President Bloom
Commencement Address, 2 June 2002


Welcome, and congratulations, Class of 2002 and welcome and congratulations as well to your parents, families, friends, and teachers who guided, encouraged, and supported you in your extraordinary undertaking.


Over your years here, you have vastly expanded the range of your knowledge and understanding and built the capacity for further extending that range. You have readied yourselves to engage any issue, no matter how complex, and to discern and articulate, with clarity and impact, the implications it bears. You have nurtured your ability to listen fairly - across individual, disciplinary, political, and cultural perspectives; to learn from those perspectives; and to recognize, and build, common ground. You have honed your creative and interpersonal talents, trained your powers of imagination to envision broader views of the possible, and practiced the discipline and tested the resilience that are essential to overcoming obstacles in your path.

And, within the hour, you will have in hand an awesome credential! That credential, along with the understanding and skills it reflects, will enable you to thrive in whatever career or careers you choose and will all but assure a future of economic security and societal respect.

However, in light of how much there is yet to do to secure our nation and ensure a peaceful world;

In light of how much there is yet to do to create the productivity and the patterns of distribution required to provide adequate nutrition, health care, and education to our own and to the world's population;

In light of how much there is yet to do to build societies that protect individual rights, that offer a sense of inclusion to all their members, and that awaken responsibility for the environment and the social good;

In light of how much there is yet to do to comprehend the underlying mechanisms of the natural and social sciences; to advance technological innovation to meet global needs; to reach significantly deeper understandings of our histories, our cultures, and ourselves; and to create the next generation of artistic forms of exceptional beauty and imagination;

In light of how very much there is yet to do, I ask you to set your ambitions beyond personal and professional success to the broader impact for which you are also so very well prepared.

Over your Swarthmore years, you have not only acquired knowledge and built skills but also shaped your own independent vision of what would constitute a better world. You have worked hard and will continue to work hard to refine your own sense of ends toward which professions, institutions, communities, governments, and societies should strive; your own sense of criteria against which education, health care, and foreign policy should be judged; your own sense of how individuals, peoples and nations should relate to one another; of what questions are most important for disciplines to address, of what directions are most important for artistic traditions to explore; of what should count as insights and accomplishments of significance along the way.

And, reinforced by a community anchored in Quaker tradition, dedicated to the finest undergraduate education, committed to making its own intellectual contribution, and resolved to be itself a microcosm of a more just world, you have not only developed your own vision of the good but have internalized an imperative to realize some component of that vision. That personal view of ends you believe most important to achieve, coupled with that personal imperative to move the world in some way closer to those ends, are among Swarthmore's most distinctive and empowering gifts. But they are gifts that are almost impossible to ignore; and gifts, which I am afraid but at the same time pleased to say, you cannot give back.

So, if you devote yourself to research, be the one who refines or redefines the current paradigm in ways you believe will guide the discipline onto a more productive or significant path.

If you devote yourself to education, be the model teacher, principal, and educational leader who offers a vision of finer education and who leads the system, or the nation, to deliver on that vision.

If you choose medicine, law, or business, be the one who introduces treatments, professional directions, or strategies more responsive to the needs of the broader society and world.

If you choose the non-profit or public sector, be the individual who imagines directions your institution or society might take toward your vision of the good and who, by articulate, persuasive, and public example, galvanizes commitment and action to that end.

Ambitions of this scale require courage and entail some risk. But, given your exceptional intelligence and preparation and the security they all but guarantee, if you can't summon the courage to accept that risk, who in our society should or can? And, given your personal imperative to make a difference, that risk may be one you can't afford not to take.

If you ever doubt the power of your Swarthmore education to equip you for that leadership, you'll find that those who know Swarthmore, for good reason, expect nothing less than such leadership from you.

If you feel a bit intimidated from comparing yourself to your Swarthmore peers, you'll discover that you are one of the very individuals against whom others measured themselves.

If you are anxious about having to make a difference alone, know that your colleagues and friends, seated around you this morning as well as those who have preceded you and will follow you in these very chairs, will affirm, support, and act with you.

Several years ago, when you set out to choose a college, you aimed as high as one could. Now you are about to set your sights again. This time around, the context is less prescribed, the range of possibilities enormous, and you have a lifetime in which to succeed. I ask you to set your sights as high now as you did then.

Your senior year began with September 11, a stark reminder of how few individuals it takes to have a devastating impact on the world. Let June 2 be an even more powerful reminder of the magnitude of positive impact that 336 extraordinary individuals can have. Don't sell yourself - or the world - short.

Congratulations, Class of 2002. We look forward to your continuing stream of significant accomplishments, for which, of course, we will be pleased to take partial credit, and to your continuing attachment to a community which promises you a warm welcome whenever you return. I wish you every satisfaction and happiness.


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