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Upcoming Commencement Dates

  • June 9, 2019
  • June 14, 2020
  • June 13, 2021
  • June 12, 2022

Commencement Speeches & Citations

Valedictory to the Seniors

Jim Yong Kim

June 13, 2010

What a privilege and an honor it is for me to stand today before you—among family and friends; Trustees, faculty, and staff; and the great Class of 2010—on this, my first Commencement as president of this extraordinary institution.

This is, for me as it may be for you, a bittersweet occasion. I am sad to see you, my first graduating class, leave us, but I'm buoyed by the belief that your Dartmouth education has prepared you to lead and transform the world for the better. During your time here, you've learned much. You've learned new skills and mastered new facts. But your time at Dartmouth has given you more than just knowledge. It has nurtured habits of the mind—habits of the mind that will be the tools you'll use to change the world.

By "habit" I don't mean mechanical behavior—devoid of passion and imagination. Just the opposite. A habit of the mind is a discipline learned by long, dedicated practice. It is something that becomes a part of who you are—part of the fundamental form of your character, a way of being in the world. "Habit" in this sense is creative. Indeed, these habits of the mind are the very foundation of creativity. They will enable you not just to assimilate existing facts, but, as the philosopher and psychologist William James put it, to "produce new facts": to enrich human experience, and leave the world better than you found it.

I'm talking about habits like persistence. Remember the long hours you put in at Baker, the hard work you did in science labs, and the late night rehearsals for plays and concerts. Those hours have done far more for you than just allowing you to master new skills. They've shaped your mind to the kind of disciplined effort that you will need to make again and again in the years ahead to solve the great challenges you'll encounter in the world.

The habits of the mind we nurture at Dartmouth are the distinctive fruit of what former President John Sloan Dickey called the liberating arts. This connection may seem unexpected—because "habit" in colloquial speech often implies repetitive behavior unguided by conscious thought. And that is the very opposite of critical intellectual freedom. But as all the greatest thinkers from Augustine to Maimonides to Kant have taught us, true freedom does not mean giving free rein to our momentary impulses. In reality, that illusion of self-determination is the deepest form of servitude. True freedom is rooted in self-discipline, and it grows in proportion with that discipline.

Freedom means living with purpose. It means living under the self-imposed, rationally willed discipline that Kant called the moral law. The habits of mind your Dartmouth education has instilled are your doorways into that deliberate, disciplined form of creativity—into that life of deliberate, intelligent purpose.

And today, in a world of increasing complexity, living a deliberate, intelligent, and engaged life is more important and more challenging than ever before. The rapid advance of technology, the proliferation of new knowledge and the increasing specialization of so many fields, tempt each of us to focus our efforts on simply mastering our own narrow disciplines.

Certainly Dartmouth prepares our students, both at the graduate and undergraduate level, to develop expertise in particular fields of study.

But rapid advances in knowledge have led some institutions to push talented young people as early as possible into narrow forms of specialization. At Dartmouth we have shown a different path. A Dartmouth education encourages—demands—a broad understanding of ideas across multiple disciplines, rather than a narrow focus.

And the ability to ask questions across disciplinary boundaries has never been more important than it is today. As specialized knowledge advances to unimagined depths, the need for a vision of the whole is more vital than ever—and more difficult to achieve. This vision of the whole—this understanding of interconnections—is what Dartmouth's liberating education is all about.

Today, this interdisciplinary mindset can no longer be reserved for a few intellectual pioneers. Your entire generation must incorporate this mindset.

Your time at Dartmouth has taught you that greater knowledge implies greater responsibility. The intellectual gifts and creative capacities that allowed you to find your place in the Dartmouth community are, of course, distinctively your own. Yet in an equally fundamental sense, these capacities are not your exclusive property. Your gifts were nurtured and enabled by a wider community: by your family, by your teachers, and, in a less visible but equally vital way, by the wider social fabric and institutions that gave you the security, stability, and space to develop. Your talents and capacities are the result of a long effort linking a whole community of people. And as bearers of these exceptional gifts, you have an exceptional responsibility for the continued well-being of that wider community.

Perhaps at this moment, as you prepare to leave the Hanover Plain and enter the struggles of the world, you may feel more conscious of your lack of experience than you feel confident of your ability to lead. Please know that this sense of humility is itself a crucial quality of judicious leadership.

The Socratic tradition reminds us that understanding the limits of individual knowledge is a crucial step on the road to deeper wisdom—only by understanding our limitations are we prompted to reach out to others and to recognize how their strengths complement our own.

Often, true leadership does not mean making swift, confident assertions, but rather asking insightful, probing questions—and knowing how to bring together a group with complementary talents to find the right solutions and then take action.

My own experience has taught me that the biggest challenges require collaborative problem-solving. Our ability to protect and preserve our world for future generations and to build a more just, sustainable society hinges on this quality: the ability to draw out, energize, and focus the full range of talents that exist in all our people.

Individual excellence is not in competition with the collective good. Rather, individual excellence is best measured by how it inspires, energizes, and enables the collective excellence that we must nurture to achieve our goals.

John Sloan Dickey was named president of Dartmouth College in August of 1945. Earlier that same month, President Dickey had been working as the director of Public Relations in the State Department when the United States dropped nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The following year, when he launched Dartmouth's Great Issues course, he did so haunted by the specter of nuclear annihilation.

In his first convocation address in October of 1946, with great hope for what the incoming students could do with a Dartmouth education, he told them two things: first, "that the world's troubles are your troubles," and second, "that the world's worst troubles come from within men, and there is nothing wrong with the world that better human beings cannot fix."

John Sloan Dickey spoke those words more than six decades ago. Yet can anyone doubt that they remain relevant today? To you, women and men who came of age in the shadow of 9-11? To you, men and women who witnessed—and did so much to address—poverty and suffering after the earthquake in Haiti.

Let me repeat these words, and let me ask you to hold them in your hearts—to cling to them—for the rest of your lives. They represent the deepest and noblest ideals of the institution that sends you forth today: "The world's troubles come from within men, and there is nothing wrong with the world that better human beings cannot fix."

So, to the extraordinary class of 2010 let me say that I expect extraordinary things from each of you. And as you take your leave to go tackle the world's troubles, never forget what President Ernest Martin Hopkins called the "sweetness" of the College on the Hill, for it has prepared you well for what lies ahead. Come back often, for you will always be welcomed on the Hanover Plain. And tackle those troubles with everything you've got, for YOU are the "better human beings" that we've all been waiting for.

Congratulations and God speed.

Last Updated: 8/17/12