110th Commencement Address
May 17, 2013
The novelist Tim O’Brien, himself an honorary Poet, writes about the power of memory, which in his words serves to join “the past to the future.”
Today is a grand day for memories.
Graduates, your relatives are up in those stands looking down on you, remembering the child you were, and wondering how in seemingly no time at all you have become the adult you are. They remember you as an infant, and as a toddler crawling onto their lap. They remember your first day of school, your first high school dance, and when you applied to college. They are asking themselves: where did time go?
You are probably asking the same question about your time at Whittier, remembering your first days as a Poet, days when you could not envision sitting here today and the experiences you would have along the way.
Those of us on this stage have memories too. We remember your presentations and poster sessions. We have marveled at your art and music. We remember selecting you for fellowships, and hearing news of your honors. We watched you teach others, lead clubs, create gardens, score goals, and serve your community. And I personally remember each and every one of you who walked with me at 7:30 in the morning, and each and every one of you who didn’t.
Remember you have just received one of the best educations a person can receive. You have earned your degree. You have learned much of consequence, broadened the way you think, and now are prepared for a lifetime of seeking opportunity and grabbing opportunity as it comes your way.
I like to warn visiting high schoolers and their families that Whittier is not the place for those who relish anonymity and passivity. It is not the college for students who want to sit in the back and let others answer the questions. It is not the college for those who prefer not to join in. There is a reason why Whittier produces a disproportionate number of alumni with titles like CEO, president, general, superintendant, principal. You have been educated for leadership, and this world needs you.
At the beginning of this ceremony, you heard the chairman of Whittier’s Board of Trustees talk of the achievements of the alumni body you have just entered. Never doubt that one day a leader on our Board will be inspiring a graduation class by talking about you.
Tennessee Williams wrote: “Life is all memory, except for the one present moment that goes by you so quickly you hardly catch it going.” Newest Poets, in just a few moments even this ceremony will be a memory.
So, as you leave this place, I charge you to remember the values you have assimilated as members of this venerable college. And I charge you to use fully all of the talents and wisdom you collected here. Remember that you were privileged to attend Whittier College, just as we have been privileged to know you. Remember those who started you on your way.
I congratulate you – the graduates of the Class of 2013.