"Vermont is a state I love..." ...so said a famously taciturn Vermonter, Calvin Coolidge, when as president he viewed the devastating flood damage in 1928. Those words return to me over and over…and to paraphrase, "I could not look upon the peaks of Ascutney , Mt. Olga, or Haystack, without being moved in a way that no other scene could move me."
Thank you to the trustees of Marlboro College, for bringing me from Capitol Hill to Potash Hill, for making me a citizen of this beautiful village on the hill.
Thank you faculty, for bringing to life the phrase "community of learners." Other colleges say it; you live it. Day after day, I see your caring and your craft; I see you helping us all live up to Marlboro's ideals.
I thank the staff for your devotion to these ideals and to the students: for answering my questions, often more than once, and for helping me to ask better questions.
Thank you parents for giving your scholars the precious time to explore, read, think, to develop minds and sensibilities and connections with community. Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega e Gasset said: "To be surprised, to wonder, is to begin to understand." That is what happens here.
Thank you Marlboro students, for your talents, humor, and embrace. And now to you seniors: Thank you for emerging from your dorms and 24-hour stints in the Library, from your cubbies and studios – a bit pale, intense, even obsessed – into the open relief and clear air of this ceremony. We are all grateful to you for finishing those Plans of Concentration and making it through your Oral Examinations! The senior dinner Thursday showed that you and the faculty did this with senses of humor intact.
In the last month I've been a student too. You have all taught me some unforgettable lessons. I've learned to say "that's very Marlboro," or, "that's not Marlboro." I've heard the gong ring in the Dining Hall and the cheers ring out from outside Dalrymple when seniors emerged from Orals. In performances, exhibitions, and classes, the energy, creativity and intense spirit of inquiry are almost overwhelming. You've engaged in Town Meeting, debating the crucial and the trivial and learning Roberts Rules of Order: one of the few practical life lessons Marlboro has to offer.
When I read to you the names of graduating seniors, from Choya Adkison-Stevens to Nora Zale, and read their Plan descriptions, you will see the wide and wild range of curiosity and expression that is pursued here.
Now we are gathered in necessary ritual. We are attending this commencement in several senses: literally attending by our presence and our witness to the graduates' accomplishments. Also attending to them, listening: paying attention, because it deserves to be paid. We are extensions of those educational principles that Robert Frost so beautifully articulated, which so influenced the values of Marlboro College: education by presence, an atmosphere of expectations, and education for the "free born." For years students here have experienced the power of faculty being present to them, meeting them, encouraging the developing self: faculty give Marlboro students what psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut called "evenly hovering attention."
The atmosphere of expectations that is created in this holding presence becomes fulfilled by the receptive student.
For the free-born: Dan Toomey, class of 79, writing about Frost's influence on Marlboro College, quoted a Frost scholar describing the free born as students who "wished to develop their intellectual, moral, aesthetic, social, and physical nature" as ends in themselves, "apart from any regard for professional objectives." I would call that "freedom of imagination," freedom of expression, and an extension of the social contract that binds us together as citizens.
You parents are probably thinking, well that's fine, but I hope they can leave here and earn a living! That they will do too: as environmental, social, and government workers; artists and writers; historians, scientists, and teachers; lawyers and entrepreneurs.
If you are graduating today, you already have chosen the "road less traveled" by attending Marlboro. But remember, as you leave to become the creative citizens we need you to be, you will always be citizens of this beautiful village on the hill. Your passports will never expire.
And as the Republican president from Vermont said, "If the spirit of liberty should vanish in other parts of the Union, and support of our institutions should languish, it could all be replenished from the generous store held by the people of this brave little state of Vermont." And this brave little College of Marlboro.