L. Jay Lemons, Ph.D.
Good afternoon. It is a joy to welcome all of you to campus for this beautiful occasion, on this glorious day, along the banks of the river, from which we draw our name.
Thank you, Brandyn Vasey for leading us in America the Beautiful and in the singing of the alma mater later in the ceremony. Special thanks to Kevin Henry and the Brass Quintet for their contributions to the ceremony and to the many musicians who participated in Baccalaureate this morning.
For all assembled, today is joyous, as we celebrate both graduation and Mother’s Day. To all the mothers and other loving maternal figures who have shaped each of us present here today; both those who are with us and those who are absent, we know that today is a Mother’s Day that will not be forgotten. Happy Mother’s Day to all and thank you.
Graduates—please stand. Turn to face the crowd. On this special day, please take a moment to look around this audience for your mothers and grandmothers. As well, seek out your aunts, sisters, dads, grandfathers, uncles, brothers, and friends who have helped to light the way for you. To all of you who have been there all along the way, this standing ovation from the Class of 2013 comes with grateful hearts and much love. Graduates, will you share your appreciation?
Please be seated.
And now, will the faculty please rise? The faculty are the heart and soul of an institution of higher learning. Here we are blessed with a supremely talented and devoted group of distinguished teachers and scholars. Faculty, I want you to know that I hear regularly from our students that the relationships established with you and other members of the staff are what they cherish most about their Susquehanna experience. I join your grateful students and their families in thanking you for your dedication, wisdom, and love for Susquehanna students.
Graduates, the first time we gathered as an assembled body was in August of 2009 for opening Convocation. That day and that event are probably in the deep recesses of your mind. All of us who spoke that day tried to share with you that this exciting time in your life would be accompanied by challenge and pain, along with joy and triumph. It’s unlikely many of you recall what I or others said that day, when you arrived in this same space, weary, sweaty, having endured the frenzy of move in, unpacking and meeting your new roommate. Yet you were also excited and anxious about what the future might hold.
One day this spring I was reminded of that convocation when I received a gift in the form of a book of collected sermons delivered by the Reverend Robert Linders of Saint Paul’s Lutheran Church in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, who happens to be the father of Brooke, a member of the Class of 2013. To my surprise, one of the sermons was entitled “Lemons’ Law.” It was a reflection on the Susquehanna University Convocation in 2009. Reverend Linders shared with his parishioners some of my comments recalling the life of Henry Adams, son of a diplomat, grandson and great-grandson of U.S. presidents. I pulled on Adams’ autobiography The Education of Henry Adams to frame my remarks to you that day, emphasizing three lessons from that I hope you will find worthy of being repeated.
Adams acknowledged that “probably no child born in the year (1838), held better cards than he.” Henry Adams awareness of his own privilege serves as a continuing reminder for us to be mindful of our own. I argued then, as I do now, that all Susquehannans have privilege. And that the inability to understand, acknowledge and be sensitive to our privilege makes us blind to the plight of others, allows us to be consumed by self-interest and hides from us an understanding of the greater good.
Another point I made that day in was that the value of the fine liberal arts education you would receive at Susquehanna would teach you to think, to question, to discern, to write and to speak clearly. In his day, Henry Adams was an educational reformer, who in working with Harvard President Charles Eliot essentially created seminar style learning. Adams believed then, as we do here today, that active, engaged learning is best done in collaboration with others. Our new curriculum, in which you are the pioneers, places an even greater emphasis on these methods and you are its first beneficiaries.
The final point I emphasized was about the value of lifelong learning for Adams and his famous great-grandfather. As I confer your degrees in a very short while, you will hear me utter a phrase that “welcomes you to the company of women and men who have begun to be educated.” The usage of the word “begun” is intentional and it is consistent with my sharing with you nearly four years ago that Adams’ memoir was his own attempt to keep learning throughout his life. We believe that learning is a lifelong process and hope that each of you will be as conscious of nourishing your intellect as you are of feeding your bodies.
Our academic theme for the 2009-10 academic year posed the question, “What does it mean to be an educated person?” It is our hope and conviction that these four years and the collected experiences in the classroom, laboratory, library, residence halls, cafeteria, clubs, organizations, publications, on the theatre stage, in musical ensembles, as members of Greek letter organizations and intercollegiate, club and intramural teams have formed in you a stronger sense of what it means to be educated, how to draw upon and learn from others and of the importance of educated citizen leaders for the perpetuation of the American experiment in democracy.
