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Upcoming Commencement Dates

  • June 10, 2018
  • June 9, 2019
  • June 14, 2020
  • June 13, 2021
  • June 12, 2022

President Carol L. Folt, Valedictory to the Seniors

Carol L. FoltJune 9, 2013

Good morning Dartmouth. Students, I am so honored to stand before you in these last few minutes of your graduation from Dartmouth College. Graduation is a time to celebrate, and I look out across your beautiful smiling faces and I celebrate in all your promise. Graduation is also a time for gratitude.

Esteemed honorands, I am humbled to be in your company. You inspire us with the truth and purpose of your lives. Members of the Dartmouth Board of Trustees, President Emeritus James Wright—we all thank you for your dedication to Dartmouth. I thank you for your friendship and for trusting me with leading Dartmouth this year. It has been the privilege of my life. And it has been made an even greater honor by all the people who have worked so hard together this year to celebrate our past, improve our present, plan for our future, and warmly welcome Phil Hanlon as Dartmouth's 18th president.

Faculty and staff, dear, dear friends, we thank you for the magic you create for our students and the discoveries you create for the world every day at Dartmouth. Families and friends of the graduates, no one could believe more in your graduates' capacity and character. Thank you for sharing them with us. Members of the great Class of 1963, together today in record-breaking numbers, welcome home. Graduates, take a very long look at them—in 50 years—you should look so good. I hope in 50 years your community will be as caring and accomplished as theirs. Lastly, graduates, thank you for sharing your graduation with me. With my own move to UNC-Chapel Hill imminent, I feel as if I am graduating with you. Of course, unlike you, it did take me 30 years to do it. So, you did it a lot faster.

Thirteens, I feel such a very special kinship with your class. I was there when you gathered for the first time and I could see the passion in your faces when then-President Jim Yong Kim challenged you to develop skills and courage to turn your good intentions into great outcomes. For four years, I have loved watching you take on that challenge. You have built such an identity, you are a class that cares, you have strong voices, you seek the truth, and you do not shy away from hard issues. You are going to have a profound impact in the world. Graduates from our graduate schools, you, too, can create a powerful future. I have seen your disciplinary mastery and your capacity to create new industries, lead in discovery, and you, too, will strengthen our nation.

Now graduates, if you are like me, your excitement today is a bit tempered by wistfulness. Leaving Dartmouth is a big transition and transitions make us worry. I'm not going to lie, I am a bit worried too. So like many of you, I began a private odyssey, taking long evening walks around campus to fix in my heart the special views and memories of a place I love so I could carry them with me. I saw some of you; I spoke with some of you, and you were doing the same thing: walking through Baker Library, around Occom Pond; some of you said you were going to Moosilauke to do one last hike. With five of you, I climbed the long stairs of Bartlett Tower, looked out over the railing at the top of Baker Library, such a special peaceful moment.

I visited my own intellectual home in the new Life Sciences Building—thank you Class of 1978; I went across the Green, through the Inn, past Lou's and, of course, I ended where all journeys end on a warm evening in Hanover, at Morano Gelato. I passed some of you in the Hop and the Hood, I thought about your stunning performances in our Year of the Arts; and I crossed the arts plaza, ducked through the spider's legs. Then, as I approached the Black Family Visual Arts Center, I saw a powerful painting in the Nearburg Gallery by senior Davilyn Barnwell.

It is called The Space Between.

Her painting is filled with shapes of pattern in a background of more uniform color. At first the shapes appear to be the substance, the energy, and the background an ambiguous space between them. But then, small details in the background begin to move, and in my mind the background, the space between the shapes, becomes the energy, and the shapes recede. Energy and ambiguity in the same space between—that caught my attention.

As a biologist, spaces and transitions between things fascinate me—for years I have studied the effects of biological processes in tiny spaces between particles in water that have profound consequences for human health; my biologist colleagues study passage of molecular messengers from the inside to the outside of cells across delicate membranes; others design greenways to link patches of urban forest so animals can continue their migrations. Transitional times are also biologically beautiful—the period of pupation when the larva metamorphoses into the moth; the time between seasons when seeds are furiously cached by squirrels. So much life happens in the transitional spaces and times, from here to there, now to tomorrow.

Today, you and I are facing transition from Dartmouth to our next home, from a known present to a less predictable future. Our personal transitions are occurring in a context of a world also undergoing change and uncertainty about the future. Just a couple of weeks ago, atmospheric carbon dioxide topped 400 ppm for the first time since the Pleistocene. Population is growing; demographics and political alliances are shifting; inequities are growing; new technologies are skyrocketing; and learning is becoming democratized and global.

If, in times of uncertainty, we can see our greatest possibilities; if, in times of transition, we can create opportunities for positive change, we can deal with the toughest challenges that will come in our personal lives and we can be a force for good in the world. A great example is James Nachtwey, the renowned photojournalist whose photos reveal truths of such power that in the face of epic suffering we can find epic hope. Many of you met Jim on campus this year. After graduating from Dartmouth in 1970, Jim chose, as he puts it, to live "at the sharp edge of history," and he has been the world's witness in war—Vietnam, Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan—and humanitarian crises—AIDS, tuberculosis, famine. Jim lives at some of the most difficult edges of uncertainty, but he never looks away.

In our recent campus-wide day of reflection, it was a time of stress and uncertainty, but you, Dartmouth students, stood at the edge of uncertainty, and you decided that the uncertainty could be an opportunity to create positive change. Like Jim Nachtwey, you did not look away. You embraced the day and helped to create breathing space—space between the events in our day, to look at each other in the eye with respect—to build a more inclusive future.

Dartmouth graduates—before we part, I want you to think a moment about all you have been through over the last four years and how that has already prepared you for your next big move, the next space between. There is vitality to be found in the spaces and lived in the times between, in the transitions, in the uncertainty—Dartmouth has prepared you to capture and shape your own transitions. You faced times of uncertainty here, transitions that I am sure were sometimes wonderful, but sometimes very difficult; and you created positive opportunities from so many of them. You have developed enduring intellectual skills that will help you imagine what does not yet exist and find truth in the midst of conflicting opinion. And most importantly, you have developed deep personal connections at Dartmouth and you have learned how to build a lasting community that will help you face and flourish in the transition and the uncertainty that are certain to come.

Now who knows what the world is going to be like in 50 years. I am sure I don't. But I think that, like the Class of 1963, over the next 50 years you will return to Dartmouth many times to reconnect, to spark your creativity, to build new bonds—Dartmouth will be your breathing space—any time, for all time.

So Dartmouth graduates—congratulations! I honor you and celebrate you, Class of 2013 and Dartmouth—we leave each other with love. All the best.

Last Updated: 6/9/13