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Rob Goldberg & Tomoko Sakomura

Good morning. I’m Tomoko Sakomura, Provost and Dean of the Faculty and Professor of Art History. I’m joined by Rob Goldberg, Vice President for Finance and Administration.

To our distinguished faculty, dedicated staff, supportive loved ones and friends, and, I dare say, one of the most resilient groups of graduates in Swarthmore’s history — it is our honor to address you as Swarthmore’s Acting Co-Presidents on this most special occasion.   

More special than most, perhaps, given that, for many of you, this is your first graduation in a long time — maybe ever. It was this time four years ago when the pandemic disrupted high school commencements across the country. You persevered and now find yourselves at one of the most memorable milestones of your young lives. 

You were not alone on this journey. With diligence and care, Swarthmore’s faculty and staff members worked to make Swarthmore a supportive home. Faculty imparted their knowledge and provided learning environments that challenged and inspired you. Staff members from across the College cared for your physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.

And of course, there are your parents, family members, caregivers, and friends who supported you through every step of the way. They celebrated your highest achievements and helped pick you up during your biggest challenges. Your graduation represents a moment of joy, accomplishment, and celebration for all of your loved ones. Members of the Class of 2024, please rise as you are able and turn to thank your loved ones. 

Each year at Commencement, we honor our retiring faculty and long-serving staff members for all they contribute. This year, we recognize Lisa Smulyan '76, Henry C. and Charlotte Turner Professor of Educational Studies, and Thomas Hunter, Professor of Mathematics and Statistics. I would also like to honor our beloved colleague Liz Vallen, the Howard A. Schneiderman ’48 Professor of Biology, who we lost earlier this year.

RG: We also recognize the following retiring staff members who have served the College: Mark Amstutz, Finance and Administration; Chris Borger, Dining; Elisa Denofio, Chester Children’s Chorus; Jody Downer, Scott Arboretum; Gus Eriksen, Grounds; Stacy Green, Counseling and Psychological Services; Roxanne Lucchesi,  Libraries; Terry McGrath, Counseling and Psychological Services; Jan Semler, Capital Planning and Project Management, Janis Tota, Human Resources; and Anne Yoder, Peace Collection. Please join us in showing our appreciation for their decades of service. 

TS: I also want to take a moment to recognize one of our seniors who cannot be here with us today, — Erica Stutz. Erica is in St. Louis with junior Nathalie Williams representing Swarthmore in the NCAA Division Three Women’s Tennis Doubles Championships this weekend! We wish them the best of luck in their match this afternoon. Go Garnet!

To our seniors, I’d like to share congratulations from President Valerie Smith who is on sabbatical. President Smith often reminds graduating classes that while this milestone marks the culmination of your time as undergraduate scholars, the Swarthmore experience will always remain within you.

RG: Before we move on, let’s address the considerable elephant in the room. This is not the Commencement ceremony any of us expected.

But we are fortunate to be here at the stunning Mann Center for the Performing Arts to celebrate this remarkable milestone. We want to thank the team at the Mann Center and acknowledge the incredible effort by so many of our faculty and staff colleagues who’ve worked tirelessly to make today possible.  

Now, when we announced that today’s ceremony was going to take place here, the reaction was, in a word, varied. Some were appreciative that we were able to have an in-person ceremony. Others were more — let’s call it “descriptive” — in expressing disappointment that we are not on campus. At the end of the day, we hope we can find common ground in celebrating the Class of 2024.

TS: Indeed, our collective ability to listen, process, and thoughtfully engage with diversity of viewpoints is a cornerstone of Swarthmore’s educational experience. The richness of perspectives and lived experiences across our community is foundational to our liberal arts education.

And as difficult and challenging as disagreements can be, recognizing them, and working through them helps move us through the world and make meaningful contributions as members of this global society.

