December 15, 2021
President Robert W. Iuliano
Welcome families, friends, and fellow Gettysburgians. We are here today to celebrate the remarkable achievements of these remarkable members of our community.
To our students—soon to be our graduates—welcome, and again, a hearty congratulations on reaching this special day in your life.
As is true for any worthwhile journey, I am confident that your route here has been a long and winding one. It has featured triumphs and accomplishments, but I suspect—actually I think I know—it has also presented its fair share of speed bumps and detours. As you reflect on your entire time here—the challenges, the triumphs, and the ordinary moments that together help define your collegiate experience—I hope that you find a deep sense of satisfaction in all that you have done. I also hope you find a deep sense of satisfaction and appreciation in how profoundly you have changed your understanding of yourself and of the world.
This much is true: each one of you has followed your own path to get here, but all of your paths have led you here, today, to this culminating moment in your collegiate career. And that is certainly cause for celebration.
Now, ever since I was a child, winter has been one of my favorite times of year—which is a good thing because if you grew up in Boston, as I did, winter could be very a long season! The unexpected snow day. The beauty of new snowfall painting the landscape. The serenity of long winter runs. I’ve always treasured the quiet joys winter brings.
For some of us, there are also seasonal traditions to celebrate. Those traditions may include watching holiday movies, and one of the movies that has long been associated with the season is “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
The movie is very much a product of its time, but it has a central theme worth noting today. Some of you may know the basic plot. George Bailey is a pillar of his small-town community, but after a series of hardships, he begins to question the meaning of his life—and whether his efforts over the years have truly made a difference.
With the benefit of some divine intervention, George comes to alter his perspective and sees his life anew. He discovers how instrumental his words and his actions have been to the vibrancy of the Bedford Falls community and to the countless lives he has touched.
You may be wondering: what is the possible relevance of this 75-year old film tonight, as you seek to begin your life outside of Gettysburg College?
So often at events like this, graduates will reflect on what they have gained during their college experience—and that matters. As a College, we have worked hard to provide you with A Consequential Education. This is a promise we make to every one of our students. A promise to help you hone the skills, the attitudes, and the aptitudes that will ready you for the world that awaits.
What you, yourself, have gained during your time at Gettysburg is tremendously important and we are here to celebrate that tonight. But we also want to recognize and thank you for what you have given us.
Like George Bailey, you have been instrumental to the vibrancy of our Gettysburg community and to the countless lives you have touched here. Whether it be your professors and fellow students in the classroom or your coaches and teammates on the practice fields. Your friends and classmates through co-curricular activities like the Wind Symphony, the Eisenhower Institute, the GLC, or the Dance Ensemble. Or, the lives of children from across the Borough through El Centro, Campus Kitchen, and the Painted Turtle Farm.
This College is defined by our strong sense of community—our shared purpose in being together and being in it together. By what we gain and by what we give. And, so, as you reflect tonight on your time here at the College, please consider all that you have gained from your time at Gettysburg. But please know that you have also made an impact here—and like the proverbial ripple in a still pond, your impact extends much farther than you realize.
In a few minutes, you will walk across this stage and conclude the first act of your life as an undergraduate student and commence your second act as a Gettysburg alum. I’d encourage you to take this opportunity to consider what it means to you to live your own wonderful life.
Each one of us will have our sense of what matters to us, of where we find joy and meaning. But, in my experience, there are some common themes that help create the possibility of a good and wonderful life. In the spirit of our gathering today, I’d like to offer a few thoughts on those themes.
First, choose curiosity over complacency. Remain inquisitive about the wonders of the world. I bet that, as children, many of you stared at the night sky and got lost trying to make sense of what the universe is and what the universe means. I certainly did. I confess that I still do. In so many ways, the liberal arts education you have experienced here has taken that childhood fascination and offered a structured outlet to explore the big and important questions that intrigue you.
As you leave campus, the structure offered by a collegiate environment may very well be absent, and the pressures of your career, graduate school, or everyday life may encourage you to narrow your field of vision. Resist this temptation if you can. Continue to find joy in the discovery of the unexpected. Continue to wonder why. Continue to learn and grow, as you have learned and grown here at the College.
Relatedly, seek enlightenment over entrenchment. Change requires openness. Viewing issues from multiple vantage points. Choosing the better path amid the lesser ones. If you are fixed in your thinking—entrenched in only one conceivable outcome—change becomes impossible and growth becomes unattainable.
Enlightenment helps you to see the bigger picture and it strengthens your capacity to act. It empowers you to adapt to new and unexpected obstacles. It equips you to handle all that the universe will throw your way. Your time at the College has shown you the value of keeping an open mind, of seeing issues from multiple vantage points, of admitting that you don’t know. If practiced, those capacities will continue to hold you in good stead throughout your life.
Finally, embrace purpose over prestige. It is easy to get caught up in the chase for the brass ring—the next job, the newest gadget, a prominent title. Even when you succeed in grabbing that ring, the sense of satisfaction that follows will often prove transitory. There is always a newer gadget, a better job. For many people, more durable joy is found when pursuing a life marked by passion and purpose. When one’s effort aligns with a sense of higher calling. When meaning is found in the essence of our activities not in how they are perceived by others.
You have spent these past years at a College whose history is forever connected to a sense of purpose, to a belief in the importance of looking beyond our narrowest personal interests for meaning. Now, it is up to you to define your own life by such worthy ideals.
Curiosity. Enlightenment. Purpose.
Graduates, I charge you to take these ambitions and apply them to all that you choose to pursue in the world.
To paraphrase George Bailey, this is what will guide you to know what you’re going to do tomorrow, and the next day, and next year, and the year after that. And this is what will lead you to a wonderful life—a consequential life.
Again, I wish you the very best. I look forward to hearing about all that you will accomplish as you leave our campus in the coming days—and a hearty, hearty congratulations on your graduation from the College.