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Office of the President Emeritus
Hinman Box 6166
Hanover, NH 03755
Phone: (603) 646-0016
Fax: (603) 646-0015

Remarks by President James Wright to Dartmouth Class Officers

Welcome back! This meeting coincides with the beginning of the academic year and I am sure you feel the excitement on campus of a great institution doing great things.

The incoming students have enthusiastically embraced the College. Susan and I went up to Moosilauke on Monday evening to welcome a group of them. They are a spirited group - and the upper-class lodge crew was even more spirited in welcoming the new class!

I told the '10s at their first class meeting on Wednesday morning that while they competed hard to get here they do not now need to compete against one another. Here, in this incredible setting, a powerful sense of community draws them in. Dartmouth is marked by a culture defined by teamwork, collaboration, and friendship.  They will soon meet the Dartmouth faculty, who are second to none in the excellence of their teaching. (In last year's senior survey 98 percent of students expressed their satisfaction with the accessibility of the faculty outside of the classroom. It's hard to get better than that.) And our graduates - you - go on to change the world. No one does it better!

Thank you, Nels. And thank you David, for your vision and good work. It is a pleasure and privilege to have you back on campus in your role as vice president for alumni affairs!

This is a marvelous gathering. Hal and Mary Ripley are here, representing the Class of 1929 - I love to point to him as one of the enduring continuities of this place. Hal did a great job once again this past spring when he participated in the senior dinners for the Class of 2006. 

When Hal came to Dartmouth in 1925 the College, under President Hopkins, had reached national prominence as one of the most popular in the country, was among the first to introduce selective admissions (it needed to because of the huge number of students who wanted to attend), and was about to embark on an extensive building program. A Columbia University faculty member wrote in the 1920s "From all we hear here, Dartmouth is the most interesting college in the country."

Dartmouth remains one of the most selective and attractive colleges in the country. And, our building program today rivals that of the 1920s. This fall we will open 7 new residential buildings in two clusters (the McLaughlin and the Tuck Mall), Kemeny Hall for Mathematics, the Haldeman Academic Centers for Dickey, Ethics, and the Leslie Humanities Center, and the MacLean Engineering Sciences Center at Thayer. I hope you will have a chance to see these new buildings. Susan and I went over to the new dorms and were just delighted with the reaction from students.

The observation of the Columbia faculty member 80 years ago, finds a resonance in a Princeton Review commentary on the College a few weeks ago. They reported, "Dartmouth College seems to have it all: 'a beautiful campus, nurturing professors, a great library, world-class cultural performances and lectures, comfortable dorms, tasty food, and, most important, bright, enthusiastic, and spirited peers with whom to share it all.'"

We are also both delighted to see so many of our old friends here tonight. Some I taught. Others, Susan knows from her time when she served as an advisor and later as a class dean. Many we recognize and greet with warmth because we have been privileged to have known you over the course of the long years of your service to the College.

Dartmouth owes our gratitude to each of you. The work that you do through the Alumni Association, the Alumni Council, clubs, affinity groups, and your class organizations is critically important to the our strength. And let me especially recognize Sam Ostrow. We have all been fortunate to benefit from Sam's leadership and from the hard work of his executive committee. Mary Conway, you have our congratulations and our appreciation as you prepare to assume the presidency of the association.

As you know, this past weekend the Board of Trustees considered and voted in favor of the proposed alumni constitution. They had stayed out of the debate over the last several years, but they decided to make a statement describing their support for the proposal and their thanks for the many volunteers who have worked toward this compromise. They have worked for many years on a complicated topic, and they deserve your support. I would extend our gratitude here tonight. Thank you to Joe Stevenson and his colleagues for all that you have done.

The Board concluded that the proposed constitution will make the alumni governance structure more accessible, democratic, and effective. It will provide for one-on-one races for trustee elections. It will address the terrible problem we have had for the past 15 years of churning up good candidates. I think the 2002 joint committee put it well when they noted that the system too often said to alumni who were willing to make a sacrifice for the College, "thanks, but no thanks, to their talents and willingness to serve." The 1999 Board-created Douglass Commission also pointed to this issue with the current system. The proposed constitution provides for a more rational single alumni structure that is inclusive of all classes and affiliated groups. For these good reasons, the Trustees, by a substantial majority, voted for the constitution. And I supported the motion.