RG: You leave here ready to tackle some of the world’s greatest challenges. But we’re not going to spend our time this morning placing the world’s problems on your shoulders. Saving the day will come in time. For now, we encourage you to reflect on all that you’ve accomplished and simply experience the joy of this moment. 

Getting admitted to Swarthmore in and of itself is worth celebrating. You did it while persevering through COVID. As Tomoko mentioned, many of you missed out on a true high school graduation. You spent much of your first year at Swarthmore learning remotely. And during the past four years, we presented you with challenges, and you pushed yourselves to new limits to solve them. You worked hard to meet the extraordinary rigors of a Swarthmore education and honed your abilities to become engaged citizens.  

So, rather than feel the weight of the world in this moment, feel pride in what you have accomplished and appreciate the relationships and memories you made along the way.

TS: Four years ago, when you first gathered as a class at First Collection, we asked you to consider what you had learned about yourself during a time of uncertainty. 

I hope you will revisit this question often in life, because while you arrived on campus during a historic period of unknowns, the truth of the world is that even in times that seem stable, life is still uncertain. That is why Swarthmore is unwavering in our belief in the liberal arts. As undergraduates, you did more than just memorize information and facts. You learned how to think, how to ask hard questions, and how to solve difficult, unforeseen challenges individually and collaboratively. As you encountered various fields of study through your time at Swarthmore, you explored them in breadth and depth and delighted in making connections between them.

When I was your age, I had a chance to talk to a master performer of classical Japanese theater who urged me to revisit creative works that left an impression on me every five to ten years. He explained that, as I moved through life, I would encounter the works anew, and take away different meaning from them. I encourage you not to feel like you need to be sure or certain all the time. Your life experiences will inform you in unexpected ways. Stay open to that flexibility of thought.

Embark on this next chapter with a beginner’s mind — a mind open to new ideas, information, opinions, and guidance. 

RG: Nobody comes to anything knowing everything. But curiosity – knowing you can learn more and be changed by new information and reveling in the sheer love of learning – will lead to knowledge and greater wisdom.

For generations, the curiosity of Swarthmore alumni has shaped their professional fields, their personal success, and society more broadly. They’ve turned their gaze to the sky to investigate black holes and look back to the moments after the Big Bang. Through wonder and a calling to serve the common good — and using the skills gained across the academic disciplines — they’ve sought to better understand the cognitive effects of aging, calculate the economic costs of climate change, expand access to higher education, expose fraud and corruption, and shape public policy. And this list goes on and on. 

Our distinguished honorary degree recipients are wonderful examples of the power of curiosity.

Lulu Miller, Class of 2005, a history major, has turned her curiosity about, to use her words “trying to uncover breaches in our scientific beliefs” into an award-winning career as a journalist and bestselling author.

Louis Massiah’s exploration of using electronic media as tools for progressive social change led to a distinguished career as a documentary filmmaker, addressing often neglected historical and political subjects with unique insight and artistry.

We look forward to hearing from them this morning. 

TS: As we close here today — we encourage you to find inspiration for curiosity in many different, unexpected, places. Sara Lawrence Lightfoot, a renowned sociologist and a member of Swarthmore’s Class of 1966, once reflected on what surprised her about growing older. She explained that throughout her life, she observed those older than her to soak in the lessons of their experience. Though, as she aged, she found herself unexpectedly turning her focus to the young and all they had to offer. She wrote, in part:

I watch — in awe and appreciation — as the knowledge that intrigues me the most flows from the young to the old. I listen for their views on politics, art, and culture, on the blurred lines of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation, on the intersections of human rights and environmental preservation, on their allusions to religion and spiritual searching, social media, and identity ... Their teachings provoke in me a deep curiosity and the urge to keep learning. I am surprised by my new place of witness; letting the young lead and show me the way.

Members of the Class of 2024, we are incredibly proud of all your accomplishments in your time with us. We are eager to see how your curiosity and wonder continue to shape you, and, in turn, the world around you. And we look forward to always welcoming you back to your home, Swarthmore College. Congratulations!