President's Remarks: Ellen McCulloch-Lovell

Thank you, Dean, for those generous comments. Everything we’ve done, we have done together, as Marlboro. We are so proud to have an alumnus—class of ‘76—to lead the board of trustees.

I joyously welcome you all to this celebration. I thank the dignitaries who share this platform to honor you soon-to-be graduates and also recognize former president Tom Ragle.

I applaud the musicians and our marshal who marched us into this, our final ceremony together: Apples and lilacs bloomed, Plans in library, party barge docked, and YOU in creative regalia before you “commence.” Before you leave Marlboro.

Now is the time to thank all those who brought you to this place and to this hour.

I want to thank my own family who’ve come with their love: my dear Chris; mother Sarah; son Evan, daughter-in-law Kristi and grand girls Lucia, Izzy, and Evie; my sister Susan and brother-in-law Alan.

Let us thank the board of trustees, who confer your degrees, and hold this college in trust for you and the future. Please stand to be recognized.

The faculty here witness your accomplishments, which also belong to them. Professor Amer Latif describes your relationships when he says: “Our students become our colleagues.” To these colleagues we offer gratitude.

Among them, we recognize those who are leaving for other adventures as researchers, teachers, public policy fellows: Kat Fabel, Martina Lantin, Kyhl Lingaard, and Abou Sawadogo. We have learned so much from you. And we wish fond farewell to our fellows Mahmoud Boray, Sean Harrigan, Allison Montgomery, and Julie Rana, class of 2006, and to visiting faculty Megan Mitchell, and Casey Ford. Always keep Marlboro with you.

We also acknowledge the work of caring staff who befriended you and produced this commencement. Thank you!

Each year, we welcome new talent to Marlboro; the college changes and yet our strong sense of mission and civic purpose abide.

The college years are important because that’s when young artists and scholars discover their domains and are validated by mentors. It took me longer than you. When Senator Leahy took a chance on hiring this Vermonter, I found the mentors who shaped my life—in him and Marcelle.

As this ritual unfolds, know it recognizes you as well as 68 years of tradition at Marlboro. When we honor Ted Wendell, we honor 53 years of our history.

Remember too, all the Marlboro students who go before you. May they inspire you. I was inspired by Lucy DeLaurentis, class of 2010, by her determination to finish her studies, and her great capacity for friendship. We lost Lucy this year, on her 29th birthday, to illness. I continue to be inspired as her parents create the Lucy DeLaurentis Scholarship to be awarded to a student who has overcome health challenges to persist at Marlboro. I’d like to introduce her courageous parents, Michael and Shelley.

Here we are together for one last time. Your first commencement, my 12th and last. All year long I’ve wondered what I was going to say to you at this time of farewell. Then you seniors gave me the answer. Some of us were in a huddle after Olivia’s musical. I confided that every time I thought of graduation, I choked up. Then one of you—was it Rosie?—said “We are graduating together!”

Indeed we are. Some of you told me that when you arrived at the beautiful village on the hill, you felt you had found a home. That’s what happened to Chris and me. “Graduating together” rings in my mind.

I’ve learned so much from you and about you. You are a group of singular selves, yet a group intertwined by love and serious work. I see your kindness. Much of your work was intensely personal and you still held and supported each other.

The “together” theme rang out recently when a Marlboro group returned from Nepal, where we already had strong ties through alumnus Saurev Rana. Then the earthquake struck. We passed the hat, and held a raffle and silent auction to raise, from this small community, over $7,000 for relief. As Lynette Rummel says, “the rest of the world is part of our world.”

That’s the heart of Marlboro: one with others.

You are the persistent ones—who stayed winter after long winter. Some of you spent all four years here, some four semesters. You range in age from 20 to 33, from as near as Brattleboro, Vermont, and as far away as Homer, Alaska. You include a veteran of the United States Army and a Fulbright award winner. You made Movies from Marlboro.

You are global citizens—over a quarter of you studied abroad, in places as far flung as China, Belgium, Japan, Morocco, Poland, Costa Rica. Nine of you earned certificates in TESOL—teaching english to speakers of other languages—and two of you gained certificates in nonprofit management from our Graduate and Professional Studies. One of you earned both!

Most of you started the August of Hurricane Irene. Potash Hill was totally cut off from the rest of the world—no roads, no power. Catherine O’Callaghan slept in her office. Jay Craven addressed you in the dark then rode Tim Segar’s bike down nearly impassable Ames Hill. We were alone and we relied on each other.

I watched you turn into scholars, artists, colleagues. Each of you is a story worth telling.

Hungrily seeking knowledge, you spent countless hours in the library, the studio, rehearsal rooms, and labs. Reflecting alone or with others, you found what set your minds on fire.

There’s more: You are prepared to make the transition that starts today. You have mastered most or all of those Nine Marlboro Educational Ideals, the underlying competencies of a liberal education, which prepare you for graduate school, your roles as citizens, and the eight or so careers ahead.

When employers are asked what they seek in graduates, they list: critical thinking; creative problem solving; expressing ideas clearly and convincingly; working in teams; understanding the historical and cultural context of one’s work. These are called the “soft skills” of a liberal education. At Marlboro, we seek to synthesize them with the “hard skills” of math and science. We want biologists, physicists, and computer programmers who can design our futures with the insights and imagination  of the humanities and the arts. 

The pendulum is swinging back to what we value. Commentators David Brooks, Nicholas Kristoff, and Fareed Zakaria all wrote recently “in defense of a liberal education.” Kristoff posits that such an approach will “enrich our souls and even our pocketbooks.” He stated: “We need people conversant with the humanities to help reach wise public policy decisions, even about the sciences.”

Tell me, what is “soft” about knowing how to read deeply, listen attentively, speak compellingly, take responsibility, think objectively, and keep on learning?

You are prepared. Take heart in what other graduates say about their Marlboro educations:

Sean Cole, class of ’93, now a staff producer at NPR’s This American Life: “Writing my Plan…taught me that I could accomplish even the most ridiculously ambitious goals as long as I worked hard and long enough.”

CJ Walker,’07, town planner and technology researcher: “The farther I get in my career, the more Marlboro matters.”

Alexa Boggs, 2013, law student: “Marlboro’s classes thoroughly (perhaps excessively) prepared me for the amount of reading and writing my professors assign in law school.”

To conclude, I want to focus briefly on two of the Educational Ideals. First, Thoughtful and Fair Analysis, or what many call “critical thinking.” The ability to “assess and formulate arguments,” it means, in our own words, “to criticize one’s self…so as to improve.”

Then there’s Ethical Courage: “the ability to engage in complex moral questions, to act on our determinations of right and wrong while accepting the complexities of the human experience.”

How are they linked? Why are they important in your preparation to be one, to be with others?

Aristotle said: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

Yet knowing how to argue a position can result in never taking a position. Continual criticism can lead to constant skepticism - that results in either moral paralysis, or allowing the crowd to decide for you.  Remember what William Butler Yeats wrote right after WW I in his famous poem “The Second Coming”: “The best lack all conviction while the worst / are full of passionate intensity.”

By now, you’ve learned that some positions are better than others, some actions more worthy. Some policies enhance, some destroy.

Do not allow the training of your good minds to keep you in so much doubt that you are reluctant to embrace your changing self and an engaged, loving life with others. Realize, like Harvard psychologist William Perry, “that commitment is on ongoing, unfolding, evolving activity.”

Leave here rejoicing in your gifts and your friendships. Apply your kindness and skills to your chosen commitments. You are ready. You are one with others.

It’s time to celebrate. And time to say good-bye. I will leave you with the poet Mary Oliver’s crucial question: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”