Alfred H. Bloom
President Alfred H. Bloom, you have served Swarthmore College and its community with distinction for 36 years, as both professor and as president. Your leadership has been extraordinary; your imprint deep and indelible.
Provost Constance Hain Hungerford's complete charge.
Welcome, and congratulations, Class of 2009, and welcome and congratulations, as well, to your parents, families, friends, and teachers, who guided, encouraged, and supported you, in your extraordinary undertaking.
And thank you graduates for providing by dint of your hard and creative work the basis for this celebration, and for your individual contributions to the quality of this College, for which we share such affection and esteem.
We look forward to your stream of accomplishments, both large and small, for which we will of course be pleased to take partial credit, and to your continuing attachment to a community which promises you a very warm welcome whenever you return.
In this same year that you assume your new status as alumni of the College, Claudia Fagioli and Beulah Platt, each after more than 25 years of service, are retiring from our staff; and Marian Faber, Scheuer Family Professor of Humanities and Professor of German; and Frederick Orthlieb, Isaiah V. Williamson Professor of Civil and Mechanical Engineering, are retiring from our faculty.
Please join me in thanking these very special members of our community for their important part in shaping Swarthmore's excellence.
Class of 2009 I join you today in the singular privilege of receiving a degree from this remarkable institution, and in moving on, empowered by our Swarthmore experience, to apply our best selves to the world beyond 320 and the Crum.
We have been molded by Swarthmore's formidable intellectual power, by Swarthmore's demanding ethical conscience, and by Swarthmore's compelling responsibility to a common humanity. And I am persuaded we have been molded, as fundamentally, by Swarthmore's intense multilayered care.
An extraordinary commitment of care for the well-being of others binds the members of this community - a care anchored in the valuing of others, which transcends background, status, personality, and perspective; a care that quickly surfaces whenever a student is perceived as needing help; a care movingly articulated in the letters of evaluation students write for faculty, which consistently express how much, beyond educational impact, it mattered and how deeply it was the case that the faculty member personally cared; a care that can bring alumni to tears when they talk of personally transformative moments that took place here, of friendships forged, of partners found. A singular, ideal affirming climate of care that assures those who return to this community that it is still the home they knew.
And, as I reflect on my own emotions at this my last Swarthmore Commencement, I know that among the greatest losses I will feel will be the loss of a community that has touched me so deeply through its care for this president.
But this being Swarthmore, the impulse to care is more complex than it might first seem. For underlying that care for the well-being of others is a deeper level of care - not fundamentally protective, as the phrase "caring for" would denote, nor fundamentally cautious and limiting, as the phrases 'take care' or ‘be careful' would suggest, but an optimistic and facilitative form of care, which wills to empower others to become their most realized selves. Indeed, at Swarthmore, empowering others to become their most realized selves is a crucial part of what caring for their well-being means.
From my first days on the Swarthmore faculty, I remember how truly astonished and deeply moved I was by the care faculty colleagues invested in their students, not only to transmit knowledge and skill, but to support, challenge and guide each of their students to become the most precise, creative, and articulate thinker and the most fully realized individual she or he could be.
Now, 35 years later that prodigious investment of care by faculty in their students continues unabated. The intensity of that care is recognized and appreciated by students. It heightens their resolve to seek excellence defined in increasingly demanding terms. It conveys the confidence that those whom students esteem most highly value them for who they are and for the paths they envision and pursue.
From those first days I remember as well, being as astonished and moved at seeing students consistently reinforce each other for grasping and recasting complicated ideas, for producing exciting forms, for displaying rare qualities of interpersonal and organizational leadership. In marked contrast to other educational institutions I had known, where competition for grades, for admiration, and for status was the norm, Swarthmore students took pride in their fellow students' accomplishments, and constantly constructed reinforcing ways in which to offer critique and elicit insight and growth.
Now, 35 years later that care to empower fellow students is even more perceptibly at the heart of Swarthmore student life.
