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Office of the President Emeritus
Hinman Box 6166
Hanover, NH 03755
Phone: (603) 646-0016
Fax: (603) 646-0015
Email: james.wright@dartmouth.edu

Remarks by President James Wright at Commencement 2004

June 13, 2004

This moment affords me a special opportunity to extend my hearty congratulations to the graduates - to the Class of 2004. This is your day. Your memories will forever cherish this occasion, and there will surely be few times in your lives when you will be surrounded by so many who care so much about you.

Your hearts, I know, are filled with many things on this day. My custom, and my pleasure, is to participate with you in acknowledging one of them: a sense of gratitude. I join you in thanking the faculty who taught you, as well as learned with you, the families who sacrificed for you, and the friends who have sustained you.

Members of the Class of 2004, you have the special privilege today of graduating in the company of a former president of the College who is here for his fiftieth reunion. David T. McLaughlin as student, as graduate, as trustee, as Dartmouth president, as man of business, and as world citizen has devoted a lifetime to making this a better and a stronger place. Mr. President-Emeritus, welcome back to campus - and thank you for all you have contributed to your College as well as to our world.

The Class of 1954 joins you today as they commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of their graduation. The Korean War marked their time at Dartmouth, and they could, I know, share with you many stories of hope prevailing over fear despite the twists and turns that occur in life. They took seriously the task that each generation of Dartmouth graduates assumes. They have done much to make the world better, and they have done much to make Dartmouth stronger.

This morning you have walked onto the College Green for the final time as undergraduate students. Theodor Geisel of the Dartmouth Class of 1925 had a friend, Dr. Seuss, who described well what I know you must now be feeling:

My goodness how the time has flewn.
How did it get so late
So soon?

We come together here for a ceremony marked by tradition and shaped by ritual, one that aims to celebrate your accomplishments. Embrace this day for it symbolically and substantively affirms your place in the Dartmouth legacy. Today, you participate in a ritual rooted in our past; you are at a place where the buildings around you have absorbed the echo of your voices and those of generations before you; and you are part of the company of friends who will stand by you for a lifetime. Tradition, place, friends - and a faculty committed to working with you in learning and expanding that which is known. This is Dartmouth.

But as we celebrate your class, we also recognize each of you. I wish I could sit down with you individually - to tell you how much we regard you; to ask about your personal dreams and to encourage you to pursue them; and to assure you of our confidence in you. Most importantly, given such an opportunity, I would tell you why you should have confidence in yourself. It is easy to get caught up in the anonymity of crowd, to be swept along by the pace of life, to be shaped by the unexpected patterns of history. But you did not spend four years here to allow these things to happen. Have confidence in yourself and in what you stand for.

You have learned here as part of your liberal education to be wary of generalizing about others. I hope you have also learned not to generalize about yourself. You are not defined by your surroundings, captured by your history, or encouraged to be a follower of the crowd. I have been inspired and impressed over the past four years by your accomplishments - and by your stories.

I told you at your Convocation ceremony on September 19, 2000, that "every one of you is here this morning because of who you are. We selected and invited you individually - with attention to your accomplishments, your personal potential, your capacity to make this a stronger and more interesting place, your own promise to live lives that will make those of others fuller, richer, more informed. We expect much of you, as you have already demanded much of yourselves."

Now, four fleeting years later, you have surely met our expectations and what constituted Dartmouth's challenge. You leave us the better. We could ask no more - or less - of anyone. Your learning, your service, your sharing, your generosity, these are your record and our inspiration.

At this point you move on to a world that needs you - dearly needs you. It is a world that seems too often to reverberate with shouts of hatred, one that cries out with sorrow and that is punctuated too often with the tragic silence of the innocent. Margaret Atwood gave us this advice:

This is the world, which is fuller
And more difficult to learn than I have said.

Know well your capacity and your power to shape your lives, your communities, and your world. Humankind, this world, is far better than our fears. But it can only be as good as our dreams when our efforts would have it be. For all who scream to the worst of our instincts, there are many, many more who live to the best of our hopes, who hug and comfort a child, who love and encourage a friend, who sustain those upon whom fortune has inadequately - or never - smiled.

No sounds of violence or hatred should prevail over quiet expressions of human faith. Langston Hughes urged us to "let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed." With the privilege of your education and with spiritual and other values to provide direction, you can foster that American dream and encourage whispers of hope.

Now it is time for leave-taking. We know you go forth in good and capable hands - your own. Near the end of the nineteenth century Walt Whitman wrote, "the strongest and sweetest songs yet remain to be sung." We leave them still, for your voices. But know too as you leave today that the door here is always open for you. You are ever a part of Dartmouth undying, as Dartmouth is forever a part of you.

Last Updated: 8/21/08