So, you can stop looking behind me and maybe with me, recognize those people. To my left ” that is my left? The wonderful faculty. If they would stand please and be recognized by our students.
With me too on this stage are the Board of Trustees, and I’d like them to stand and be acknowledged by you as well.
And although we are going to recognize you again, I’m going to ask the folks in the bleachers back there to stand up. Parents and families if you would stand. We are grateful for the trust you have placed in us. Come on ” Stand up!
We are grateful for the trust that you have placed in us and for allowing us to share your children for the past four years. We applaud you for the sacrifices and caring that you have made as your children have progressed to this moment.
We now return them to you as leaders and thinkers and doers, as kind and compassionate as when they first stepped on this campus, but now eager to shape the world. Mr. Provost, I’m about to turn these proceedings over to you as the Chief Academic Officer of the College, but I leave or graduates with these words:
You came to us without a voice and have gained one here. You leave us today with minds and hearts ready to take on the world and to guide not only your own, but our future. Please don’t underestimate the strength of your mind and character. We put our full trust in you now, as you did in us four years ago. We wish you every joy in life and Godspeed.
And, oh yes, GO MUSTANGS!
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