At an institutional level, that same will to empower motivates Swarthmore's extraordinary commitment to financial aid. It is that will to empower that compels the College, in exercising its responsibility to a diverse world, to move beyond building an inclusive environment for a richly diverse student body, to seek to ensure that each student, regardless of his or her identity and background, becomes the most complete individual he or she can be.
That will to empower also gives form to the two traditions that distinctively mark the culmination of the Swarthmore educational experience: Honors, which rather than serving primarily as a mechanism for evaluation, invites students into a dialogue with the scholarly world that regularly imparts intellectual self-confidence for a lifetime; and our own ceremony of Commencement, whose purpose lies not in attracting public attention, but rather in convincing the graduating class, through those who are entrusted to speak, to raise its aspirations and keep them raised!
And, it is that will to empower that primarily accounts for alumni readiness to support this College in the many and essential ways they do. What inspires their support is fundamentally neither nostalgia for the College, nor perceived obligation to it, nor desire to outdo others' gifts, or see their names in the Donor Report, but the will to empower faculty to be the most effective teachers and scholars they can be, to empower students to develop into their most accomplished selves, and to empower Swarthmore to be the finest institution it can be.
I have often wished I had transferred here. How reinforced I would have been as an undergraduate who relished complex excursions in the life of the mind. And how affirmed I would have been as a young person just beginning to recognize the power of empowering rather than besting others for building trust and inclusion and releasing potential.
But, Swarthmore's will to care is even more complex still. For at Swarthmore fully developing capacities means more than mastery. It means preparing and committing to use those capacities, beyond self-interest; to use them to extend the human legacy of effort towards a more knowledgeable, beautiful, productive, responsible, just and cooperative world. At its deepest level, the College's investment in young people is compelled by care, at once idealistic and realistic, not only to empower them to be their most accomplished selves, but to transform them into determined contributors to that human legacy.
Our faculty contribute importantly to that legacy through their teaching and scholarly, experimental and artistic work; and through the powerful model they set of constant intellectual and creative reach faculty inspire students to join in the resolve to shape lives that contribute, through and beyond careers, to that legacy's advance.
Students often come to Swarthmore predisposed to contribute to that legacy; and by their sophomore year have already begun to pass on from their class to the next the injunction, drawn from the College's Quaker tradition, "Make your life speak:" And the initiatives they envision and undertake, with such frequent, at times world altering success, constantly enlist new agents of that legacy.
Moreover, the care the College invests in bringing forth new agents of that legacy is intensified further by the expectation, constantly validated, that those new agents, beyond their own contributions, will, through the guidance and care they invest in others, create yet a next generation of agents, extending a tradition of contribution and recruitment to the cause of humanity.
What a vision of undergraduate education Swarthmore projects and delivers - one which not only cultivates intellectual power, ethical intelligence, and responsibility to broader humanity, but which also fosters a care for the well-being of others, a care to empower them, and a care to inspire and prepare them to take their places in a self-replicating tradition of determined agents of humane and societal advance. What a phenomenal example of what undergraduate education can and should be!
I go from here to build, within NYU's global network, a university in Abu Dhabi, of world distinction, one which I hope will cultivate, in an international context, the full range of habits of mind and layers of care that so significantly distinguish Swarthmore.
And as each of you goes off to contribute to educational, intellectual, and artistic advance; to lead professions, enterprises and organizations; to shape societies and the world, I ask you to create communities, from the smallest to the largest scale, that care in the multiple and complex ways that Swarthmore does.
Draw on what has proved so effective here! Care deeply about the well-being of your constituents! Find ways, whenever possible and reasonable, to say yes to their ideas and aspirations! And articulate precisely and persuasively the impact your community has, and can have, on extending our human legacy!
Create the infrastructure of a more accomplished and caring humanity, and one determined, beyond self-interest, to advance a more knowledgeable, beautiful, productive, responsible, just and ultimately peaceful world.
Class of 2009, I look forward to crossing paths with you, as we bring to the world Swarthmore's confidence that creating communities that care is not a naive ideal, but an achievable, and a necessary goal.
I offer you my warmest congratulations on what you have accomplished and my congratulations in advance on what I know you will achieve. Thank you.
We will now proceed to the awarding of honorary degrees!