|Ithaca College, May 18, 2008|
Thank you, Tiffany [Tiffany Casale, senior class president], for speaking on behalf of your classmates. Thank you, also, senior class officers for all you did this year on behalf of your fellow students. And thanks to every one of you in the senior class for making this wonderful gift to the College. We very much appreciate your generous support. Your gift will be a meaningful legacy of the class of 2008 for years to come.
I want to follow up briefly on Tiffany's comment at the beginning of her speech where she recognized all in the audience who have made it possible for you graduates to be here today. Let's take that recognition one step further. Please stand up, turn around, and thank your parents, your grandparents, your friends, and your family. They are all so proud of you today. We know that their sacrifices and support were critical in getting you from step one of your Ithaca College experience to today.
"Hello, I must be going, I cannot stay, I came to say, I must be going. I'm glad I came, but just the same, I must be going." These words written by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby and sung by that great 20th-century philosopher, Groucho Marx, have never seemed more appropriate. Perhaps I might better say, "Hello, we must be going."
This is my 11th Commencement address and, as in prior years, I envy the opportunities that stand before you graduates, as you journey forward into uncharted territory and a lifetime of new experiences. However, this year is also different. This year I, too, am starting a similar journey, into uncharted territory to start a new life. This is my last Commencement as president of Ithaca College.
I know that your time at Ithaca has changed you, as I know it has changed me. I'm certainly a bit older, and I hope a bit wiser. And I have been greatly affected by my time spent with you and the classes of students that came before you. You have given me renewed hope and a firmly held belief that the future of our country and our planet is in good hands.
This morning, members of the Ithaca College Alumni Association gave each of you a special medallion. The presentation of medallions by our alumni is an important tradition that began in our centennial year, 1992. On one side of your medallion is the official College seal, recognizing the history, tradition, and mission of Ithaca College. On the other side of the medallion is a quotation unique to your graduating class.
This year the quotation is from His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, who graced our campus with a visit this past October: "With realization of one's own potential and self-confidence in one's ability, one can build a better world."
These words remind me of the address I gave at my inauguration in March 1998, a time when most of you were in the fifth grade. On that day I reflected on my educational philosophy, my expectations for each IC graduate, and my hope for every student's Ithaca College experience.
I said that I envisioned that every graduate of Ithaca College would possess two capacities. The first is "knowing," the capacity to know and to keep knowing; the second is "knowing better," the capacity and commitment to share your acquired knowledge for the benefit of others.
"Knowing" is the capacity for learning. What I call "knowing better" is the capacity for citizenship, one's responsibility to the larger society, including family, friends, and all persons, known and unknown to us, with whom we share this planet.
One’s focus, in developing the "capacity for learning," is directed inward on developing intellectual capacity and individual potential. The "capacity for citizenship," on the other hand, requires an orientation to "other" in relation to self and a sense of connectedness to "other."
The development of each of these capacities is equally good and important. These capacities are not contradictory. They are not mutually exclusive. However, they must be kept in balance, as one does inform the other. For example, we must guard against an overemphasis on development of one's individual potential at the cost of neglecting the development of the capacity for citizenship.
Ultimately, in thinking about the purpose of a college education, the important question we must ask is, "Education for what?" The answer is, "For both" -- for self and for others. The development of individual intellectual capacities that can serve you so well throughout your lifetime -- the capacity for "knowing" -- must be balanced with the development of a sense of civic and social engagement and responsibility. In my view the capacity for learning has, as its ultimate aim, the capacity for citizenship.
This is what the words of His Holiness tell us. The development of potential and self-confidence is the foundation upon which a better world will be built.
Because of your considerable efforts at Ithaca College over the last four years, you are well prepared to provide the compassionate and intelligent leadership this world needs.
Let me read you something else. "To provide a foundation for a lifetime of learning, Ithaca College is dedicated to fostering intellectual growth, aesthetic appreciation, and character development in our students. The Ithaca College community thrives on the principles that knowledge is acquired through discipline, that competence is established when knowledge is tempered by experience, and that character is developed when competence is exercised for the benefit of others."
What I have just read is the opening paragraph of the Ithaca College mission statement. I think you will agree that our mission resonates well with the Dalai Lama's principles and teachings.
You will have many opportunities to use the knowledge you have gained and the skills you have honed here to shape your future, to reach your potential; to build that better world. I know the potential that you hold. You have given countless hours of your time to people in need. We have stood side by side when you said "no" to hatred and violence. You have raised thousands of dollars for worthy causes. I know the potential that you hold to further develop your capacity for "knowing" and your capacity for "knowing better."
You are not done. The word "commencement" means "beginning." As you leave here today, carry with you the words of our mission statement, the words on your medallion, and the ideas they proclaim. Commit yourselves to reflect upon them from time to time and to assess the extent to which you are living up to these words and these ideas.
I also will carry these words with me, as I, too, am not done.
This is, truly, a grandly bittersweet moment. As one proud parent of a graduating senior wrote me just before Commencement three years ago, "Having invested so much in these vibrant, young adults, we watch them fly away on wings of joy. We lose them at their best moment, don't we? We send them out now with their own identities, hoping and trusting that the best part of us goes with them."
So, now, having opened with Groucho Marx's grand entrance song from Animal Crackers, permit me to close with a tiny bit of T. S. Elliot's "Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" -- "Let us go then, you and I" -- and let us realize and make manifest our collective potential and build that better world.
Congratulations, and all the best.