Rebecca Chopp

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At the 2010 Commencement, President Rebecca Chopp encouraged graduates to cultivate wonder, apply critical thinking in all quests, "and always imagine how the world can be different because of what you learned here in this most extraordinary place."

Today, as we send our graduates out into the world, let us begin by recognizing with our deep gratitude retiring faculty who have served our college long and well: Eugene Klotz, Albert and Edna Pownall Buffington Professor of Mathematics; Jeanne Marecek, William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Psychology; Robert Pasternack, Edmund Allen Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry; and Steven Piker, Professor of Anthropology.

We also offer our most heartfelt and warm wishes to the members of our staff who are retiring this year including Sally Coultes from Public Safety; Edward Fuller from McCabe Library; Bonnie Gasperetti from Payroll; Anna Harris and Nancy Hunt, each from Environmental Services; Linda McCloskey from Advancement Operations; and Eileen McElrone from Religion. Collectively, these dedicated staff members have provided 145 years of service to Swarthmore.

Please join me in thanking these fine individuals for their years of wisdom, service, and allegiance to Swarthmore.

Class of 2010, today is a day of great celebration. This beautiful amphitheater is filled with family and friends, faculty and staff, alumni, neighbors, and distinguished guests who are all here to celebrate your graduation from the finest college in the land. Congratulations!

In the four years that you have been hard at work here on our campus, the world has been rocked by plunging economic markets and the threat of two different pandemic diseases. Just this past year, major earthquakes in three different parts of the world have devastated each of the countries in which they occurred. But the news has not been entirely bleak during your tenure with us-far from it. Two years ago, we witnessed — and many actively participated in — the election of our country's first African American president, who has since appointed the first Latina justice of the Supreme Court. And this past year brought the passage of a health insurance reform bill that was 100 years in the making.

Your contributions to the Swarthmore community have been many. On this campus, you have founded new cultural groups such as Friends of Taiwan, Swarthmore Organizations for Israel and for Han, Swarthmore Womyn of Color Collective, and Students for a Free Palestine. You have experienced the opening of David Kemp Hall, the relocation of the Eugene M. Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility to Whittier Place, and the installation of the new telescope in the Van de Camp Observatory at the Science Center. You have led the way in our sustainability efforts. You have benefitted from the addition of a loan-free policy, a new Islamic Studies Program, and a budget adjustment process designed to achieve financial sustainability while vigorously protecting financial aid, academic excellence, and the livelihoods of those working on our campus. You have cultivated this community through intellectual and social engagement in the arts, athletics, wellness, politics, and parties. We celebrate that investment in community.

Today is also a day for expressing gratitude. Faculty have taught you, friends have engaged you, staff have helped you with housing, registered you for courses, advised you, fed you, cut the grass and shoveled the snow, and assisted you when you were sick or faltering. Alumni, parents, and our endowment have made it financially possible for you to flourish in this intellectual and cultural hothouse. For your parents, grandparents, siblings, relatives, friends, faculty, and staff members who have been with you on this journey — Swarthmore Class of 2010, please rise and turn to express your gratitude.

Celebration and gratitude infuse the spirit of this day and are joined by one more element: the commission to go forward. Commencements are, in a sense, a performative ritual in which this institution sends you forward to live in the world with the knowledge, values, and commitments cultivated in this intense environment. For as much as we celebrate the past four years with you, we also bid you to live, as do your predecessors, fulfilling the obligation to serve the world even as you follow your dreams and passions.

Swarthmore graduates invent new technologies, work in finance, build sustainable companies, treat the sick, make breakthrough scientific discoveries, write new laws, and serve as principals of schools and presidents of universities. Swarthmore sends its graduates out to be lawyers, doctors, artists, business leaders, educators, scientists, engineers, nonprofit leaders, nurses, fashion designers, activists, and politicians. But we don't educate for any particular profession; we insist only that in whatever you do, you live out the values and commitments of serving the common good locally, nationally, and-now increasingly-globally. By way of example, we are privileged this day, to confer honorary degrees on two distinguished guests who are leaders in the sciences and education, and on two alumni who excel in the arts and community activism.

