As I write, several thousand members of families and friends of Trinity’s Class of 2007 are gathering on the lawn outside of my window — I just went out to do the sound check and they are already cheering! The sun is shining, hooray! I love graduation day — the culmination of so many hopes and dreams, the fulfillment of long desires for academic attainment, the capstone of years of hard work by students and faculty together. For so many Trinity students, today is truly a family achievement, since many are the first in their families to graduate from college, to earn baccalaureate or master’s degrees.
We call this day “Commencement” in higher education because we believe, quite deeply, that this day marks the commencement, the beginning, of the students’ new lives as full-fledged members of the intellectual community. Many years ago, most students were 21 or 22 years old on graduation day, so “commencement” also connoted the beginning of their professional lives. Today, at Trinity and at many universities around the nation, the majority of the graduates are in their late 20’s and 30’s, and some even in their 40’s and 50’s and older. We no longer speak about merely beginning the long professional road, but rather, about advancing to new levels of leadership and success from whatever point the student started at when she (or he!) came to Trinity.
The world confronting the Class of 2007 is deeply troubled, and the rhetoric of Commencement 2007 will make note of the historical markers of this era: the War in Iraq, the continuing prevalence of terrorism, the changing preferences of the American electorate, the tragic prevalence of gun violence as sadly exemplified at Virginia Tech, the alarming trends in global climate change, the ongoing quest to achieve educational reform in our public schools.
Beyond these large issues that our alumnae and alumni will grapple with in the years to come, I know that today’s Trinity graduates have other concerns that they will address with their new degrees: how to be good role models of educational attainment for their children, how to improve the economic security of their families, how to grapple with the numerous moral problems they encounter each day at work and in the community, how to live balanced lives in the midst of so many demands on their time and attention, how to deal with the continuing prevalence of many forms of discrimination they encounter — race, gender, language, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disabilities. Trinity women and men in our undergraduate and graduate programs have thought deeply about these issues, have talked about how they will push back all of the ceilings that weigh down upon them, how they will set new standards for the rising generations. They have learned to articulate their personal philosophy of life, and in so doing they have fulfilled the fundamental idea of the university, which is to cultivate the habit of philosophizing (thank you, Cardinal Newman!) and to empower the ability to keep learning at each life stage.
The sea of black caps and robes punctuated by Trinity’s purple and gold hood colors is massing on the Marble Corridor. I put on my own academic robe with a proud memory of the days when I received my bachelor’s degree at Trinity and my law degree at Georgetown. These memories never grow old; on graduation day we are all new and youthful again, full of fresh hope and boundless joy at the possibilities before us. On graduation day, the best is yet to come, and all of us, teachers and students, renew our pledge to use the gifts of our education to achieve our goals.
Congratulations, Class of 2007!!