Marlboro College

News President's Address

Ellen McCulloch-Lovell

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This is our last Marlboro ceremony together. Our own musicians brought us in on their beat. The tradition of radiant apple blossoms and lilacs continues. We are gathered together, evoking our first convocation in 2004. We are, variously - tired, relieved, proud, sad and grateful.

Let me linger on the grateful part. Please look again at the splendidly robed faculty members on this stage: they were your companions and colleagues on the journey to this hour. They are the heart and flame of Marlboro College, to whom we are grateful every day.

And just as you soon-to-be-graduates are about to enter the next phase in your lives, so too are some members of our long-standing and much-beloved faculty. Last year we honored Neal Weiner and Edmund Brelesford as they retired. These next three people are anything but “retiring” and so we cheer them on: Dana Holby, Bob Engel and Tim Little.

Next year will bring our more formal tribute to Tim and Bob.

Dana, this is your last group of Plan students and yet the dance program you created here will thrive because of your beautiful, inspired teaching. You will always be in our hearts and our imaginations.

Today we say fond farewell to Resha Cardone and wish her well in her new career at So. Connecticut State University.

This year we were enriched by our four international fellows, who now leave us for their countries and careers: Emma Park from the UK, Classics; Victor Blasjo, from Sweden, Mathematics; Ping Jiang from China, Chinese; and Fisal Younis, Fulbright Fellow from Egypt, Arabic.

Behind every college is a Board of Trustees, those generous people – drawn from our community, alumni and parents -- who support and care about us so much. I thank each of you.

Now I turn to thank the Marlboro College staff for being the hands, the web of connection and the caring individuals you are, holding us together each year.

I want to recognize the parents and families present to bear witness to your students’ accomplishments. Some as you came from as far as India to be here.

Finally I thank you, our students – who became our intellectual colleagues and our friends. For weeks I have been feeling sentimental, as I thought about saying good-bye to those who arrived here with me. It means you are leaving with your well-earned degrees and I am no longer the “new” president of Marlboro College!

Marlboro is so small that friendships extend beyond age and areas of study; designation by class – as in the class of 2008 – does not hold much meaning. Still, you are my first class.

Remember when it was all so new? Arriving at the top of a hill in Vermont to what looked like a little village, to what might have struck you, as it did me, as “home?”

It was such a choice that changed our lives. I remember quoting Rumi: “A thousand half-loves must be forsaken to bring the whole heart home.”

I saw your anticipation. I watched the faculty set the “atmosphere of expectation,” to quote Robert Frost, who influenced the founding of Marlboro, and must have know that in this atmosphere, you would surpass our - and your own - expectations.

Four years ago, I greeted you by saying: “We find each one of you worthy and unique. Welcome to a place that will recognize your individuality and urge you to explore the thoughts and creations that only you can make. At the same time we will teach you and expect you to be citizens of Marlboro.”

That welcome constituted a kind of promise we made: we to you, you to us.

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Together, we found out what set our minds ablaze. We found true friendship. I saw you take on the long hours of reading and writing and the long winters; I witnessed you being there for each other – talking over your Plans, coming out for performances and exhibitions and presentations, hooting and hollering for each other!

At Marlboro we prize our independence but really we are interdependent. We felt that so keenly when we suffered Ryan’s loss together.

As one of you told me: It is still a village. There were some changes in the village while you were here. The dancers went from Persons basement to leaping in the new dance studio in the Serkin Center for the Performing Arts; the musicians to the new practice rooms and Ragle Hall. Now we have the Rod Gander Center for World Studies. The Brown building once again became a place for the scientists and mathematicians to hang out together. The peacocks went on extended sabbatical. The Health Center moved from our 1840’s farmhouse to a new facility. The Farm Committee’s greenhouse went up; and after this tough winter, it came down. Led by you, we found our environmental values and voices.

I say this because on this hill together, we are grounded in place, in Vermont and its values of freedom, self-reliance and citizenship.

Here are some of your voices, describing your Marlboro experience:

- Everything that happened to me here made me what I am.

- You can trust students to make difficult decisions.

- It’s really dark in the winter.

- Plan is still mysterious.

- Most people love this place; they fight about it because they love it.

- I don’t think the heart of Marlboro will ever change.

And from one graduate’s Plan:

- What I appreciate is the atmosphere of respect I enjoy while at the college campus. It has taken me years to recognize that I am respected here and I notice that I have begun to fight in other areas of my life for similar respect.

That is a statement our founders would recognize. If they returned today they’d recognize this place: not only the old farm buildings but the character of the students – they’d recognize you.

Sixty-one years ago, when those scholars and soldiers on the GI Bill came here to make a college, they made bold promises. In the first statement about Marlboro they envisioned “Teachers and students working together.” Another promise was: “learning to live wisely together.” In the curriculum, they stated: “Marlboro aims to make its student vividly aware of what it means to be a citizen in a democracy, one deserving of its privileges and taking the full part which it requires.”

sean60 years ago, the college graduated its sole senior - Hugh Mulligan – in the company of the Governor and a Vermont Supreme Court justice and Robert Frost.

Today over 70 of you are graduating! We’ve learned a lot from each other these four years, This year, especially, I learned how deeply held our values are – evoking our 60th year. Students who “own their educations” are going to care actively about what we teach. And a college that decides what guidelines govern our community life together will debate and work hard to compromise in the search for equilibrium. That happened here this year.

Now I must hasten us towards farewell. We have miles to go. We have promises to keep. By continuing to become your beautiful, loving, seeking, scholarly, expressive selves, go be our promise to the world. And know that when you return to this village, I will say “welcome home.”

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