Marlboro College

News Remarks by Ellen McCulloch-Lovell

eml smileThank you, Dean for opening this day of gratitude. The snow just melted, the lilacs are late, but it is a fresh, wet Vermont spring, a season of beginnings. You seniors are about "commence" into your new lives and now we have this last ritual time together.

The list of thank you's is long, beginning with the musicians who played us into this celebration. Look around this expansive space: it is full of those who have loved, upheld, challenged, and taught you.

I thank the Board of Trustees, those who are responsible for Marlboro's flourishing and future (please stand to be recognized.)

I welcome the accomplished guests and speakers who share this ceremony with us.

We thank the families and friends who came from as far as Morocco and Alaska and as near as neighboring VT towns to witness your rite of passage. Their support and love brought you to this hour.

To the den-mothers, marshals, and majordomos of commencement -- thank you; you know who they are!

We thank the faculty: your teachers, mentors and friends: those dedicated to stretching your capacity to meet your and their high expectations, who offered their respect and their utter belief in you. Among them are Tim Little and Bob Engel, at their finale. Marlboro wouldn't be Marlboro without Tim - here 37 years, our own historian and living link to our founding faculty; and Marlboro couldn't be what it is now without Bob Engel, who devoted 36 years and taught us all, every year, to ask better questions. Luis Batlle received our musical tributes this year after 30 years of music-making, here and with the Marlboro Music School and Festival. More will be said at other occasions but now please applaud them with me.

This year we say goodbye to three Fellows who enriched our work: Ayman Jacub, Arabic; Louis Liu Yang, Mathematics; and Eileen Harney, Humanities.

We thank the staff who listened to your worries, answered your questions, and cheered your successes.

Here we are -- one last blast of exuberance. Orals are over, the presentations and shows are over; Plans are in the Library; I hope the parties are over. You are ready for us anoint you with a few more words and then to move your tassels.

Who are you, Marlboro students, 2011 graduates?  At Marlboro, it's hard to characterize any group. We don't think of you as the "class of 2011" - only half of you started Marlboro together four years ago. We think, rather, of your individuality, your voices, your imaginations. But as one alumna told me: "We are all really the same because we are all really different - in a radical sort of way."

64 years ago, Marlboro graduated one student; the speaker was Robert Frost. Today, we graduate 69 and our speaker is Claudine Brown. There were no women students back then; today 39 women are graduating and you are giving us the Women's Resource Center. In 1948, the former GIs asked how they could rebuild a fractured democracy around the world; now we ask how to better understand ourselves, the nation and the world through a more diverse Marlboro. Just yesterday the Trustees passed a statement of values which begins: "Marlboro College strives to be a diverse learning community of culturally conscious individuals. The College is committed to the innate dignity of each person, and values and celebrates different perspectives."

47 years ago, Marlboro graduated a promising young man named Tim Little. Nine years later, the college hired him to teach history. You could do that too.

Four years ago at Convocation, I invited you to become part of this intellectual and creative community. I asked you to be good stewards of Marlboro, the place. I quoted our founders - who said a Marlboro education was characterized by "Teachers and Students Learning Together...Discovering the Meaning of Democracy... and Developing Effective Citizens." We expect that to happen here: learning, discovering, developing.

In 2007, George W Bush was president; today Barack Obama is. The U.S. was in two wars, still true today. In the last four years Marlboro students traveled with their faculty to ten countries, including Egypt, Vietnam, Kenya, Japan, Italy and China. We went through the H1N1 virus and the Great Recession. Some of you worked full time while you were full time students, to be able to graduate today.

Responding to the earthquake in Haiti, you sent more money to Partners for Health than Princeton students! Remember when Al Gore got the Nobel Peace Prize? When Vermont legalized same sex marriage? Together, we watched citizen movements across the world; held a teach-in with Ayman during the Egyptian uprising, on skype with our former Fulbright fellow. Ten new faculty members joined Marlboro while you were here. You helped to hire them!

You planted the farm garden and we sampled our veggies. And I promise you - the college will finish the greenhouse! We weathered the hardest winter in years, ate together, danced together....

Now you are packing up to leave. Some of you are going to graduate school; some of you are rolling down the hill to Brattleboro, joining the 12-mile club; some of you have jobs, and others are officially "undecided." I saw a last year's graduate in one of your performances the other day and said: ‘it's good to have you back." He replied: "you might have noticed that I never left." Marlboro can be like that.

Who are you, now, today? Research tells us that the college years are that precious time to think, to create, to explore, and to become, when a person's identity is forged. Influential teachers challenged, then validated you. You learned from your peers - outside the classroom and on the trips. You came with ideas and changed them. You went through the crucible of confusion and change - exploring your beliefs, your differences and biases, even suffering the loss of loved ones -- to emerge with a stronger sense of self. You know more about what you are capable of, how convincing you are, how strong, what lasts.

You know through experience what educational philosopher John Dewey said: "The self is not something ready-made, but something in continuous formation through choice of action."

Who did you become while you were here? You are scholars and artists, enthusiasts and skeptics, participants and loners, confident and self-doubting, idealistic and disillusioned, demanding and forgiving, glad it's over and sad to say good-bye.

Here you put words on paper, paint on canvas, practiced your voice, found your body's own language, tested your own questions, found your way through the process and the final work of your Plans. And we debated -- how we debated - over policy, over bylaws, over how we address and respect each other, over the role you had in a self-governing community, as those founders intended.

I wonder how Marlboro will look to you when you look back? I can tell you that when I meet with alumni they tell me they never worked so hard; they never made such good friends; and they still search for the sense of community they felt here. I will tell you that the arenas of work, politics, art, and scholarship need the skills that you have honed here.

You are still in formation through choice of action. Who will you become? Only you will answer that question.

Today you are not processing out into the world; this is the world. This is where you participated in forming yourselves and Marlboro. You are taking your life, your mind, your love, from one goal to the next.

Quoting that good Vermonter John Dewey again: "Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself. Arriving at one goal is the starting point to another."

And as you start, take the world that is Marlboro with you.





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