The Remarks of the President of the College
William G. Durden '71
Ladies and Gentlemen, distinguished guests and members of the Class of 2007, 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 more than 550 members of the Class of 2007. At the end of this ceremony, you, the Class of 2007, will cease to be Dickinson students. Within a mere moment, with a simple statement from me and a switch of the tassel on your cap, you will become alumni of Dickinson College. You will set forth into the wider world by descending the Old Stone Steps—a path that symbolically reverses the one you took when you entered the College four years ago.
Before proceeding, I would like to continue another 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.
On perhaps just one or two occasions during the past four years, you may have heard me mention our founder, Dr. Benjamin Rush. His statue, which is appropriately attired for today’s ceremony, symbolically represents his presence here today. A dedicated revolutionary and signer of the Declaration of Independence, Rush established our College in the closing days of the American Revolution to prepare the engaged citizens and inspired leaders who would ensure the success of the new democracy in the wider world. We—the faculty and staff of Dickinson College—have worked closely with you these past four years to act upon this noble ambition. It is now up to you to embrace and fulfill it.
Over the past four years, you have received a liberal arts education that is distinctive to Dickinson. You have been given full opportunity to follow your intellectual passion by identifying and pursuing a particular course of study. You have become involved in those campus groups and activities that sparked your interest. And you have formed a network of friends that will surround you for a lifetime.
Your experience at Dickinson has been uniquely your own. But through the course of your individual journeys, you have also engaged in a set of shared experiences. As an active participant in our community of inquiry, you have absorbed and developed those qualities and habits of mind—those dispositions—that will forever distinguish you as a Dickinsonian.
You have, for example, developed a global sensibility far deeper than that achieved at other colleges and universities. You have acquired an intellectual flexibility and nimbleness that allow you to make meaningful connections among people, ideas and disciplines. You now know what it means to “engage the world” in every sense of the phrase—academic, intellectual and social. You have found your voice and seized opportunities to speak out on issues of importance to you and society. And finally, you have come to realize that you must always be accountable for your own actions to others beyond yourself as you work in partnership to build an ecologically, financially and socially sustainable society..
Imparted to us by Dr. Rush, these five dispositions are the defining characteristics of a Dickinson education. They will become your guideposts for a lifetime of personal and professional fulfillment. Through your experiences at Dickinson College, you are now prepared to become the enlightened leaders of your generation, if you so choose. As graduates of one of the most globally connected campuses in the nation, you are prepared to confront the daunting complexities of this rapidly changing society. And, as the heirs to a proud revolutionary tradition, you are prepared to find strength in your own convictions and act upon them responsibly so you may leave the world abetter place than you found it.
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.
You will also follow the distinguished individuals who have been selected to receive honorary degrees from Dickinson today. Each honorary degree recipient has a special connection to Dickinson College, and each has exhibited the qualities of a true Dickinsonian through their professional commitment and accomplishments.
As alumni of Dickinson College, it is now up to you to translate the attributes and defining dispositions of a Dickinson education to your generation, your communities, our nation and our world. Your ambitions are guided by noble purpose; they are high and uncompromising. Your civility, modesty and sense of community are acute. Your global sensibility and appreciation of the connectedness of all disciplines are poised for engagement. You have absorbed completely the charge of a liberal arts education that is distinctive to Dickinson—to be “useful” to society. These precious qualities will carry you far.
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. While writing eloquent paragraphs about his fellow founding fathers, of himself he simply wrote, “He aimed well.”
Your life will inevitably take some twists and turns and you will undoubtedly make some mistakes along the way. Accept these for the learning value they provide. And, as true Dickinsonians, never lose the same self-effacing but powerfully effective perspective that guided Dr. Rush. I ask that you, too, “aim well.”
Class of 2007, 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 remarkable achievement you celebrate today. At the close of this ceremony, you will join a group of talented and ambitious alumni whose achievements and connections encompass the globe. As a fellow graduate of our College, I welcome you personally to this extraordinary group of individuals. Like you, they have earned the privilege to call themselves Dickinsonians.
We will now proceed to the awarding of the honorary degrees to recognize the distinguished individuals whom we judge to embody fully those Dickinson dispositions I cited just a few minutes ago. Professor Mastrangelo, will you please come forward.