Marlboro College

News Commencement remarks from Ellen McCulloch-Lovell, president

ellen mcculloch-lovell

Welcome, almost-graduates, family, and friends to this celebration! A special welcome home to Andy Zuckerman's parents, Phil and Disty.

Thank you, Dean. In this day full of gratitude and change, I am thankful to you for stepping into the Chairmanship of Marlboro's guardians, the Board of Trustees. It's a proud moment to see our first alumnus at this podium. And it is reassuring to know Bart Goodwin will remain on the Board to keep serving us, along with the other dedicated trustees, who I now ask to stand to receive our thanks.

It wouldn't be commencement without our own musicians bringing us in on their beat. It must be commencement with lilacs blooming, academic robes flowing, and all of you gathered in this hall. You each bring your own emotions. Your teachers, families and friends will cheer you through one last Marlboro "rite and ritual." This is one of those rare times when you observe a transition while it happens, experiencing yourselves in this moving present.

For soon -- after the speeches, diplomas and applause-- you will move your tassels and become alumni of Marlboro College. The present will become the past.

Take this time to look at those who helped you to this commencement and thank them:

Your faculty, who respected you, spent so much time with you, and expected so much from you.  You are here because they are here. We honor them.

The staff here who answered your questions and guided your way.

Your family and friends, who upheld you.

This year, more than ever, you are in the midst of a Marlboro transition. Four Fellows who have given us their talents for two years are moving on to the next stage in their lives: Andrew Singer, classics; John Arhin, mathematics; Mahmoud Mahmound, Arabic; and Jon Mack, psychology.

An accomplished and long-serving Dean of Faculty, Felicity Ratte, is taking a well-deserved break before she returns to teach art history.

Beloved and long-serving professors are stepping down or on their journey. They are not going far, but neither will they be with us every day to guide us:  Michael Boylen ends 30 years of teaching and creating here. It is difficult for me to imagine Marlboro College without seeing Michael every day, without his patient teaching, and wise observations.

Tim Little, Bob Engel, Luis Batlle and now Laura Stevenson continue or begin on the transition pathway.

But now, right now, you can savor your arrival at this moment of completion, put aside prior anxieties, your worries about what's next -- and take this time to come to terms with leaving Marlboro, your friends, and those experiences that changed you. We who are witnesses to your work and who you've become - we also were changed by your presence here.

You are impossible to characterize. You are Marlboro's largest graduating class, ever. You range in age from 21 to 35. You are strong and uncertain, tenacious and flexible. You learned languages we don't teach and traveled to countries on the State Department's watch list; one-third of you studied abroad. You played at open mic night or you stayed in the library late; you partied, you argued, your discussions spilled from the classroom into the dining hall into the dorms, cottages and apartments downtown. One of you got a Marlboro BA years ago, worked for Plant Operations and at other jobs, married an alumna and today gains his MA in philosophy.

You served on the Selectboard, as Town Crier and on academic and Town Meeting Committees.

This year, I thought a lot about what constitutes a college; as its members change, what lasts? What deserves protecting? What demands improving?

For what is a college but its people? What is a college but the ideas and ideals its members pass on and strive for as they participate in this very particular place?

Today we are focused on you each as individuals. Yet you will leave here soon and most likely become part of another kind of organization: a place of employment, a mission-driven cause, a cooperative venture, a government. If our record holds, some 69% of you will go to graduate school, and get to know another college or university. What will you take with you from your Marlboro experiences? What will you give the next group or institution you enter?

Sociologist Robert Bellah, in one of my favorite books, Habits of the Heart, reminds us: "...becoming one's own person, while always a risky, demanding effort, takes place in a community loyal to shared ideals of what makes life worth living."

Organizations are people, so they are changed by people. People are human; therefore imperfect, so are organizations. Colleges are the accumulation of their participants' expectations, practices and ideals.

You might, I suspect, forget something about Plato's Symposium, Scriabin's Mysterium, dye-sensitized solar cells, game theory, the 1828 presidential election, bats, or James Joyce over the next few years.

But I don't think you will ever forget feeling the intense empathy you have for each other. Or using your voice at a Town Meeting forum.

I don't want you to forget how you respected one another or how you were respected by your faculty sponsors.  Remember what it felt like to encourage and cheer each other on. The moment when the dance, the play or the music flowed, when the transitions were seamless.

Remember studying during power outages; the spontaneous snow-ball fight after we got four feet of new snow in mid-February.

Don't ever forget the courage you showed in so many ways - exploring your beliefs, in your choices of study, in the ways you revealed yourselves. Take that courage with you today.

Then hold on to the solo moments: reading in the library, writing in the woods, seeing the stars bear down on us out of a dark winter night, seeing the art emerge, the composition cohere, the idea burst through, and the question posing another question.

Now as a good-bye gift I want you to hear the words of Michael Boylen, whom we know a teacher of few but well-chosen words:

"The personally most important aspect of my years at Marlboro has been my diverse relationship with people-faculty and staff colleagues, and students - in all academic areas and in all parts of the college. For me, the main characteristic of Marlboro is its essential humanity, and my hope is that this will remain so as the college evolves in an increasingly difficult world."

One last thing I have to tell you. It's natural to worry about the future; but don't believe the doom and gloom forecasters. You do have the ideas and skills to get a job or create a job, to make your own way. You know what friendship is. You will keep your friends with you. You know how to learn anything. You know how to create, to make your case, to see another's perspective, to have your voice heard. You will be among those fortunate people who know how to adapt to change, and who will, in the oft-quoted words of Mohandis Ghandi, "be the change you want to see in the world."

All that I want you to take with you - that's what I want for the difficult world to receive from this beautiful, little village on the hill.



photo by Jeff Woodward






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