President Rebecca Chopp
Let us pause for a moment of gratitude. Let us thank 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 and 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.
And, most especially today, let us say thank you to parents, step-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 siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and all members of your extended families. Your graduation represents a moment of joy, accomplishment, and celebration for your family. Sesquicentennial class, please rise, turn, and thank your families.
I want our community, most especially students, faculty, and staff to recognize, with profound acknowledgement of their service, the faculty who retire this year: Hans Oberdiek, professor of philosophy, Helene Shapiro, professor of mathematics, and Philip Weinstein, professor of English.
We recognize, as well, the following retiring staff members who have served the College for 20 years or longer: Carolyn Anderson, English department; Alice Balbierer, facilities and services; Charlotte Blandford, Friends Historical Library; Mary Cooper, environmental services; Jeffrey Lott, communications; Marianne Luviner, dining services; Joann Massary, office services; Mary Narkin, public safety; Louise Petrilla, McCabe Library; Laura Rideout, environmental services; and Suzanne Welsh, vice president for finance and treasurer.
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 and your experience here.
Let us also pause to honor to and give thanks for Ravi Thackurdeen. Two years ago, on April 29, we lost Ravi, a member of the Class of 2014.
As we celebrate the specialness of this day for each of you, it is fitting also to take this occasion to remember Ravi, a star that shone brightly in our midst - brilliantly but all too briefly. As we remember Ravi, his family here with us today, we remember that his light, his promise, is one with yours, your fulfillment of that promise will carry in it his light, his promise, for he was one who while he was here among us achieved so much - and did so much to support and sustain the friendships he developed with so many of you. His special ability to reach out to and touch in significant ways so many of his fellow students dates back to his days even before coming to Swarthmore.
Ravi not only assisted classmates academically, but also counseled and held up some who were enduring emotional or physical stress; he was gentle and giving, succeeding in his academic work while continuing to help others and to support his local community by running blood drives and while in high school serving as president of Students Against Destructive Decisions.
We remember Ravi with gladness for who he was and for his gifts of love and support for all who knew him. He will always be a treasured member of the Swarthmore family. Please join me in a moment of silence in honor of Ravi.
Every graduating class is special, but you also hold a distinction as Swarthmore's one and only sesquicentennial class. As we welcome you into the alumni body today (an august group of over 20,000), we celebrate 150 years since Swarthmore's founding, and 142 commencements, and we anticipate not only 150 more years but also 150 times 5 or 10.
I have only a few minutes in which to represent our community by giving you a charge, or a blessing, or one piece of wisdom from the ages. Let me simply say, I hope this education has set you free, for that, ultimately, is the promise of a liberal arts education and that - in any number of ways - is what so many before you have experienced. One of our alumni, Roger Smith Class of 1914, describes this freedom in this way: "I have known for many years that the greatest value I received from Swarthmore College was freedom to think, speak, and act responsibly."
A liberal arts education, so often challenged today in the court of public opinion, serves freedom as its highest goal. It serves the greatest ideal of our society, the great longing of our soul, the precondition for our hopes and dreams of realizing both justice and love in our world. This education goes about serving freedom, in the deepest and richest and always changing definitions of that word, and does so, first and foremost, by helping one to understand reality, to question common pretexts, presuppositions, and beliefs. In the Platonic founding myth of how education serves freedom, Socrates portrays certain people living as prisoners underground in a cave, chained by the neck and legs, facing the wall in darkness, a fire behind them providing only the dim shadows of light. The prisoners of the cave can only see the shaded and shadowy images of what others carry past the cave on a raised platform. When a prisoner is liberated, he or she is free to see into the light. At first, it causes pain and confusion. Then he "will be able to see the sun, and not mere reflections...he will be able to contemplate him as he is."
From shadows, chains, and darkness, freedom is experienced as seeing the light. Roger Smith described how before his education he had been, "fettered politically, socially, religiously by the existing mores or traditions of the small farming community from which he came." Only a few of you come from small, Midwestern farming communities as did Mr. Smith (and I myself), but your education has helped you see the ugly, beautiful, complex reality of the world through your own lenses and, differently but equally importantly, through the lenses of others. Sir Francis Bacon thought education must liberate people from what he called "idols of the mind," and what we might now call an unwillingness to entertain other views, opinions, ideas-the unwillingness to have the courage to topple our own idols and to push against the idols of others.
I hope your education here has accelerated your own freedom or even transformed your sense of freedom, that you have been inspired to think in new ways about your role in the world. By studying classics, chemistry, linguistics, German, and engineering I hope you have come not only to see the world differently but also to see yourself in new ways. Through all night conversations with friends, through athletics, debate, activism, and the arts, I hope you have come to understand that you are and always will be on a voyage to re-create the world and yourself.
Freedom is not just liberation from ignorance, intertia, or even superstition: freedom relates to one's values - and in our democratic way of life, it involves a duty to protect another person's values, hopes, dreams and desires. When we send you out today, we want you to, as we are reminded each day we walk past the writing on the wall on the west side of Parrish, to "use well thy freedom."
At the sesquicentennial symposium on the future of the liberal arts this past February, Mary Schmidt Campbell '69 urged us to understand liberal arts as creating world makers. Noting that artists were once on the edge of society - Bohemian, radical, and usually ignored - Campbell says that artists in film, interactive, and studio arts, now often see themselves as world-makers. She says, "World-making constructs knowledge, introduces a new way of understanding the world, and offers a new way of communicating what we know about that world." This education, a decidedly liberal arts education, sends you out to be world-makers. What I wish for you is that this education in and through the liberal arts means each of you is an artist in the expression of your own freedom.
If all the experts are right about the future, you will change jobs many times, you will create your own non-profits and businesses, you will live around the globe, and your lives will be radically different from your parents' and most certainly different from your grandparents'. Though we haven't always provided you a garden of ease for this education, we have, I hope, allowed you to forge the freedom to make the world anew. May your struggles, your challenges, your triumphs, your experiments and experiences converge to offer you freedom from ignorance and inertia and make you eager to topple the idols of the mind. But may this freedom also make you live for freedom, for justice, for love - continuously relishing and improving your life and the lives of others. Members of the Class of 2014: may you commence to "use well thy freedom."