President Durden's Commencement Remarks
Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests and members of the class of 2011, welcome, on such a beautiful morning, to this grand old Dickinson tradition. Each year, we gather here before the stone steps of Old West to celebrate Dickinson’s most important responsibility and its greatest accomplishment—you, our graduates.
Today is a rite of passage for 575 members of the class of 2011. Before proceeding, I would like us to continue an important Dickinson tradition. All graduates owe significant gratitude to your families and friends—those who have made it possible, through their love, guidance and support, for you to be here today. Please rise and join me in giving them a round of well-deserved applause.
Let us also pause to remember two members of your class—two Dickinsonians—who are not with us today—Nathanial “Nate” Kirkland and Catherine Roth. Taken from us much too early, these students still left their mark on each of us and on this college. To recognize their spirit which remains with you and within Dickinson, we dedicate the two red and white bouquets at the top of the Old Stone Steps in their memory. Let us pause for a moment of silence to remember your classmates, Nate and Catherine.
At the end of today’s ceremony, you—the class of 2011—will cease to be Dickinson students and will become alumni of the college. This significant transition is straightforward, yet profound. There is first a simple, formal statement from me indicating that, upon recommendation of the faculty to the board of trustees, I confer upon you your degrees. This is followed by the peal of a very special bell marking the exact moment your transition to alumni occurs. And finally, you are asked to switch the tassel on your mortarboard to the other side to indicate symbolically that you are now a graduate and not an undergraduate student.
The bell that will be rung to mark this momentous occasion is a small replica of the Liberty Bell. It is one of a very limited edition that was cast in the same foundry as the original bell, and it is significant to Dickinson for a number of reasons. The Liberty Bell was originally commissioned by the Pennsylvania General Assembly. The speaker, Isaac Norris, was given oversight of its casting and he selected the bell’s inscription, which is to “proclaim liberty throughout the land.” Norris would become John Dickinson’s son-in-law, the individual for whom our college was named.
In a few short moments, you will follow generations of Dickinsonians—spanning four centuries—who have preceded you down these stone steps. They include a president of the United States, a chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, associate justices, federal and Commonwealth judges, scholars, teachers, business leaders, entrepreneurs, research scientists, writers, artists, lawyers, journalists, humanitarians, philanthropists, military leaders, religious leaders, diplomats, elected officials and even a few college presidents. As you make your mark beyond these limestone walls, remember the simple words Benjamin Rush once used to describe himself as a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Although he wrote eloquent and long paragraphs about his fellow founding fathers, of himself, he simply said, “He aimed well.”
As you know, Gen. David Petraeus had agreed to be our Commencement speaker last summer. In my discussion with him he said he was honored to be invited since his wife Holly and daughter Anne are both proud alumnae of Dickinson. Then, literally days after my conversation with him, he was asked to take the reins of the NATO International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, but he said he was still hoping to be here. Then, when he called earlier this spring to let me know that he wouldn’t be able to be here, he stated very clearly that his decision was based on the demands of the mission in Afghanistan, saying it wouldn’t be right while our troops are in combat. However, he did add that he hopes to be able to join us for a future ceremony.
General Petraeus then offered to send a letter to the class conveying his disappointment in not being able to be here and included some thoughts that he would have shared in person. This message was sent electronically to all members of the senior class earlier this spring. I quote: “Had I been with you, I would have taken the opportunity to congratulate you on all that you’ve achieved in your time at Dickinson. I also would have encouraged you to employ the knowledge, skills and interests you’ve developed at Dickinson in the service of your communities and our world. Dickinson has a long, proud history of producing citizens and leaders who have contributed enormously in a variety of capacities, and I trust that the class of 2011 will be no exception. Indeed, the entire Petraeus family looks forward to what all of you will accomplish in the years ahead!”
General Petraeus also wanted the graduates to receive a printed and personalized copy of his letter, so after the ceremony, when you pick up your diplomas on Britton Plaza, you will also find enclosed a printed copy of his letter. So, while last year’s class may have received a Caf tray, you will each receive a personalized letter from a four-star general who may very possibly be the next director of the CIA!
And I must say that we are all very grateful that my good friend and colleague, Dr. Allan Goodman, was willing and able to step in as our Commencement speaker today. Allan, we appreciate your graciousness and willingness to take on the added responsibility of being our speaker as well as an honoree. We salute your long commitment to international education and to the organization which you lead—the Institute of International Education (IIE).
Indeed, there is a long-standing association between IIE and Dickinson College. While in the college’s archives last week, I noticed a certificate hanging on the wall—it was from IIE and dated October 1951. I have it with me today and would like to read it as it is appropriate given today’s speaker and given the college’s commitment to international education. It reads as follows:
“This special certificate is presented to Dickinson College as an Educational Associate of the Institute of International Education and for outstanding contribution to the advancement of world understanding and betterment of the foreign relations of the United States through the medium of the international exchange of persons.”
And I understand from talking with Allan that this certificate, signed in 1951, means that Dickinson was one of the earliest schools to support and be a part of IIE and certainly shows the college’s long-standing and ongoing commitment to global education. Thank you again, Allan, for being with us today.
Class of 2011, go forth and engage the world. It lies directly before you. In fact, you already carry it within you. It is of your making. But please remember that the self is an entirely inadequate support system. Reach out beyond yourself. Appreciate and listen carefully to the perspectives of others. By so doing, you will gain an authenticity of self and a human purpose that is capable of growing and blossoming with the inevitable changing circumstances of the world before you.
I congratulate you on the achievement you celebrate today. At the close of this ceremony, you will join a large network of talented and ambitious alumni whose achievements and connections encompass the globe.
Congratulations, and best wishes.