Remembering your wonderful and comical Common Reading lecturer, AJ Jacobs and his absurd effort to become “educated” by reading the Encyclopedia Britannica, I am struck by the fact that your senior year here has been called the year of the MOOC (massive open online courses) with many prognosticating that these new learning tools will bring death to many colleges. MOOC’s are like Jacobs reading the Encyclopedia Britannica. It gives us access to extraordinary information, but it takes a well-educated person to make that data meaningful and useful. I trust that you will walk away with confidence that your time here has taught you not simply facts and information, but how to think, to express yourself, to understand the walk of others, to recognize privilege and responsibility and to find beauty and good even amidst pain and suffering. We hope as well that your alma mater can be a place that through your own network of relationships with Susquehannans will continue to nurture in you a sense of community, curiosity, a thirst for knowledge, a heart for generosity, a quest for truth and a commitment to justice.
There is much of which to be proud in the members of the Class of 2013. Last Saturday was a sort of exclamation point for the academic year and especially for your class as we claimed conference athletic titles in men’s lacrosse, softball and women’s lacrosse all on a single beautiful day on our own campus; an unprecedented feat in our long intercollegiate athletic history. Friday’s award luncheon was an extraordinary celebration of your individual scholarly accomplishments. Literally scores of you have presented academic papers here on campus and across the country. You have been deeply engaged in your experiences here through SU Give and Breakthrough. A record number of you were willing to reflect on your experiences here and to wave a wand in thinking about how you would make Susquehanna even better. As well, a record number of you made the ascent up Mt. Mahanoy and have fulfilled that 19th century graduation requirement!
We are extremely proud that three of you were recommended to be Fulbright Scholars next year. The jobs that have already been secured are impressive. The graduate school opportunities and support you have earned are outstanding.
Whether you know what you are doing next year or not, there is at this transition excitement and anxiety, just like when you began here. It is that anxiety that I think elicited a memorable response during one of the occasions where I gathered to share a meal with a group of you to reflect on your Susquehanna experiences. One among you today, when asked what she would change if she were Susquehanna’s president, said that her wish was that students would not worry about what is beyond graduation. This non-traditional student, who is also the mother of an alumna and a current student, has been privileged to watch generations of Susquehanna students figure it all out and lead distinguished careers and lives. She knows you all have the capacity, the talent and the skill to become successful. I share her optimism and her belief in you and in the power of a Susquehanna education.
You are pioneers, the first to enter Susquehanna under a new curriculum. Among its requirements was a study-away experience for all students and a post-travel reflection course that gave you an opportunity to discern how that experience changed you.
You have traveled the world for your Global Opportunities (GO) experiences and many of you are wearing colorful study-away sashes reflecting the countries that served as your destinations. More than 80 percent of you went abroad, but some of you remained in the United States and learned that there are rich opportunities to experience a different culture within our nation’s borders. In our global economy, cross-cultural experiences have never been more important. You have the broader view because of your travel and immersion in other cultures and through those experiences you have expanded Susquehanna’s global footprint from Selinsgrove to South Africa, Australia, Central America, Asia and Europe.
Several years ago, we began a tradition of giving graduates pewter acorns in celebration of the beautiful oak trees that mark our campus. The acorn has rich symbolic meaning for people throughout the world and it is variously associated with wisdom, strength, abundance, success, protection and potential. What has been planted here in these four years has been a mere seed of knowledge and the cultivation of habits of mind and heart that create in you the capacity for making the world a better place.
As you cross the stage and receive your diploma, you will begin the next phase of your lifelong pursuit of learning. In recognition of that and of the connection between Susquehannans, you will each be handed a pewter acorn from Sara Luley Baublitz and James Baublitz, the Outstanding Senior Woman and Man from the Class of 2008, who are back home with us today. Sara is now a manager for Lutheran World Relief and James is a hedge fund manager at Compass Analytics.
While GO has taken you all over the world, I hope you have developed a keen sense of the value of being rooted in this community and in this place. The Reverend Henry Ward Beecher said, “There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings. ” Members of the Class of 2013, the faculty and I join your parents in saying that we hope we have provided for you both roots and wings. As you prepare to begin a life beyond this hallowed ground, know that your relationship with Susquehanna and its people is a lifelong one to be cultivated and shared. Return to these roots again and again to be both nourished and to nourish others. Use your wings to fly off then to new communities, new opportunities for work and learning, ready and prepared to lead productive, creative and reflective lives of achievement, leadership and service in a diverse and interconnected world.
Members of the Class of 2013, Congratulations and Godspeed.
Note: Taken from prepared text. Actual remarks may have deviated from what was prepared.