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Upcoming Commencement Dates

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

Valedictory to the Seniors

Jim Yong Kim

Esteemed guests, members of our Dartmouth family and, of course, women and men of our undergraduate and graduate programs in the great Class of 2011. Our gathering here today is truly a celebration—one similar in shape to those taking place at colleges and universities across our nation—but one that is nonetheless very special here on this timeless Green. It's a tradition that connects you with generations of Dartmouth students past and generations to come. And as you all know, at Dartmouth we do traditions better than anywhere else in the world.

But today is more than merely a rite of passage. We come together to celebrate what Dartmouth is and what it has prepared you to do. We stand at the center of a unique place in higher education. Dartmouth has an abiding belief in the empowering qualities of the liberal arts. We believe that what you've learned during these past four years—to reason clearly, to think independently, to solve problems elegantly, and to communicate effectively—these things have done more than just prepare you for success in whatever profession you choose. They have prepared you, and yes, I'll say it again, to make the world's troubles your own and, more than that, to work to achieve their resolution.

Four years ago, the class we honor today was welcomed to this enduring institution by my predecessor, President Jim Wright. We're pleased to have Jim with us here today. Jim, I want to thank you for all that you’ve done for Dartmouth in your extraordinary four decades here.

President Wright and I, and indeed the faculty, the Trustees, and staff of our great institution, share a strong belief in the power of a liberal arts education. The diversity of thought and experience that are core to such an education allow us to identify the great issues of our age, to develop the skills needed to tackle them, and to make a lifetime of contributions to shape a better, brighter future.

But that belief is not universally shared. We live in a time when the very idea of a post-secondary education is being questioned. Educators, economists, and dropout billionaires are among those arguing that most of today’s 18-year-olds shouldn't bother attending college at all. The economic recession and the increasing cost of education are bringing even more people to this point of view. So too are the rapid technological advances of our time and the emphasis on specialized, practical, and vocational skills in the world of commerce and business.

The liberal arts, it seems, are under siege as more and more humanities, social science, and arts programs are being cut across the country. These higher education institutions pursue research dollars focused on the so-called "practical disciplines" and are beginning to neglect the liberal arts.

Let me be clear: At Dartmouth, we will continue to invest aggressively in the liberal arts as the foundation of the undergraduate experience. We will also continue to support and expand our research efforts. Without great scholarship and groundbreaking research programs, we would lose our place among the great institutions of higher education in the world.

But even more importantly, we would lose our way.

Dartmouth pioneered the teacher-scholar model, where the hearts and minds of faculty and students connect in the creation of knowledge, in the development of innovative ideas and creative practices, and in working together in service to society. This deep personal connection is, I believe, the foundation for success, both for our undergraduates and for our graduate students. Indeed, the students here today from our professional and graduate programs are proof incarnate that Dartmouth combines the best of a liberal arts education with the best of a leading research institution.

John Kemeny, Dartmouth's president through the 1970s, understood this dual purpose well. Perhaps better than anyone of his generation, President Kemeny foresaw the role that computers would play in our lives. Yet, he also believed that creativity and judgment were the preserve of the human mind, and he believed that nothing developed those faculties more than an education grounded in the liberal arts. Nothing, he argued, prepared students to “think of the questions we do not yet have answers to” better than a well-rounded education that encompasses literature and language, philosophy, history, mathematics, science, and the social sciences.

Why is that so? How does taking a class in art history, or religion, or philosophy prepare you to be an engineer? It is, as the scholar Louis Menand wrote recently in The New Yorker, because a liberal education teaches you "things about the world and yourself that, if you do not learn them in college, you are unlikely to learn anywhere else." Arthur Kleinman, the founding father of medical anthropology and a teacher of mine, recognized this in his own education. He describes his involvement in an interdisciplinary humanities program that brought together professors and undergraduates at Stanford in the early 1960s to study a single year, 1905, in the history of Europe. Dr. Kleinman points to that class as one of the most important intellectual experiences of his life. It shaped his moral sensibility and his approach to caregiving in its widest sense, both in his life's work as a psychiatrist and anthropologist and in caring for his late wife Joan during her struggle with Alzheimer's disease.

That speaks to the value of an education in what President John Sloan Dickey so aptly described as the liberating arts—the basis for a vision of the whole that allows us to see connections, to collaborate across the spectrum of knowledge, and to bring different disciplines and capabilities to bear in the pursuit of innovation and improvement.

Your liberal arts education will have an enduring impact on each one of you and the world you occupy. What you have accomplished here at Dartmouth, individually and as part of our community, will enrich your lives and empower you to make the world a better place.

Members of the Class of 2011: Four years ago you chose Dartmouth and Dartmouth chose you. We have learned from each other. The experiences you take from here, the friendships that will endure and the bond you've forged with your alma mater—they will always be a part of your life. In that same way, you too will always be a part of Dartmouth. You have brought your passion and individuality to our classrooms, our libraries, our fields, and performance halls, and you have challenged us to do better.

Sometimes that passion compelled you to challenge policies and decisions. I'm glad you did. You made us think again. We know that as wonderful as Dartmouth is, we can make it better and you helped us to do so. We thank you for that.

More than ever before in human history, the world is in need of your talents. There is vital work waiting to be done and I expect great things of you.

Since I know that we all respond best to clear expectations, here is exactly what I expect of you:

  • More PhDs than the Class of 2010, more JDs than the Class of 2009, and more MDs than the Class of 2008;
  • A president of the United States, or a president of one of the other 115 democratic nations in the world;
  • A Nobel laureate and a poet laureate;
  • CEOs of two Fortune 500 companies and 42 start-up companies;
  • A Grammy, two Emmys, and three Olympic medals; and
  • A permanent successor to Jay Leno.

Finally, I expect every single one of you to become engaged, thoughtful, and compassionate citizens of this complex world. Please believe me—we have prepared you for that and so much more.

The only barrier to your success is the boldness of your vision and the grandness of your dreams. Think big and shoot for the stars, but keep your feet firmly planted on the ground.

In all that you do:

  • Take with you the special spirit of this place;
  • Hold on to your ideals;
  • Hold fast to the bonds formed on this Hanover Plain—if I've learned anything from my two years of ethnographic research among that wonderful tribe called Dartmouth alumni, it is that the friends you've made here are precisely the people who will stay with you and keep you happy and healthy for the rest of your lives.

Cherish always what President Ernest Martin Hopkins so aptly called the "sweetness" of the relationships that constitute this great family we call Dartmouth.

Congratulations and Godspeed.

Last Updated: 3/17/16