President Riggs Welcome & Charge

Good morning, and welcome to the 179th Commencement exercises of Gettysburg College. And a very special welcome to the Class of 2014 and to their families and friends.  Congratulations!!

Gettysburg College never feels better than it does on Commencement day — when families, faculty, staff, alumni, trustees, distinguished guests, and friends gather to celebrate our graduates.  

Four years ago, you sat in these very same seats at Convocation, and I told you that you had the power to design your own Gettysburg experience—an experience that would expand your intellectual skills, that would enhance your personal development, and that would challenge you to think differently about the world and about yourself.

Today is proof that you have heeded this call. You have completed a series of courses spanning multiple disciplines — courses that have challenged you to think critically and to address complex issues. You have gained skills and confidence in articulating your ideas, and you have opened yourself to new ways of living and thinking—more than half of you through studying abroad. You have engaged in public service, competed on playing fields, stepped out of your comfort zones, participated in and led student organizations, performed on stage, and presented your research here on campus and around the world…

Members of the Class of 2014, I hope you are feeling a sense of great pride in all that you have accomplished. Earning a Gettysburg College degree is most certainly a cause for celebration.

And yet, in the midst of these joyous festivities, I know that some of you have mixed emotions.

For many of you, there is a sense of excitement about what’s ahead—a sense of anticipation about what comes next.

For others, however, this day also brings with it some real sadness. This weekend, you’ll say goodbye to a place that has been your home for the last few years, to friends who have become family, and to faculty and staff who have guided and mentored you. 

As you consider that, perhaps now is the right moment to acknowledge those who have supported you on this Gettysburg College journey...

First, my faculty colleagues. At Gettysburg, we believe that the relationship between faculty member and student is the keystone of a liberal arts education. Undoubtedly, your faculty have had a profound impact on your lives. They have taught you.  They have read your papers and graded your exams.  They have mentored and challenged you. And they have inspired you.  Faculty colleagues, would you please stand if you are able?  Graduates, please join me in expressing appreciation for your faculty.

Next I’d like to acknowledge our staff at Gettysburg College who do so much on a daily basis to support an exceptional residential college experience.  These individuals have helped you find the right materials for your research, they’ve pushed you to be your best on the field or court, they’ve engaged you in discussions about social justice and leadership, they’ve prepared a meal that made you feel at home, and maintained a beautiful campus on which you have worked and played. Could I ask members of the College administration and support staff to stand if able? Graduates, please join me in thanking our staff for their tireless efforts. 

Next, some representatives of our Board of Trustees are with us today up here on the platform. These are individuals who give generously of their time, talents, and resources to ensure that Gettysburg can continue to provide students with a world-class liberal arts education. Trustees, would you please stand?  Graduates and families, please join me in thanking our trustees for their leadership.

And last, but certainly not least, I’d like to acknowledge the families of the Class of 2014. Graduates, your families have cheered you on, supported you, and believed in you—even when you might not have believed in yourself. Would our graduates’ families please stand if you are able? Graduates, please join me in expressing your appreciation for the love and support your families have offered you before and during your time at Gettysburg.

And since they cannot be here with us today, I also want to call out one more group of people—six of your classmates on our women’s Lacrosse team who are preparing for their one o’clock NCAA game here on our campus. I know we all wish them the best out there on Clark Field today, and I also know that many of us will head out there directly after this ceremony to cheer them on.

So Class of 2014, it’s a big day—a day of celebration and reflection, of hope and inspiration. Take it all in — the pomp and circumstance, the speeches, the reading of your classmates’ names. All of us are here today for you, the Class of 2014, and we are happy and proud to share this day with you.


It is my great honor to deliver a charge to the Class of 2014. And as I do that, let me acknowledge that I know that many of you are ready for this ceremony to conclude—so I promise this charge will be brief!

Earlier today, I praised your many accomplishments as students and now graduates of Gettysburg College—accomplishments that have prepared you to lead successful professional lives. But in your time here at Gettysburg College, you have gained something else as well.

Both in the classroom and beyond, your experience here at Gettysburg College has been designed to help you develop as citizens—to prepare you to lead lives of impact.

Your generation—the millennials—has been called lazy and self-centered by some.  But I don’t see that.  Today I stand on this stage and see a group of young people who are willing to challenge injustice, who are idealistic about tackling big problems, and who have proven that they are ready to engage the world.

So today, my charge to you is simple. As you leave Gettysburg, I urge you to keep that spirit, and I charge you to use what you have learned here.

As you head off to new places—to graduate programs around the nation and the world, to serve our country through the military and other national service positions, to share your knowledge through teaching here in the states and abroad, and to jobs ranging from sales to finance to research to the nonprofit sector—I challenge you to do great work, to maintain your high aspirations, to act with integrity, and to treat others with dignity and respect.

Although your lives may take you in many directions, remember that one thing unites you, and that is the Gettysburg College community—a community that holds great confidence in you and the work you will do beyond Gettysburg. We believe in you, members of the Class of 2014, and we are counting on you to make a difference.

So, to the Class of 2014, this is your time to shine.  My best wishes go out to every single one of you.  Congratulations!