Konnichiwa. Maruaweka. Howdy.
The following is an edited version of the talk Dean Larimore gave at the First Meeting of the Class of 2010.
Konnichiwa. Maruaweka. Howdy. Hello. It is my great pleasure to welcome you to Swarthmore in the languages of my ancestors and relatives from Japan, the Comanche tribe of Oklahoma, and the great state of Texas. My name is Jim Larimore and I'm the dean.
Today marks an important transition point in your lives — your high school years are now officially behind you — and you are about to embark on your college career. And if you, the members of the Class of 2010, are anything like those who have come before you, you might be feeling a mix of excitement, self-confidence, uncertainty and maybe even a bit of anxiety about what college will be like. Those feelings are perfectly normal, of course, and appropriate for a time of such big change in your lives. So let me just invite you all to take a good deep breath and to relax. You'll do just fine here and I hope you know that we are in this adventure together.
My family and I arrived here at Swarthmore just a few weeks ago, so you and I will experience our first year at the College together. And if any of you are feeling like a clueless first year student, put yourself in my shoes as a first year dean. I've spent the past four weeks trying to absorb as much information as possible about Swarthmore — and to unlearn nearly 23 years of experience at Stanford and Dartmouth — so that I might actually have something helpful to share with you as you take up your place as a member of this community.
Each of you is here because you were admitted based on your own individual strengths and abilities. You deserve to be here. And even if you do not yet see your own potential, then you will have to trust us that others see great promise in you — and our job together will be to figure out how to reveal that promise and connect it to something that captures your passion.
One of the reasons that the College takes such care to put together each entering Class is that we all realize that a significant fraction of what you will learn in college — about yourselves, about others and about the world — will come through your interactions with your fellow students. That's also why we reject the blandness of an environment made up of faculty, staff and students who all think alike, look alike, believe alike, vote alike, speak alike and pray alike.
At Swarthmore, we have committed ourselves to the creation of an inclusive, pluralistic and just community — in part because it is simply the right thing to do — but also because we believe that the greatest challenges facing humanity in this century will require us to do more than respect and understand what makes us different. Eliminating social injustice at home or resolving conflict abroad will require more than simply identifying our different experiences and perspectives. Securing peace, improving access to education, or tackling problems in global health and the environment, issues of such complexity will require more than technical understanding — they will require the ability to bring people together across their differences of nationality, race or religion, political ideology and economic status to create solutions that will benefit all.
In what has become known as the shortest graduation speech in history, the Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist Art Buchwald used irony to make his point. He said ten simple words to the graduates, "You've been given a perfect world. Don't screw it up." Your generation, of course, arrives at college all too familiar with the world's many problems and imperfections, but I hope you will also have the confidence and optimism to know that it is possible to reach out across differences and to find or create common cause. And it is in that spirit that we call your generation to its time of leadership.
We ask you to use your time here to cultivate your ability not just to reach across differences, but to be the ones to initiate action and to lead across the differences that have sometimes separated us, or been used to divide us. To do that, you will need a generous spirit and a degree of wisdom and patience.
With all of the talk about Red States and Blue States that you've grown up with, it would be easy to forget that the real people who live in those states actually hold views that cannot be so neatly or uniformly categorized. Neither can the views or beliefs of the people you will encounter here. So we ask you to approach each other with open hearts and open minds, or as the Quaker roots of this College suggest, to "seek the light" within each other. When you encounter differences of opinion (and you will), avoid the easy temptation to make a sweeping global judgment about an entire individual on the basis of a single point of disagreement. They deserve more than that and, after all, so do you. And besides, if you take the approach of disqualifying your friends one issue at a time, before you know it you'll be out of friends — and you'll have passed up the opportunity to open the other person's mind or at least to continue to test and refine your own thinking and arguments about important matters.
But enough of the heavy stuff, at least for now. College is also about fun — and by my estimation about one-quarter of the fun of this place is now sitting in this room! So during the next few days and over the next few years, I hope that you will explore the many points of connection you share with each other. And keep in mind that whenever you find yourself believing that you know all there is to know about the people in your life, there will be many more things that you will not yet know about them — so look for the light within them and start anew the work of getting to know who they are and what they care about and why they believe what they believe.
Your energy and enthusiasm makes this an important annual rite of renewal for the College. As you take up the rights and responsibilities that come with membership in this community, know, too, that we accept a sense of responsibility to help you grow as a person. This is a place where you will find acceptance and be loved for who you are, just as it is a place where you will be challenged, in and out of the classroom, to discover your passions and realize your potential.
You will walk the footpaths and trails worn into this hillside by the founders of this institution and traveled by generations of alumni. This place was theirs — and now it is yours — so enjoy it and take good care of it, because whatever you are, as individuals and as a community, it will be. You are now forever more a part of Swarthmore, just as Swarthmore is now a part of you.
Domo Arigato. Uta. Thank you. Welcome to Swarthmore.