Rebecca Chopp

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"Swarthmore passion, so honed by critical thinking, is almost always guided by the demands and needs of the world in all its many dimensions," said President Rebecca Chopp at Swarthmore's 139th Commencement, "whether it is to figure out a particular problem in math, to design a program to improve the lives of impoverished women and children, or to sculpt a new expression of beauty. Swarthmore passion, it seems to me, is always the incredible combination of your heart's gladness and the world's great need."

Today, as we send our graduates out into the world, let us begin by recognizing with our deep gratitude Robert DuPlessis, Isaac H. Clothier Professor of History and International Relations, Charles Kelemen, Edward Hicks Magill Professor of Computer Science, who are retiring from our faculty and Elke Plaxton, who is retiring as a Lecturer in German Studies after 40 years; Constance Jones, who is retiring after 34 years as a registered nurse in Worth Health Center, and Owen Redgrave, who after more than 30 years of service retires as director of Public Safety. I want to also recognize the Senior Class Dean, Darryl Smaw, who is also retiring this year as associate dean for Multicultural Affairs.

Please join me in thanking these very special members of our community who, by their wisdom, service, and allegiance, have played an important role in shaping Swarthmore's excellence.

Let us also pause for a moment to remember Joan Friedman, Lecturer in Spanish, and George Moskos, James C. Hormel Professor in Social Justice — cherished members of our community who died within the last year.

Class of 2011, 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!

Before I take this opportunity to address you, wonderful Class of 2011, let us join together to express gratitude to those who have helped you along this complex, difficult, fun, and amazing journey. Let us say thank you to the faculty members who have dedicated their energy and talent to your intellectual and personal development and helped you learn everything from astronomy to economics, from studio art to sociology to peace and conflict studies, from psychology to history, biology, religion, engineering, and more. Thank you to the staff members who have engaged you and cared for our beautiful campus, who clean the halls, classrooms, and laboratories, who have advised, nourished, and supported you. Let us say thank you to our alumni who support this institution and today welcome you into the Swarthmore Alumni Association. Thank you to friends who gather today to be with you. Not one of you has gone through this experience alone; your friends have been with you in good times and have been by your side when you struggled. You will make other friends in your lifetime but if you are like many other Swarthmore alumni, the friends made here will be lifelong, they will always be a part of your work, personal, and social lives.

And, most especially today, let us say thank you to parents and caregivers who supported your education, who cheered your triumphs, who helped you learn from the problems you confronted, and who today are filled with pride. And thanks, too, to brothers, sisters, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and all members of your extended families. Each of your graduations represents a moment of joy, accomplishment, and celebration for each family. Class, please rise, turn, and thank your families.

Class of 2011, in the four years you have called Swarthmore your "home," there have been many changes here on our campus, in our communities, around the country, and in the world. Global financial markets collapsed and are slowly being restored, we hope, and there have been far too many cataclysmic natural disasters including earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, and tornadoes that have devastated communities throughout the world.

We've seen tremendous political and cultural change in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya. In the U.S., we watched, in amazement, as Democratic senators literally fled their home state of Wisconsin in an attempt to prevent anti-union legislation from passing in the State Senate. Since you arrived here we've also been witness to the introduction of the Apple iPhone.Wikileaks. Lady Gaga!

Here on campus there was also much change underway. You were introduced to a new dean, a new director of the Worth Health Center, and a new president! We opened the Wister Education Center and Green House, installed our third green roof, opened a new Media Center, and became active participants in the new College Access Center in Chester. If the 21st century will be underscored by themes of technology, sustainability, change, and broadened access to education, you are already leading the way.

Over these last four years, the College was singled out in a number of ways for which we are both grateful and proud. Swarthmore was cited as a top college for Latinos; noted for three consecutive years as being the best value among liberal arts colleges; and also commended for its leadership in community engagement.

Our faculty continued to inspire us in more ways than I can mention, but we count among their amazing achievements the discovery of new stars in the galaxy and the recovery of lost languages in remote regions. Alumni also dazzled us, appearing on the cover of Time; serving as jurists for landmark legal cases; and spearheading efforts to extend the best liberal arts education to more remote parts of the world.