When I look around the room here tonight, I see Dartmouth's history writ large. You are the College, and, as President Dickey put it so well, "what you are, it will be." But right now, our alumni are on the edge of being deeply divided. Last year when I spoke to you, I said to you:

My charge, my challenge, my plea to you is a fundamental one. Let us work together, to heal our alumni community, to celebrate our good fortune, and to secure the Dartmouth legacy for generations of future students. Assuring this is my priority - and I surely need your help. This responsibility unites in ways that need transcend all that divides. The Hill Winds Call.

I would repeat that plea today with more concern and urgency. Dartmouth is an exceptionally strong institution that deserves better than being used for a broader ideological debate. I don't care what the ideology is, my College - our College - is not, and should not be, a pawn for outsiders with non-Dartmouth agendas.

I am very disappointed at the tone of the debate around the constitution. Intelligent people can disagree but they should do so within reasonable and civil grounds - there have been too many misleading statements - it is critical that this debate not hurt the College. And I am especially disappointed at the attacks on Dartmouth's alumni volunteers. The work you do is invaluable to your College and I thank you for that work.

It is too bad that those who volunteer for their College, those who take the time to become informed about Dartmouth's strengths - and to celebrate those strengths - are dismissed as "insiders." This school is dependent upon those who become, proudly and for a lifetime, "insiders" upon matriculation.  We embrace you and thank you.

The real story we need to focus on is Dartmouth - the institution not the constitution. This is a great College that celebrates its past while it also embraces its future. So many top institutions are today trying to improve the experience for their undergraduates. Dartmouth has, without a doubt, the best undergraduate experience available. Dartmouth is the model for how to do this.

From those hesitant early days when the Hanover plain became the focus for Eleazar Wheelock's audacious dream, we have dreamed big dreams - and we have remained committed to the quality of the education provided here. Degrees are pieces of parchment, certifications. Dartmouth proudly awards one of the most treasured degrees in the county. But we know here that Dartmouth is about an education for a lifetime. A Dartmouth education is a very special thing.

Over the course of the past month, I have engaged in conversations about Dartmouth's core values. I have met with a number of groups - students, faculty, administrators, staff, alumni, senior officers, trustees, and members of the union, asking each group to talk about what characteristics at their best represent Dartmouth at its best. What is it that characterizes Dartmouth when it is at its best? This afternoon I met with some of you.

The conversations I have had over the past month - and I must have spoken to upwards of 200 different members of our community - have been inspirational. And there has been broad agreement around the values expressed, whether I talked to the faculty, students, or employees.

In every discussion people spoke of the commitment to students. Dartmouth is student focused in everything that it does. Here is the list of values that we heard in just about every setting:

  • Student focused
  • Teaching excellence
  • Academic excellence
  • Freedom of inquiry
  • Inclusive, open, respectful of difference
  • Profound sense of place, community, and history
  • Commitment to service
  • Global reach
  • Enables people to reach their potential

There is an entrepreneurial spirit and creativity at Dartmouth that drives intellectual and artistic work here. Students and faculty push against the boundaries at the edge of their fields and reach across fences that have, in the past, separated disciplines and even schools. The College supports and promotes boldness and excellence by bringing students into close contact with superb faculty, groundbreakers themselves who have a passion for teaching. We encourage independent, interdisciplinary work through faculty mentors and the provision of numerous grants.

Since before the birth of the American republic, Dartmouth has provided an exemplary residential environment for students and faculty who are diverse in background but united in purpose: to collaborate in learning, in expanding what they know, to seek excellence, and to share in advancing a welcoming, empowering community with a singular sense of identity, mission, and responsibility. And as President Kemeny and the Board affirmed thirty years ago, Dartmouth educates men and women with the potential for having a positive impact upon society. 

In this community of learning with its intimate and inspirational setting, we transform the lives of every student who walks through our doors. Distinguished faculty work with the most talented students to create an education that is second to none.  Our values of collaboration and friendship and teamwork inspire leadership and instill responsibility.