Lest these remarkable individuals give the impression that success such as theirs is second nature to our graduates, please know that it isn't always easy to keep this Swarthmore sense of values and commitment alive. The rigor and competing demands of work and life will soon take effect, and you will encounter many others along the way with different experiences, values, and perspectives than those you met here. That is, of course, a good and necessary part of your continuing education. But never again will you flourish in quite the same way as you have in this incubator of ideas and commitments. So as we charge you to go forward this day, we also ask you to remember, renew, and live, as fully as you can, what you have learned here. Specifically, we ask you to cultivate three distinct traits as you move forward to realize your dreams and ambitions.

First, cultivate wonder. Who can stand in this theater of earthly beauty and not be filled with wonder? Indeed, who can have experienced four years at Swarthmore and not have had the mind-stretching, heart-leaping experience of interpreting a text in new ways, of discovering a new star, of producing a play or a dance, or succeeding in winning, after years of discipline, a race? Maxine Greene, a renowned American philosopher of education, speaks of wonder as "wide-awakefulness," as a continuous attitude of engagement and curiosity. Wonder and wide-awakefulness also require knowledge in order for you to fully appreciate new realities. Understanding the language, arts, and politics of a culture fills one with wonder. Creating new ways to annotate music or discovering a new species of bacteria inspire the heart to hope. The physicist Victor Heiskopf was once asked what gave him hope in times of difficulty: His reply, "Mozart and Quantum Physics" — two of many amazing things that inspire wonder as well as hope. Genuine wonder and vigilant wide-awakefulness have been a way of life for you these four years, so let this quality persist and guide you as you chart your new course.

Wonder should be coupled with critique — for amazement, wonder, curiosity, confusion, even awe, should lead to explanation and understanding. Critical thinking is what you have mastered across the curriculum: you have learned to question your assumptions, to seek out different voices and perspectives, to unmask falsehood and uncover truth, goodness, and beauty in all their forms. It is a hallmark of the alumni whom I have met this year that they have kept their critical-thinking skills razor sharp and sensitively tuned. Your ability to think critically will help you in your professions, but, if the investment in your education is to be fully realized, it will also be applied to critiquing and improving institutions and policies here and around the world. I hope you have become what Lucretia Mott, one of our founders, wished for all of our graduates: "skeptical in all things, orthodox and dogmatic in none." Be vigilant as were our founders in respecting the line between skepticism and cynicism especially in dealing with other human beings and in working to fashion a more just world.

Wonder and critical thinking must be nurtured and practiced. The third quality that we ask you to cultivate is your own imagination, the ability to see and create in new ways. While at Swarthmore you have studied narratives and poetry in order to cultivate your capacity to imagine life differently, you have learned to dance and draw, to sculpt and perform in order to express new or different ways of being in the world. In the sciences and engineering, you have imagined your way to new insights, and conducted experiments to produce new evidence. The social sciences have enhanced your ability to see the varied expressions of culture and politics and diverse ways of being human.

Imagination, learned across all the fields of study and through various cultural expressions, broadens the capacity to innovate technically, socially, and artistically and is essential for shaping the future. Can you imagine new ways to solve problems in Chester, the Middle East, or our global economic system? Can you conceive, for example, of new relationships between psychology and engineering or new ways of simultaneously advancing the disciplines of biology and mathematics?

In 1939, during a lecture given at a symposium celebrating his 80th birthday, John Dewey spoke about creative, radical democracy as "the task before us" and argued that the greatest danger to our democracy is the failure of intellectual engagement. Dewey emphasized the importance of the imagination in the intellectual work of creating a more just democracy. As you face the task before you and your generation, do so as world citizens who must imagine new ways of living on this globe and who will discover new ways of sustaining this good earth.

As you entered the amphitheater this morning, you passed a stone tablet engraved with words spoken by Woodrow Wilson on Founder's Day in 1913. As you leave this space as Swarthmore graduates, you will pass those words again. Do not simply walk by them. Walk with them as you go out into the world:

Do not forget as you walk the classic places, why you are here. You are here not merely to prepare to make a living-you are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.

So, as we send you ahead to shape our world, I urge you to take with you the three charges I offer to you this day:

Cultivate wonder. Apply critical thinking in all of your quests. And always imagine how the world can be different because of what you learned here in this most extraordinary place.