188th Commencement Ceremony

May 13, 2023
President Robert W. Iuliano
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

As Delivered.

Greetings and Opening Address

Welcome parents, friends, faculty, staff, and, most importantly, students, or should I say, soon-to-be graduates of the Class of 2023!

To those soon-to-be graduates, let me join in extending my heartiest congratulations on reaching this important milestone in your life.

It’s difficult to believe that it was nearly four years ago that you stepped onto campus for the first time as the newest members of our academic community. I preceded you by only a few weeks, and together we embarked on the journey of self-discovery and intellectual exploration that is a hallmark of this College.

We each arrived in Gettysburg with a sense of anticipation for what would come next—a belief in our infinite possibilities. You may even recall the quote on the back of the orange and blue Orientation t-shirts that the residential staff wore as you moved in: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

Sitting as we do now, on the other side of that four-year journey, I think it is entirely fair to say that we could not have predicted the twists and turns of our Gettysburg experience. We certainly did not foresee a global pandemic that disrupted every aspect of our society, including so much of what defines a Gettysburg education.

We faced challenges that had no easy or pat solutions; we felt a deep sense of loss as experiences we anticipated were paused, changed, or stopped; and we lived with uncertainty not just about the day before us, but even more so about what tomorrow would bring.

And, yet, I go back to that phrase that greeted you on your arrival: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

Over the past four years, we have come together to create that future, even if it was one we never would have predicted on that hot August day at Opening Convocation. We persevered. We supported one another. We learned. We grew. We created new traditions. We sustained others. Most importantly, you are here, now, prepared to graduate.

By descending these stairs today, it means that you are ready to take everything you experienced here—the challenges and the joys, the stumbles and the triumphs—and put this learning to good use tomorrow and in the years ahead.

I am so impressed with the future you have created here, and even more so in who you have become. Some of you have heard me remark that I see myself as a member of your class, given our shared arrival to campus. I regard it as one of the true honors of my life to be forever bound to this special group of Gettysburg graduates.

This morning, if I may, I would like to take this opportunity to suggest an addition to that quote on the Orientation t-shirts from all those years ago.

The best way to predict the future may be to create it, but the best way to create that future is to start with a belief in yourself and in your ability to build a better world.

Class of 2023, this is where your life’s journey has always been leading you. By graduating today, you are now at the foot of the mountain.

It is easy to give into pessimism. To look up and conclude that the problems of today’s world are too severe, too intractable, too insurmountable for any one person to address. Climate change. The elusiveness of social and racial justice. The depth of political fissures. The effectiveness and spread of misinformation.

I’m not here to suggest that these problems aren’t real, or difficult, or deeply, deeply entrenched. They are all of that. But we shouldn’t fall into the trap of treating them as unprecedented, as they are so often described.

Why? Because by doing so we entertain whispers of self-doubt that lead to inaction. Whispers that convince us to keep our eyes lowered and our feet planted.

The world needs people who are willing to make the climb.

I know that many of you attended the session with Ken Burns during our film festival this past February. In reflecting on his lifetime of remarkable work, Ken noted that while history does not repeat itself, it often rhymes. Themes recur. Social forces ebb and flow.

His work underscores that every generation faces the challenges of its time, that every generation has its own mountain to climb. We know this all too well at Gettysburg, a place where 23,000 Union soldiers died or suffered casualties to save this country, and in service to basic notions of human dignity and equality. Looked at through the eyes of those soldiers, many of whom were younger than you are today, the world must have seemed on the brink. And, yet, they persevered, understanding that their contributions mattered, and indeed mattered enormously.

They believed they could build a better world.

This truth resonates throughout time. People who did not shrink from the challenges they faced but instead ran toward them.

We see it in the stories that history tells, in people like Nelson Mandela and our Commencement speaker today, Wendy Sherman. We see it as well in Dwight Eisenhower and the leadership he provided to the world when it was on fire. His statue in front of the Admissions Building reminds us of the profound impact a person of courage and conscience can have.

But we shouldn’t think that the only stories that matter—the only contributions that matter—are the ones that receive the most attention. At any level, perhaps especially at the most local, the people who run toward the challenges of their time are making every difference.

Consider the actions taken by someone who not that long ago sat where you sit today.

Sneha Shrestha, Class of 2010, grew up in Nepal. It is a country of incredible natural beauty and rich cultural traditions—and yet, it is a nation where prosperity remains beyond the reach of far too many, where many of its citizens struggle to meet the most basic of needs.

When Sneha arrived on this campus, she pledged that she would use her Gettysburg education—and her majors in studio art and global studies—to give back and improve the lives of the people in her home country.

In reflecting on her Gettysburg journey, Sneha said, and I quote: “My life truly began once I was in Gettysburg because of all of the opportunities and wonderful people I met in the course of adjusting to a new culture. …They showed me that I can make a difference.”

Since her graduation, Sneha has climbed the mountain. Her larger-than-life murals have earned her distinction as one of the preeminent graffiti artists in the world today, and she has used her influence to establish Nepal’s very first Children’s Art Museum—a creative space where Nepalese children can learn about art, produce their own works, and explore various forms of self-expression.

Again, Class of 2023, the best way to predict the future is to create it. And the best way to create that future is, like Sneha, to start with a belief in yourself and in your ability to build a better world.

The future is what you make of it. During your time here, you have proven yourself ready to make a difference through your hard work and your determination.

Our world needs you.

So, run toward its challenges and its opportunities. Climb the mountain. And above all, believe in yourself. Because, as others have noted, it always seems impossible until it is done.

I am so very excited to see you go out into the world and create the very future our society needs.

Congratulations, Class of 2023!

The Charge

It is now my honor to deliver the charge to the Class of 2023.

As is true for every generation, you are graduating into a world filled with challenges and opportunities—it is now, as I noted in my opening comments, your mountain to climb.

You have spent the most formative years of your life not just at any college, but a college whose history and location compels us to honor the sacrifices of those who came before us—with an equal determination to find our voice and run toward the problems of our time.

In the spirit of Deputy Secretary Sherman’s inspiring words today, my charge to you is simply this: Lean in to life’s unpredictability.

The reins of leadership are now in your hands to steer us in the direction of progress—and you are ready.

You have received A Consequential Education—one that has exposed you to the complexity of society.

As Anna shared, you have been steeped in an environment that stresses the importance of getting involved.

You have learned more about yourself and honed the enduring skills from which change emerges.

Our world needs your perspective, your passion, your drive. We know it won’t be easy. But you have proven that amid life’s obstacles you will persevere and overcome.

Class of 2023, we believe in you.

As you leave this campus, I ask that you trust yourselves. Continue to ask the hard questions, to be open to new points of view, to live in service of others, but always to think for yourself.

The strength of our society is predicated on the willingness of people like you to advocate for your viewpoints.

No two people are of one mind. We each see the world from different angles informed by different life experiences, different backgrounds, different aspirations.

Our College is founded on the belief that the most effective education springs from the resulting contest of ideas. This is true for the strongest societies as well, where engagement across difference is fostered, not discouraged; where we seek to disagree constructively, not to censor; and where we understand that creating a brighter future means ensuring the light of truth and knowledge never dims.

At this time, if you are able, I would ask that all graduates please rise.

On behalf of our entire community, I want to thank our families, friends, and distinguished guests for joining us for our Commencement ceremony today.

As President, it is now my high privilege to present our Gettysburg College graduates of the Class of 2023! Congratulations, and Do Great Work!