President Janet Morgan Riggs '77

Good afternoon and let me join the rest of the group up here in welcoming the Class of 2017 and other new students to Gettysburg College! We are, of course, delighted to extend that welcome to parents, families, and friends, who — by association — are joining the Gettysburg community as well.

To those of you who have supported members of this class and have helped prepare them for this moment—thank you for entrusting us with your loved ones. I know how much you want everything to go well for them here at Gettysburg, and I want to assure you that we want the same thing. While today is certainly a day of mixed emotions and it may be hard to let go, please know that they are entering a community that will embrace them, that will challenge them, that will push them, that will care for them — a community that is truly committed to their intellectual and personal development.

As Dean Ramsey noted, we’re part of a larger community that surrounds us.  But we, as a residential liberal arts college, also form our own community, and I’d like to share a few thoughts about the characteristics of our community.  We are learners and scholars, friends and colleagues, thinkers and doers. Our community depends on the quality of our relationships with each other—our respect for differing viewpoints, our willingness to reach out to someone who’s having a difficult time, our ability to have civil debates about complex issues, our honesty in our interactions with one another, our willingness to right an injustice, our respect for our peers and our neighbors and the townspeople of Gettysburg. 

That respect for one another transcends differences in racial/ethnic background, socioeconomic status, national origin, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, gender expression, or political leanings. This diversity among us, these differences between individuals, enrich our community and provide a tremendous opportunity for learning and for personal growth. 

We are also a community comprised of individuals who aren’t afraid to take initiative. In fact, one of the things that makes me most proud of our students and alumni is their propensity to take action that has positive impact on the communities in which they live.

That willingness to take action is embedded deep in the roots of our College. In fact, one of Gettysburg College’s earliest alumni, David Wills, class of 1851, demonstrated that willingness when he was asked by the Governor of PA to purchase land for a national cemetery, where Union soldiers could be buried following the Battle of Gettysburg. Wills, who was a local prominent attorney, took it upon himself to issue a personal invitation to President Abraham Lincoln to “say a few appropriate remarks” at the cemetery’s dedication. 

That initiative of a Gettysburg College alumnus led to the delivery of what we now know as the Gettysburg Address, one of the best known speeches in the world—and a speech whose 150th anniversary we will commemorate with the nation this fall—right here in Gettysburg.

We’ll also commemorate it tomorrow night, when we gather as a college community and walk together to the Gettysburg National Cemetery—just as students and faculty did back in November of 1863 to hear President Lincoln. 

Tomorrow night we will have the opportunity to hear Susan Eisenhower deliver the Gettysburg Address and share her reflections about it.  As many of you may know, Susan is the granddaughter of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, she is a public affairs expert, and she chairs our Eisenhower Institute’s Leadership and Public Policy Programs.  So that’s something to look forward to tomorrow evening.

Now taking initiative doesn’t require you to invite the President of the United States to come to Gettysburg as David Wills did, but it does mean taking action that will have some positive impact.

For one of our recent graduates—Anthony Palmer, Class of 2013—taking initiative meant being the first person in his family to attend college. It meant working as a research assistant for a faculty member, getting involved in the Eisenhower Institute, and working as an intern on the Chris Matthews Show.  It meant applying to Georgetown University’s school of law where he is about to begin classes. And for Anthony, this initiative also meant leading his classmates in the careful reflection upon and recognition of the community that made his Gettysburg education possible.

At last spring’s commencement, Anthony was the student speaker, and with his remarks he created a metaphor of his Gettysburg experience using one of his favorite spots on campus—our dining hall (or, as we affectionately call it here, Servo).  Anthony recalled his first visit to campus, during which he and his family were given a personalized tour of Servo by Director of Dining Services, Gary Brautigam. I’ll let Anthony’s words speak from here.  He said…..

Servo was closed because food was being served in an outdoor tent that day… But that didn’t stop Gary. He wouldn’t let us leave without taking a tour of the kitchen.

He showed us everything -- how the dishes are washed, how the food is cooked, and how they plan a meal for the thousand or so students who come through their doors three times a day.

He didn’t let us leave without seeing the clean kitchen; without seeing the passion and care that go into every meal served at Gettysburg.

…That was what sealed the deal for me. Someone, going out of their way, to make sure that I had the visit that he felt my family and I deserved -- one that lived up to all Gettysburg has to offer.

In a process often characterized by numbers, SAT scores, and competition, one man with a big smile showed me that Gettysburg is about the human experience.  About passion, people, and treating your work like art.

Anthony continued on to say,

…It’s the life that fills our buildings, the knowledge, passion and care that animate our classrooms -- and the people who fill our photos that make this day a celebration... And we’ll remember them long after we leave here.

We’ll remember our faculty members, who saw our true potential, went out of their way to mentor us, and showed us that it’s really possible to love your work.

We’ll remember Sue, who swiped our cards and greeted us for virtually every meal of our college career.

We’ll remember Linda, also known as “Omelet Lady,” whose warm smile and great cooking made us excited to go to breakfast every morning.

And we’ll even remember that mysterious hand that reached out to grab our cups through the tray window.

One meal at a time, we learned that the person who matters most, is the one sitting across from you.

… In a time when people are more cynical and discouraged with humanity, government, and institutions, we can be like Gary Brautigam. We can show them the clean kitchen, and exceed their expectations of humanity. One person at a time.

So to all of you who are new students here, I charge you to take Anthony’s thoughtful reflection and allow it to guide you as you become a member of the Gettysburg College community—as you make this place your home.

I ask that you pay attention to the people around you, that you practice a sense of inclusiveness and respect for your classmates, professors, and the many other campus community members who are helping to make your Gettysburg experience.  And I ask that you—as Anthony noted—“treat your work like art,” that you step up and take initiative, and that you do truly great work that will better yourself, our campus, and our local and global communities.

Thank you.



Matriculation Ceremony:

And now will the Class of 2017 please stand for the matriculation ceremony.

Your matriculation means that your name is now entered on the list of those who have studied at Gettysburg College since it first opened for students in 1832.  The list grows longer every year as each new class is added.

What makes it a distinctive list, however, is not the number of names it contains, but the accomplishments of these students — both here on campus as they discovered and pursued their academic passions — and after graduation, as they have used what they have learned to advance their professions and provide leadership to their communities.

The pin you have before you symbolizes your membership in the Class of 2017 and in our larger Gettysburg College community.  As a member of this class, you will benefit from an exceptional education that will open doors to a future that holds great possibilities. The steps you will take through Pennsylvania Hall in a few moments are the first official steps in that journey. 

And now would you please place your class pins above your hearts.

Congratulations on your official matriculation as the Class of 2017.

Your first act as an official student of Gettysburg College will be to recite the Gettysburg College pledge. The mission of Gettysburg College, which affirms the worth and dignity of all people and the limitless value of their intellectual potential, relies on mutual trust as its foundation. Honesty and integrity are the heart of this trust and crucial to a community in which intellectual achievement, scholarship, and character can flourish.

By affirming the Gettysburg College Pledge, you assume the obligation and the responsibility to be honest in your relationships with each course instructor and with all members of the College community.

Please recite the pledge along with me.


I affirm that I will uphold the highest principles of honesty and integrity in all my endeavors at Gettysburg College and foster an atmosphere of mutual respect within and beyond the classroom.


Thank you.