“WHAT WE DO HERE”
Bravo. Thank you, musicians. I have many greetings but first I want to acknowledge that today we say fond farewell to departing faculty and fellows, especially to our Marshall, Edmund Brelsford, who has given 41 years of his life and service to the college.
Welcome all to this happy day. Welcome families, gathered with a mixture of rising pride and sheer relief at seeing your student with that degree almost in hand. Welcome seniors: awake, tired, robed, satisfied - and also relieved. You are the poets of my metaphor today – creators all. Welcome alumni and friends who witness these accomplishments of mind, making, and community. Welcome trustees. If in the presence of our honored speaker, a college can be compared to a poem, you are the publishers, the press, the voices that value what we do here.
I greet you, faculty, with greatest gratitude for what you do, for finding the secret in each student and for bringing it out, for bringing them to this day. You are the like the troubadours of one senior’s paper, teaching the town to sing our stories. I greet you staff, you are essential structure - the meter in which the poem coheres - that supports these scholars for their years here.
I confess I feel a mixture of elation and expectation. Today is a poem I cannot quite recite yet. I have been with you a full year now, watching with growing amazement as I have seen your curiosity lead you to knowing, seen you glimpse an idea and make it visible through the skill you have acquired. I see more deeply what happens at Marlboro College.
I like to say I am a student here too. So let me tell you what I have learned from you.
I learned that going to Marlboro takes self-reliance, persistence, and even courage.
I learned that McNeil’s is my favorite beer and Soul Caliber Two is my favorite – and only – video game. I learned that I can hear you at my house when you are partying by the fire pond.
Listening to you talk about Marlboro, I learned that: When you arrived, you “expected to be respected.” That “the faculty expects more of us than we think we are capable of.”
You told me: “You can’t do exactly what you want to do at Marlboro.”
And: “We are all really the same because we are all so different, in a radical sort of way.”
“Such intense relationships form here that the entire campus has mood swings.”
“It’s freeing but it’s also paralyzing.”
But you told me that “if you have the vision, it can be fantastic because the school offers you support and possibilities.”
“Whether you participate or not, you are still part of a community.”
As one of you said Thursday at senior dinner: “No one ever let me fall down between the Library and Dalrymple.”
And you said: “My parents still don’t understand – why Marlboro?”
Finally: “Don’t try to defend the place to anyone – it’s in your heart.”
As I listened to you and heard your presentations over these weeks, I have walked around in a strange state of exultation. After one dance performance, where the ideas were deep and the drama intense, I stood talking with two faculty members, waving my hands with excitement, asking: what is it that we do here? What allows this quality of thought, this creativity? One answered: “We pay attention.”
I kept asking. Another faculty member said: “I am the artist who sees the artist in them.”
“Our students turn into our colleagues.”
“I just stay out of their way,” another said. Then more seriously: “I ask them to develop a hypothesis and be able to test it more than one way.” That process could describe what we do in all the fields here.
My question, what do we do here, led me to thinking about creativity of all kinds. How does Marlboro create the conditions where it flourishes?
In his book, The Creative Process, Brewster Ghiselin observed that “every creative act overpasses the established order in some way,” and “is likely at first to appear eccentric.” “Unquenchable curiosity” and “fierce determination” are the vital elements.
Wordsworth said “the job of the inventor is ‘…the introduction of a new element into the intellectual universe.’” What is required of the choreographer making a dance, the scholar grasping at insight, or the scientist conducting an experiment is an acute attention, and a “surrender” to the “widest and freest ranging of the mind.” However, Ghiselin reminds us, to complete this process “what is needed is control and direction.”
The college that would reveal the world, like a poem does, is called upon to do many things: to provide access to a broad range of knowledge; to encourage the flow of curiosity across disciplines; to give the creator the craft to make the barely glimpsed idea visible.
I hope this sounds familiar to you. For what is essential to originality is found here at Marlboro: the time for discovery and experimentation— to reinterpret MacBeth; to conduct ecological or anthropological field studies; to compose an entire musical score.
Innovators link previously unrelated elements, as you did at Marlboro: orcas and clay forms; narratives, photographic images and epistemology; translation, Bulgarian and music.
Creativity recognizes emerging patterns, as you did: in cell behavior, in the functions of confession, in ghost stories and human rights abuses.
Originality takes risks. You did. And here you are wearing mortarboards – well most of you are! Each one of you is a confirmation of what we do here. We still trust and teach the liberal arts, in the wide and free exploration of human experience. To the dismay of some, we are still a strong contrast to career education.
But I say we do teach a vocation. It is the vocation of the imagination. I believe you will imagine the world into being a better planet for us all – every species – to live together. You have the career of simultaneous becoming and doing, in the workplace called democracy.
Welcome to the start of your vocation: the life of the inquiring mind, the job of engaged citizen, the vocation of imagination.