Please allow me to add my voice to those already welcoming you to Marlboro’s fifty-eighth commencement.
We shall remember today’s ceremony, though as the years pass we may eventually forget the date: the Fifteenth of May 2005—the day my son, my daughter, my grandson, my granddaughter finished college; the day I crossed the stage to receive my diploma; the day my friends graduated from Marlboro.
We are gathered in this auditorium to perform the ritual of commencement. We perform this ritual mindful of the meaningfulness of what we are doing, mindful of what our crossing this stage signifies for ourselves and for those who today bear witness to our graduation.
This is Marlboro, after all, and there are only a scant few collegiate traditions practiced here. Luckily, commencement is one of those traditions that we keep alive, and practice according to form. For we recognize that it is through practice that rituals provide meaning: when we walk through the commencement exercises, we find meaning in the doing.
We can say the same about much of the Marlboro experience: we came to Marlboro seeking a meaningful education: in return, Marlboro has taught us how to find meaning through doing, through active participation in our own education. The value of the Plan of Concentration rests squarely on this idea. Although the plan is ultimately judged and graded on its qualities as a product, the true value of the plan is the process, the route we took to create it.
The Plan of Concentration is a labor of love: the reward is in the struggle it took to produce, the journey we each took to get it done. For some, that journey meant internships and home-stays in foreign countries, while for others, it meant treks to the libraries at Dartmouth and Umass Amherst and long excursions in books.
At Marlboro, we have learned the value of self-reflection. And today we find that we have become self-reflective individuals in a country that favors the expediency of action taken without thought to action taken with thoughtful deliberation. It is therefore our burden—yours and mine—to attend to our communities with the skills and qualities we have developed at Marlboro over four years.
We have seen where natural curiosity, intellectual inquiry and spiritual searching can take us; we leave Marlboro still asking the critical questions. From our natural curiosity was sown the seed of passion for our academic endeavors. For most, our plans were born of a passionate love for investigation, for the task of asking questions within a particular field. And ultimately it was the questions with the most significance for us spiritually that we sought to answer.
I feel tempted to characterize the changes we have all undergone over the past four years as a “loss of innocence.” Innocence has been lost, to be sure. Yet the loss in the end has been our gain. The awareness of self that comes of experience is worth the innocence we leave behind us each year.
For many of us here today, there is another date that we won’t soon forget: October First, Two-thousand and Three. David Pierce was a member of our class; he would be graduating with us today. David’s death—a fact so real that it was impossible to escape—demanded a reaction from all of us.
Can we ever forget those blissful days of the new semester when it all seemed possible, when everything we must do before Christmas stood intangibly ahead of us? Will we ever forget the night David died? And the month that followed when the days took on a stifling monotony like heavy humidity that would neither let up nor come crashing down as the refreshing rain of a summer thunderstorm? David’s death asked us to examine our priorities in life, to take a fresh look at this place and people around us.
How we responded to David’s death says more about us as a community than any brochure or press release could ever say. Here is what one good friend of mine wrote reflecting on the experience afterwards:
We all had “work” to do, but a new breeze was saying, “Don’t worry about that. You need to take care of each other.” We decided to break this day of fasting with a campus-wide invitation to sleep together, eat cookies, spend the night not alone, but in the company of friends. Camaraderie in tragedy and a new found importance of life. When you greeted someone, you hugged them, tightly, and then said, “How are you doing?” eyes meeting. We had no choice but to hear each other and hear the sky above us and the trees around us. The buildings and the books and the jobs screamed too loud, and we had to listen to gentler voices. I bend my ear just a little closer to them.
Let there be no doubt: it was one experience among many that has shaped this graduating class.
Today, along with celebrating our achievements, we give thanks to our parents: your love has given us the strength, has inspired us and provided us the courage to walk the difficult path; your support has allowed us to succeed. We give thanks also to our relatives who have taken an active interest in our lives and our education, and many of whom are here today. We give thanks to our professors: for without your knowledge, your dedication and your friendship, we would not have learned and certainly we would not have grown. We give thanks to the staff of Marlboro College—you work in the library on the hill, in Mather and in maintenance, and you are the bedrock of this place. And we give thanks to our friends—equally to those who have walked with us since freshman year as to those newly discovered during late nights spent in the library or science building.
As we depart, we must not forget the homes we left to come to Marlboro four years ago. As another friend recently reminded me, you are your roots. If you never forget that, then you will never forget where you’ve come from or how to get back there.
On that note, I have a reminder and a wish to share with you each as we prepare today to leave Marlboro. What you have done and loved, what you are doing and still loving, is the totality of life. And, bearing that in mind, may you go in peace.