Marlboro College

News Commencement Remarks by Marlboro College president Ellen McCulloch-Lovell

 

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Here we are for the last time, in a Marlboro ceremony together. Our own musicians have played us in. You soon-to-be-graduates are surrounded by palpable love and joy. I can feel it - you must feel it, so soak it up, let this hold you as you leave this place in a few short hours.

I know we call this Commencement- but it is also about endings. Before the final valediction, we have this ritual time together; we are learning from each other still, our last tutorial.

There are so many thank-you's to say. The first one must be to all your families and friends, here to keep cheering you on.

Looking out at you are our faculty and each year I think: They are the ones who should be handing out these diplomas! They set the high expectations that you have met. They both encouraged you and challenged you to think, write, experiment and create something only you could make. Let us thank our inspiring teachers.

Among them is Dana Holby, who did so much to create dance here, at the finale of her last year at Marlboro.

Our Fulbright Fellow Ahmed Salama, will soon to return to Egypt. We learned so much from you, Ahmed.

And I have to say how happy we are to see Luis and Geraldine, safely back among us.

One thing we learn anew every year is how intertwined we are in this community. We depend on a caring and dedicated staff, also a part of your Marlboro experience, whom we thank today.

Dean Nicyper thanked the trustees; without them, we would not be a college with our small size and big ideals. I add my great gratitude to you - my brain trust and friends.

Could it be that four years are over? Well, for some of you it's been two - for others five. One of you is completing a remarkable eight-year odyssey to gain her degree. I remember greeting you at our first Convocation ceremony. Marlboro trustee and 1976 alumnus Peter Mallary, here today, spoke to you. I told you to give yourselves the gift of time, as you decided where to direct your mind and actions, quoting poet Wallace Stevens, who said: "Perhaps the truth depends on a walk around the lake...."  I posed that convocation question; you each had to stand up say: how were you going to use your precious time at Marlboro?

Now you have answered that question.

In this last lesson together, this journey of several hours to farewell, we have the precious time to reflect on your Marlboro experience.

Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard observed that "Life must be understood backwards, but...it must be lived forwards." Of course it's a continuum: who you have become at Marlboro will shape your future.

As usual at this time of year, I've been "walking around the lake" looking at your work as much as I can and asking you more questions. That's one of the things we learn here - to ask good questions.

You've told me that:

I'm still thinking about my main Plan paper; I hope it comes together by Wednesday!

It's all about setting high expectations and living up to them.

The core of Marlboro is respect.

I love this place but it's time to leave.

...and, I don't want to leave this place, but I guess it's the next thing to do....

After you leave, you'll know what our other alumni know: there will never be another time like this, not even in graduate school, where you had this precious time to see the world through many perspectives, to form your own ideas, to test them, to learn from failure, to become who you are now, at this moment, sitting among your friends.faculty

As I thought about your work and listened to you discuss it, I was struck by the themes of some Plans, in which you dealt with memory, with making sense of what's past, or decaying, or evolving. You made careful constructions of many ideas or objects, which formed a larger image. You talked about how reality itself is constructed.

I don't know what you will recall from today. You surely will have recollections: perhaps flashes of intense interactions, the strange beauty of the ice storm, a movement in a dance performance, a reading or experiment that imparted an elevated moment.

What I am certain of is that you will remember your time here: reassembling the parts of your experiences to "understand life backwards." Memory is itself a construction, and it will change as you do, as you look back with changing sense and sensibility. Maybe in memory, the class discussions will be even more intense, the winters less dark, the friendships even brighter.

Certainly we will remember Ryan Larsen, in whose memory a prize is given today. We remember Andy Zuckerman, who will be memorialized in a new Asian Studies library collection.

We will remain moved by the sacrifices and struggles of some of you to stay here, or to return after overcoming great adversity.

And we who remain will remember you.

I will see you emerging from your orals, surrounded by a loving, screaming scrum of fellow students...

Coming into the dining hall during the ice storm, together in the cold dark, the emphasis on "together..." ...a few days later, a group of you in thick coveralls and saws, going off to clear the trails. Work day, warm sun, students in the back of a pickup truck...

Music on the grass...contra dances...

...debates that spilled from classes to dorms to Town Meetings: over languages, smoking, spending Town Meeting funds: the ardent engagement that said: our ideas matter, our life together here matters.

The excitement over an historic presidential election...

The risk and courage and strong ideas manifest in your work...

The way you care about each other...the enduring nature of friendship that you will take with you.

Standing here now, I find it hard to imagine Marlboro without you. Some of you are going to jobs; some are traveling for a while; others are following the twelve-mile rule and rolling down the hill to Brattleboro.

Yet, memory will join us. The Marlboro you leave is a place, yes, but as Barack Obama said about America: it's also an idea. I want you to remember the fierce beauty, the stark simplicity, the quiet retreat of this place, and conjure it up when you need it in the noisy world.

What I want you to take with you as you live your life forward, is the idea: there is the time to think, to discover, to find out how your mind works and what kind of a friend you are and community you will create. That you respect and are responsible for yourself and who you become, away from Marlboro and with Marlboro in you.

I end with these words from the poet, TS Elliot:

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.

 

Thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

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