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President Hanlon ’77, Valedictory to the Graduating Students

June 8, 2014

To our faculty, staff, alumni, honored guests, family and friends, let me bid you good morning, and welcome.

And to those who are graduating today, the unforgettable ’14s, let me offer my congratulations!

I offer congratulations also on behalf of the many members of Class of ’64—the Great Class of ’64—who are here today. And indeed from all alumni, from those of us who have walked the paths of this Green ourselves—we salute you in deep respect for all you have accomplished.

As wide-eyed 18-year-olds we too joined the Dartmouth community. We looked around at these impressive buildings, met Dartmouth’s incredibly smart people, pondered the impenetrable course guide, and asked ourselves—as I hope many of you did four years ago—“Am I ready for this?”

An appropriate question! Because you were challenged at Dartmouth—intellectually, socially, physically—challenges that seemed insurmountable.

Realizing late, late at night—10 pages into that 20-page paper—that your thesis was somewhere between unsupportable and just flat-out wrong. Looking down at that physics test that no one short of Einstein could have aced. Looking up at the granite escarpment on Mount Moosilauke that would surely give Edmund Hillary second thoughts. You pushed yourself to success in the classroom, in the laboratory, on the field of competition, under the bright lights of the stage.

But in college, as in life, you also endured setbacks and you made mistakes; not every risk you took resulted in reward. Perhaps you had to settle for a grade that was not the first letter of the alphabet, or even the second or the third. Maybe an injury hampered your success on the field after years of diligent preparation. Many of you, at times, felt the pain of not being selected or not being included. And together this year, we endured the deepest loss that any community can experience—the deaths of two vibrant and precious members of the student body, Torin Tucker and Blaine Steinberg.

And yet, you’re here today. Which shows that through it all, you picked yourself up and you moved forward. You came to appreciate—I hope—that a truly hard-fought “B” can be a triumph not inked on paper, but carved into the granite of your character!

Each of you has stories of resilience to tell—resilience that you forged here at Dartmouth. And with resilience, you discovered that in spite of any doubt—in the face of every setback—you really were ready for the challenges and opportunities of Dartmouth.

And so today, as a reward, we have handed you a hard-earned degree, and we say, “You haven’t seen anything yet. Here’s a world full of much more complicated problems—now, please go address them!”

And the hard truth is, those of you who were born in the late ’80s and ’90s entered a world that’s changing more rapidly than at any time in the past. Imagine the changes just the last two decades have brought:

  • The birth of e-commerce and social networking
  • Social mobility and the Internet in your pocket (I know it’s there because I can see some of you checking it right now!)
  • 9/11 and the war on terrorism
  • Intense financial volatility: the dot-com bubble, followed by an historic housing boom, followed by an historic housing bust, and then the worst global recession since the 1930s. All in the span of eight years.

A wise Dartmouth graduate, John Rosenwald, Class of ’52, likes to say that no pancake is so thin that it doesn't have two sides. And indeed, during this period of rapid change, your generation will grapple with the flip sides of progress like no other.

The mobile revolution brings gains in productivity but only deepens the divide between the developed and the developing world. Medical advances bring longer life spans but also 9 billion people to house and feed. Industrialization in emerging markets challenges us with energy demands like the world has never seen before. And the list goes on and on.

And I offer these challenges not because they are unfamiliar to you, but to prompt you to ask—as you did four years ago—“Am I ready for this?” Again, an appropriate question. And though it goes against my DNA as a teacher, I’m going to give you the answer ... because I want you to hear it said loudly, and with absolute conviction. Class of 2014, you are ready!

You are ready. You are ready, because Dartmouth not only honed your powerful intellects, but gave you an even more valuable gift—the gift of resilience.

Here you forged resilience. You learned that setbacks are not the end of the road but rather an opportunity to learn, adjust, and move on. Hold tight to that thought because it will see you to success in the years ahead where many others, who do not have that gift, will fall short.

Every year, at this quintessential Dartmouth moment—when the President addresses the graduates—something very special comes into view from our vantage point on the stage. A sight that's humbling and inspiring. At this moment, looking out across our Green, we do not see a world of insurmountable challenges. We see a fellowship of leaders, standing many rows deep, who will work to conquer them. At this moment, the future looks so promising.

And so unforgettable Class of ’14, one final thought from your president. Just as you stepped out of your comfort zone by coming here, now you emerge from the long comforting shadow of Baker Tower into the world beyond these woods. You may not feel ready to leave, but you are ready to succeed.

Today, I stand with the Class of ’64 and all our alumni in saying that wherever you go, and whatever passions you pursue, you will find the Dartmouth fellowship ready to support you. For the unique role you’ve played in the history of our beloved alma mater, we applaud you. For the impact that you will have on a world that badly needs your leadership, we commend you. For the indelible memory you will leave with me, as the first class I have had the privilege to see walking across this stage as president, I thank you.

And now, the world beyond the woods awaits. It is there that you will risk a lot. It is there that you will find successes and you will find failures. And it is there that you will ultimately leave your mark.

Best of luck, and remember to always keep Dartmouth in your heart. Congratulations!

Last Updated: 6/9/14