Keynote Remarks

Ellen McCulloch-Lovell, Marlboro College President 2004-15

To President Quigley—Kevin—to Susan and Fiona; distinguished guests; and this my cherished Marlboro College community: it is with gratitude and conviction that I greet you on this day of both change and continuity.  

Kevin, this is your day. Soon you will be formally invested with the care of this college. You are surrounded by those who offer you their hands, minds, and imaginations—because they believe in the talents that shine from you and also because they love this college, grounded on the firm granite of Potash Hill and by the flowing rivers of Brattleboro, where students, faculty, and staff still have a voice in education: a rarity today to be guarded and guided.

Marlboro College: Robert Frost called it a "seedling” when he spoke at the first inauguration combined with commencement in 1948. Given Frost's friendship with his student, founder Walter Hendrick—whose son Geoffrey is here today—and Frost’s influence on Marlboro's educational approach, it’s no surprise that you, Kevin, are at least the fifth Marlboro president to be a serious student of poetry. 

We don't have a transcript of what Frost told the assemblage 67 years ago, one year after Marlboro’s originators greeted the first students—many veterans of WWII—and they made a college together out of two old hill farms. Similarly, you will continue to create the college, for there must be a Marlboro. Its great strengths and even the challenges of keeping liberal arts and graduate studies vital will hold immense fascination and satisfaction for you, as they did for me.

The ideas Hendricks offered that day must have evolved from his own teaching and an earlier address, “Adventures in Education,” given upon receiving the Bond Prize at Amherst. Around that time, Frost affirmed: “Let us have a college where people think for themselves...where they make projects for themselves; where the believing and desiring part of their nature has a chance.”

Hendricks absorbed Frost's precepts—education by presence; creating an atmosphere of expectations; and what he called education for the free man, by which he referred to the Latin roots of the liberal arts, meaning the subjects worthy of a free person who will take part in civic life.

Kevin, now when faculty say they teach by being present to their students; when students say Marlboro sets higher expectations than they do themselves, which they then exceed; when this creative community debates what constitutes the liberating arts - those precepts are alive.

There are strong clues to what Frost said at that first inauguration. The very next day, he told the Amherst Alumni Council that he had just returned from the “shoe-string start of this new college on a mountain in Vermont.” He commented: “My ear is always cocked for anything democratic these days and the most democratic thing I know about America is shoe-string starts.” We all hope we are past the “shoe-string” part at Marlboro, yet some spirit of that experimental, frugal start remains.

About the founding of the new college, he declared: “There someone is starting a new thing to be loyal to.” He thought it should be difficult to be loyal “not to your attachment but to your attraction...to the next thing ahead of you.”

That is what this ceremony is about: your belief in Marlboro and Marlboro’s embrace of you and to the next thing ahead. After he spoke at the new shoe-string start-up, Frost observed: “All there is is belonging and belongings...The sincerity of their belonging is all I have to measure people by.”

On this day of belonging, members of the Marlboro community confirm allegiance to one another and to a shared future you will help bring into being, like the poet imagining the poem into existence, which “begins in delight and ends in wisdom.”

To end, then, I offer you Frost’s poem, “Choose Something Like a Star” followed by a gift from Marlboro’s legacy. The reference to “Keat’s Eremite” is to poet John Keats’ sonnet “Bright Star,” where he compares the star to “nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite,” an Eremite being a religious recluse.

Choose Something Like a Star
O Star (the fairest one in sight),
We grant your loftiness the right
To some obscurity of cloud—
It will not do to say of night,
Since dark is what brings out your light.
Some mystery becomes the proud.
But to be wholly taciturn
In your reserve is not allowed.
Say something to us we can learn
By heart and when alone repeat.
Say something! And it says, ‘I burn.’
But say with what degree of heat.
Talk Fahrenheit, talk Centigrade.
Use language we can comprehend.
Tell us what elements you blend.
It gives us strangely little aid,
But does tell something in the end.
And steadfast as Keat’s Eremite,
Not even stooping from its sphere,
It asks a little of us here.
It asks of us a certain height,
So when at times the mob is swayed
To carry praise or blame too far,
We may choose something like a star
To stay our minds on and be staid. 

Now to continue Marlboro’s legacy, I present to you this photograph, given by alumnus Al Beau, showing the founder walking with Robert Frost on the upper campus in 1950.