When I think about Marlboro College at 60 years and ponder our next 60 years, I am filled with gratitude to you and all of Marlboro College’s trustees, past and present, for the service and generosity you devote to the College. You are alumni; you are parents and neighbors. All of you are valued stewards and you are assuring our next six decades of achievement. Please stand to be recognized.
Welcome all to this happy day! This Vermont spring is bursting with the season’s metaphors: the sun is truly shining on you graduates.
We have our own version of Pomp and Circumstance; I thank our musicians, Wendy and the Lost Boys, for guiding us in and out of our places today with such exuberance, and our graduate Esther Hall-Reinhard for her artistry.
To you soon-to-be graduates – and you are why we are all here – I want to say:
Amidst the exhilaration and exhaustion of today, take this ceremonial time to thank those who got you to this moment: your families and the friends you learned to depend upon.
Together, we thank the faculty, who expected more of you than you did yourself, connecting you to the world of ideas and to your own, recognizing their value and giving you the tools to express them well. Your accomplishments are also their accomplishments. Let us recognize the Marlboro College faculty.
We thank the staff as well, who got you here, supported you, who found your library sources, fixed your printer, explained your bills, got you on snowshoes, treated your illnesses, and gave you kind advice.
I should thank you too, for all you did to strengthen this college: for the hours of volunteer work on the Select board, Town Meeting committees, and Work Day; for the phone-a-thons and dining hall duty and shoveling….
For telling me what you think about Marlboro. Advice like: Stay small. Don’t change the Woods Programs. Give freshmen flashlights. Don’t lock the Library. Depressed people need to dance. And expect Marlboro College to change – it’s inevitable. And my favorite so far this year: “Plan is the core of self-centered learning.”
More seriously now, at this time of transitions, I must mark a few that have great meaning to our lives together. Marlboro College was profoundly shaped by the strong intellect, deep civility and influential teaching of Dick Judd, here 39 years, who died last week. At this moment, as I pay tribute to him, a small group – including some of our community – is gathered at his nearby house with his wife Suvia, to say good-bye. Later in June the College will commemorate Dick’s life.
This year we say farewell to Neal Weiner, our philosopher, who is retiring after 37 years of teaching. Neal, we thank you for your lasting contributions: opening and challenging students’ minds and the rest of ours as well. You have so many talents, we are just waiting to see what you are going to do with them next.
I want to recognize departing French teacher Laura D’Angelo with appreciation for 7 years of dedication to our students, as she seeks a new chapter in her life.
Our Dean of Students Nancy Pike is reclaiming her life after giving us so much of it for 10 years. Recalling how you guided us through sad times and glad times, Nancy, we thank you and we will miss you.
When you think about it, as you graduates leave us, we are all going through a transition; we are all changed. I am proud to share this podium today with all the accomplished people, who will teach us something more during this next hour or so.
My message to you is brief. After Plan, Orals, farewells to friends, and many meetings, I am not sure how much more we have in the well of words, you and I.
I hope we have words left for: attention, reflection and gratitude.
Let us reflect once again, before another eruption of celebration.
You have been together, to cheer each other with deserved recognition; and for fun, while there are no major responsibilities left. You are together today for this ceremony.
You know how much I love to talk about community. But now I want you to think about all the times you were alone: by yourself, butt to chair, staring at the computer screen or notebook, or deep in a book, or in the studio. No one else was reading and being changed in the process. No one else was writing your words, making your art, or testing the hypothesis you posed for yourself.
Yes, you learned from and with each other; you spent hours talking and arguing; you performed together and depended on each other.
Yet in the moment of creation, you were alone.
I like to talk about Marlboro College as a kind of retreat, like an artists’ colony for all fields of study. In a recent talk, former faculty member Jet Thomas called us a “secular monastery.” This is a place where you find freedom of thought, freedom of imagination and the discipline to express those ideas.
I also like to declare – especially to prospective students – that “we are not isolated here on Potash Hill.” We have study abroad, trips and internships, the World Wide Web, and forays of all kinds beyond this intense village. We are not that far from urban centers and airports!
But let’s face it. We are isolated. At nearly 2,000 feet in our own microclimate, 10 miles from a small Vermont town and our graduate center. And you’ve handled it in your own ways. You holed up in the library, the observatory, the studio or the exercise room. You drove home for the weekend. You studied in Brazil and Bangladesh. You snow-shoed to the Cree Nation. You took a semester off. You won the Wendell Cup race. You went to MassMOCA and Moca Joe’s. You partied.
You learned to take care of yourself and each other. Even as you came to call Marlboro “home,” you came to terms with what we all know. That we are alone. That we are lone, but not singular; not fully formed, but in constant formation, through choice of action, as John Dewey said.
What I want you to remember and to take with you is the creative power of isolation. To value how you struggled, how you pushed yourself beyond what you thought you were capable of doing.
You did that! With other people, yes, teachers and seekers who expected it of you. Yet you did the work.
In this beautiful, isolated place
You learned to be alone:
Your own parent,
Your own home.
So now you are capable of seeking solitude, savoring it as the well from which you will continually draw your being. You don’t ever have to be afraid of being alone. Remember that. Remember Marlboro.
We will remember you.