December 11, 2019
President Robert W. Iuliano
Welcome family members, friends, and other members of the community here today to celebrate the accomplishments of our students.
To the students—soon to be graduates, if all goes well today—let me extend a particularly special welcome to you all.
You will soon join the ranks of generations of Gettysburgians who through hard work and resolve have completed their undergraduate studies. Your graduation means that, with the successful completion of all that’s left to do this semester, you will have completed all of the College’s requirements. But I believe that it carries much more significance than having taken the required number of courses and receiving the appropriate academic credit.
A Gettysburg education is designed to prepare you for the world by teaching you how to think, how to learn, how to celebrate and grow from difference, and how to navigate uncertainty. Graduates, it is now incumbent upon you to take these skills and to put them to good use, and to embrace the responsibilities that are attached to your education.
And let me give an example of this, because you will soon be joining a strong and passionate network of graduates who came to Gettysburg in search of an education and a better understanding of both themselves and of the world.
One such Gettysburgian—who some of you may know well—is Anika Jensen. Anika is a member of the Class of 2018. Not too long ago, she too was seated among her peers at our Commencement ceremony. Here let me digress for a moment, this year our graduation will take place on May 17th and I’d certainly encourage all of you to join us again at that wonderful and celebratory tradition, and to join with your classmates in receiving your diploma in the presence of so many friends of this community.
Back to Anika. Dawned in a customary cap and gown, she—like all Gettysburg graduates—was provided with a Stole of Gratitude that she was able to award to an individual who had left a lasting impression on her College experience. While there was undoubtedly a large number of candidates in Anika’s life worthy of honor, she was thinking of one specific member of our community. A faculty member who not only guided her academic pursuits, but also instilled in her a sense of self-confidence. A belief that she was ready for the world that awaited.
She bestowed the shawl to her mentor, History Professor Ian Isherwood.
Anika met Professor Isherwood at her First-Year Send-Off. He was welcoming, supportive, and inclusive—and over her four years on campus, he helped her realize that her aspirations were attainable.
Professor Isherwood inspired Anika to participate in the College’s Civil War Era Studies program, as well as to pursue a Kolbe fellowship, researching the works of her favorite author, J.R.R. Tolkien. It was Professor Isherwood who convinced Anika to combine these two experiences by authoring and ultimately publishing a piece in an academic journal which offered insights into Tolkien, war, and feminist criticism.
As she placed her Stole of Gratitude upon Professor Isherwood’s shoulders following her Commencement ceremony, it—in so many ways—was symbolic of the bond that is formed between teacher and student. One built on trust, respect, and the responsibility inherent in the transfer of knowledge and understanding.
Tonight, I’d like to take a few minutes to speak to this last point.
Graduates, as you move forward, as leaders in your communities and in your professions, please remember that this education is not yours alone. It is a gift from others, so that you may give fully of yourself to others.
Look around you. Take a moment to absorb this special occasion and what it represents. View the faces of those gathered in this room with you, whom I welcomed a moment ago. Family and friends. Roommates and teammates. Professors, mentors, and role models.
This is a group that has supported your intellectual growth. They have inspired you, supported you, and helped you on the journey of self-discovery that I suspect makes you a very different person than the person who sat on campus at First-Year Convocation—and a journey that has left you with a much deeper understanding of the complexity of the world and of yourself.
It is, in other words, a journey that you have undertaken not alone, but together with a broader community. And as you make this transition to Gettysburg College alumni, you have the opportunity to honor the members of that community by how you use your education and the difference that you can make in a world that very much needs the engagement of people of good will and conscience.
I hope you take great pride in all that you have accomplished, for it really is a cause for celebration. Yet, I’m reminded of the motto of the high school my two children attended, and that motto was “think for yourself but think of others.”
We live in a time when too few people are living to that aspiration. Too many people are pursuing the narrowest forms of self-interest. Too many people are married to their unchallenged assumptions, and too often decline to entertain a point of view that differs from their own.
This is damaging to an effective and just society. It not only widens the divides that increasingly exists, but it also makes it increasingly difficult to seek a fuller understanding on which to base the consequential judgments that help to define our collective future.
As Gettysburg College graduates, your education is designed to empower you to think beyond yourself, to think beyond your impulses, and to question your underlying assumptions. It is designed to equip you with the skills and the instinct to ask—and begin to answer—the hard questions that life presents. It is designed to ensure that—forged by all those who have believed in you—you may add your voice to a vibrant and diverse town square and be of service to the common good.
So, with all this in mind, my charge for you tonight is clear: Take this gift, this liberal arts education, and pay it forward to all those seeking to find their way in the world. I’d also ask, in a sense, that you pay it backwards, to those who invested in your promise and whose shoulders you continue to stand upon today.
In doing so, I am confident you will become the leaders and the engaged citizens we know you can be—and whom our society so needs.
Let me conclude with a most hearty congratulations to our students. I wish you the very best in the months and years ahead, and look forward to hearing all that you will accomplish as you leave our campus and make your mark in the world.