Skip to main content
[an error occurred while processing this directive]
[an error occurred while processing this directive]

President Jim Yong Kim, Valedictory to the Seniors

President KimJune 10, 2012

Esteemed guests, members of our Dartmouth family and, of course, women and men of our undergraduate and graduate classes of the great Class of 2012: warm greetings to you.

Let me begin by thanking President Emeritus Jim Wright. Jim, I'm grateful for your steadfast support, and I look forward to joining you in the ultimate Dartmouth fraternity—former members of the Wheelock Succession.

I would also like to thank the former Chair of the Board of Trustees, Ed Haldeman. Ed, I accepted this Presidency to a great degree based on the integrity and wisdom you carry with you always.

Thanks also to Steve Mandel, current Chair of the Board of Trustees. Steve, no one has loved Dartmouth more than you, and in so many ways, you've taken this institution to new heights.

Finally, I'd like to thank Provost Carol Folt. Carol, your friendship and wisdom have been invaluable to me, and I ask all of you here to give her your full support as she takes the helm of this great institution.

We are here today to celebrate your accomplishments and to send you off into the world to do great things. This wonderful Commencement ceremony is 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 anyone else in the world.

For me, this is a day full of mixed emotions. Unexpectedly, I received a call a couple of months ago that's changed the course of my life, and sadly, this will be my final Commencement as President of this great institution. I came here in 2009 expecting to be here for many Commencements, and now I stand here with only seven minutes to tell you something that might be helpful—while you remain standing in the hot sun.

But instead of trying to teach you a few last lessons, let me share with you some of the most important lessons that you have taught me.

From the students, I've learned just how brilliant, creative, and caring young adults can be. I've learned about the wonderful ways that you support each other. I've also learned about flair, the X-factor, and the Dartmouth Seven.

From staff, I've learned how resilient and resourceful a group of dedicated professionals can be in the face of unprecedented economic challenges.

From the faculty, I've learned about music on the Silk Road and the role and power of fiction in France during World War II. Faculty have also taught me that exercise can lead to increased capacity for learning, that willpower is like a muscle you can build, and that you can actually change the structure of your brain through simple meditative techniques and, ultimately, you can change the way you control both your fear and anxiety.

These are lessons many of us have shared, and how lucky indeed we've been to learn from each other. But some of the most important lessons for me came from my interactions with our remarkable Board of Trustees. And since most of you have not benefited from these lessons, let me share some of them with you.

One Board member told me, "If you're a good leader and you're taking your institution forward, at least 20 percent of the people will be unhappy with you. If everyone's happy, you're not doing your job." Well, according to this logic and the polls in The D, I think I've hit that target and maybe overshot it just a bit.

The lesson here is profound. Courage to tackle the most difficult problems and venture into uncharted territory is critical for any institution, and it's also critical for you. In so many institutions, fear and mediocrity track along the same well-worn paths. Avoid those paths at all cost.

Another Board member told me that on his worst days, he'd go to bed at night cursing himself, wondering if he could do anything right, and invariably, the next morning he would wake up, look in the mirror, and say to himself, "Good morning, handsome."

If you are courageous as a leader, you will make mistakes and you will face the wrath of unhappy constituents. Moreover, all too often you'll find it difficult to get reliable information, either positive or negative, from your coworkers. In your worst moments, you will have to find ways to pick yourself up and get back in the game. This is not some frivolous admonition to "love yourself." Remember what Spinoza taught us: "All things excellent are difficult and rare."

When you set out to accomplish extraordinary things, you will have awful days when you don't even want to wake up the next morning. I'm telling you now, get out of bed, look in the mirror, have your own good-morning-handsome moment, and get on with the business of changing the world.

The last great lesson I learned was at a recent meeting of the Board of Trustees. We in the administration talked at great length and with great excitement about taking Dartmouth forward in the areas of scholarship, engagement, and pedagogy. Upon hearing this, one of our Trustees said, "Pedagogy? You do that where I come from, you go straight to jail."

We understood. Don't be too precious. Be clear, say what you mean, and try to speak so that you can be understood by any person of goodwill. Please know that you have all received one of the greatest educations available to humankind. So despite your ability to dive into the esoteric, you now have an enormous responsibility to make yourself understandable to the diverse and interconnected world into which you are graduating. That will take work. Don't hide behind your elite education—make it work for you and especially make it work for others.

These are important lessons I will now take with me to the World Bank. I find myself leaving one great New Hampshire institution for another founded in this very state in 1944, less than 100 miles from here, in Bretton Woods. It's an extraordinary institution, the premier organization in the world concerned with economic development and poverty alleviation.

With 188 member states and employees representing more than 160 nationalities, the World Bank is among the most global of global institutions. Every day, when I walk into the front door of the World Bank, I'll be able to look up and see, inscribed on the wall, these words: "Our dream is a world free of poverty."

Wow. How fortunate to be an employee of an institution where every day, you get to work with 188 countries and countless partners in the private sector and civil society to increase prosperity and lift people out of poverty.

The World Bank has 100 committed souls working in Afghanistan and many hundreds more working in the most fragile and conflict-riven states. World Bank employees help countries to build electrical grids, roads, educational and health care systems, and they do so in some of the most difficult conditions you can imagine. In meeting many World Bank staff over the last few months, I've been inspired to learn that, to a person, they are deeply committed to the goal of spurring economic growth and eradicating poverty.

So now I find myself turning my gaze from the Dartmouth Greek system to the actual Greek system.

I'll make no comments on which of these two systems worries me more.

I've quoted John Sloan Dickey to you many times: "The world's troubles are your troubles, ... and there is nothing wrong with the world that better human beings cannot fix." Indeed, those words were important for me both in accepting this job and in considering this new call to service. But I may have gone overboard. It seems now that every last one of the world's troubles has now become my troubles.

But that's what Dartmouth people do. We come to the Hanover plain with big dreams; we soak in the tradition, the wisdom, the embrace of the community; we become better human beings; and when called to service by our leaders, we put our muscles and our brains into tackling the world's troubles.

This great community—the rigor and excellence of this great community—has made each of you a better human being, prepared to tackle the world's troubles. It has made me, too, a better human being; and for that, I thank you. I thank each and every one of you.

On my last Commencement Address, I'd like to end with one of my favorite quotes from President Ernest Martin Hopkins who, on his last day as President of Dartmouth, said, "I have become impressed more and more with the sweetness that attached to the relationship between one and another which constituted this great family which we call Dartmouth."

The sweetness of Dartmouth. In my Inaugural Address three years ago, I tried to describe what that meant to me.

"The sense of color and proportion as you stand in the center of the Green, taking in Dartmouth Row," I said. "The men and women who for almost two-and-a-half centuries have loved this place. The collegiality among the faculty, and the friendships—the lifelong friendships."

Today, the sweetness of this place means even more to me. As you depart this beautiful College on the Hill, drink in that sweetness one more time and gently hold it in your heart. It will give you courage, and it will sustain you for the rest of your days.

As President Dickey said so beautifully at the end of each of his Commencement Addresses: "And now the word is 'so long' because in the Dartmouth fellowship, there is no parting."

Thank you and congratulations!

Last Updated: 8/17/12