And then there was you, this class of remarkable students. You have won Rockefeller, Watson, and Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowships, as well as Fulbright and Project Pericles grants. You created mobile technology to help educate young rural students in China. You've moved us with your performances and creations, and one of you will have your work permanently displayed in Sharples beginning this fall. You've led us to championship levels in women's and men's soccer and women's volleyball, hosted the largest collegiate fencing tournament in the world, and experienced baseball's best season in 25 years. And so much more. Class of 2011, please join me and our guests in giving yourselves a round of applause....

Today, we induct you into the worldwide network of Swarthmore alumni, a community that is amazing in its talents and its love for the intellectual life, the common good, and for this campus. We are privileged today to confer degrees on three alumni — David Bradley '75, David Kennedy '80, and Iqbal Quadir '81 — who have distinguished themselves as leaders in the areas of publishing, philanthropy, social justice, science, and civic engagement. I encourage you to follow their lead by continuing to express the most important values and practices you have learned and affirmed at Swarthmore.

Emulate these alumni by doing what you have learned here: the practice of rigorous, sustained, focused, out-of-the-box, disciplined critical thinking. Our faculty members have been committed to helping you shape your capacity to think critically, to ask complex as well as simple questions, to suspend quick and easy judgments, to explore other perspectives, to test new hypotheses, and to forge new creative pathways. All of the research on higher education confirms that it is this capacity that liberal art graduates contribute to the flourishing of individual lives, to the practice of effective citizenship and, yes, to work for the future good of our world.

In Gravity and Grace, French philosopher Simone Weil describes what we as faculty try to accomplish in teaching you the art of critical thinking. She puts it this way:

"The poet produces the beautiful by fixing his attention on something real. It is the same with the act of love. To know that this man who is hungry and thirsty really exists as much as I do — that is enough, the rest follows of itself. The authentic and pure values truth, beauty, and goodness in the activity of a human being are the result of one and the same act, a certain application of one's full attention to the object. Teaching should have no aim but to prepare, by training, the attention for the possibility of such an act."

Over the course of your time here, you have learned the discipline required in the art of fixing full attention to the object at hand. It is this, this art, this love that distinguishes our alumni and sustains their ability to make this world a better place.

And when thinking critically results in being carried away by the experiment in the laboratory, or requires hours of preparation to perform the new dance you have choreographed, or means working in the Amazon to address deforestation, you will find yourself fueled by your passion. Swarthmore passion is, in my experience, unique. Passion, in the world at large, is often about pursuing a "personal thing" and, for this reason, passion can allow emotions to govern reason (something, by the way, that our Quaker founders would find abhorrent). But Swarthmore passion, so honed by critical thinking, is almost always guided by the demands and needs of the world in all its many dimensions, whether it is to figure out a particular problem in math, to design a program to improve the lives of impoverished women and children, or to sculpt a new expression of beauty. "To find your mission in life," author Frederic Buechner is quoted as saying, "is to discover the intersection between your heart's deep gladness and the world's deep hunger." Swarthmore passion, it seems to me, is always the incredible combination of your heart's gladness and the world's great need.

And the world needs you, desperately. We need you to invent green technology, to imagine forms of civil discourse and civic engagement in a pluralistic world filled with fear and anger; we need you to heal the wounds of human madness and the devastations of natural disasters. We need you to help the poor here and around the world. We need you to reinvent politics. We need you to create new forms of literary, artistic, and architectural expression that will help us learn to live together across the divides of difference. We need the combined powers of your passion, your heart, your thinking, your reason.

Class of 2011, as you leave this magnificent amphitheater and all that you have known and loved so well during the past four years, please carry with you your greatest discoveries, your most profound understandings, your remarkable creations, and your deepest connections. Fix your full attention to truth, beauty, goodness. May you find yourselves fueled by Swarthmore passion. May your heart's gladness fit our world's needs.