Our excellent and focused graduate programs complement and support the undergraduate program even as they excel in their own fields. Dartmouth is the model for American higher education.  Today we are leading the way.

The students and faculty who I met with to discuss core values mentioned that at Dartmouth there was always support for new initiatives. Whatever they wanted to do, someone found a way for them to do it. You may have heard of the students who rode across the country in a bus fueled by cooking oil that they collected at restaurants along their route, "Dartmouth students out to change the world one veggie oil powered bus at a time." Or the students who set up a club for those interested in issues relating to stem cell research. They sought funding through the student activity office and are organizing a national conference this fall. We have seen a tremendous growth in club sports from students who have organized themselves. The number of clubs increased from 18 in 2000 to 26 today, and I provided additional funds for them. Dartmouth students get things done.

Over a hundred years ago, President William Jewett Tucker described the special spirit of Dartmouth.

The spirit of the College itself, which, so far as I have been able to observe, has been all the while on the part of the students, a spirit not only of loyalty, but of enthusiasm, pride and good cheer; a spirit which, as it passes from man to man, within the College, ... is contagious.

The contagion continues - it is now spreading through the class of 2010.  Part of this special spirit is the very real attachment that Dartmouth students have toward College traditions. They, along with the close-knit community, create our sense of place. Our core values and the essence of our traditions have remained the same over time, through thick and through thin. They ground our efforts and inform our vision.

But our values lead us, always, to new places. We are, indeed, an "enduring" institution, as Booz Allen Hamilton concluded, anchored by our values and committed to adapting to compete and serve in a world of change - always old, always new. A century ago, President Tucker talked about Dartmouth being, "Forever New." I took that line as the theme of my inauguration 8 years ago.

I was very pleased with the results of the senior survey this year. Every two years we ask the graduating class to fill in a survey on their Dartmouth experience. Over 91 percent of our seniors last year expressed overall satisfaction with their undergraduate education, and the vast majority said that they would recommend their alma mater to others. I mentioned earlier that 98 percent were satisfied with the accessibility of faculty! This response is a remarkable testament to the faculty's engagement with students. Over 91 percent were satisfied with the size of their classes (I am not satisfied with this yet.) 94 percent were satisfied with the courses in their major field of study. 96 percent were satisfied with the quality of instruction.

And the seniors put their money where their mouth is - 73 percent of them gave to the Dartmouth College Fund senior class gift. No class in this room did as well as seniors as the '06s. Let us thank them! And let us see which of you, even now, after your graduation, can match them. Dartmouth is in great shape.

President Hopkins often said that the success and strength of the College - its ability to "carry out the great purposes inherent in its life" - depended upon the strength of the alumni body. That is still true today. It was never more true. We need you. The loyal sons and daughters cannot splinter while their College thrives. You must not allow this, because, in the long run, the College cannot thrive, if you splinter.

So, I thank you personally for all that you do. We are grateful for your generosity with your skills and resources, for the hours of time you devote to your work for your class and this community, for the sharing of your resources, for your continuing care and concern. This will be a full weekend - I have seen your schedule. I hope that it will inform and energize your efforts throughout the year ahead. It is and always will be my pleasure and privilege to work with you.

In 1774, John Ledyard wrote to Eleazar Wheelock, with whom he did not often see eye to eye, this farewell:

Farewell dear Dartmo - delightfull repose for Innocence & true felicity - sweet society, love, & peace, - that you may flourish like the Bay tree, be like an Apple Tree in the midst of the Woods - of whose fruit I was so happy as to taste, but now no more - that you may flourish in immortal green - that you may be the Sinai to this Continent and give her examples of that kind of Education that the World knows not of - that you may surmount, yea far transcend the fondest hopes & sanguine desires of the nearest concern'd - that you may be Bless'd indeed....

Our College is blessed - and as the Class of 2010 is now learning - it still touches and energized as it did John Ledyard. Our task is to extend the reach and to keep the faith while we far transcend the fondest hopes. This is our legacy.  The Hill Winds Call.

Last Updated: 8/21/08