6/11/2013

President Daniel R. Porterfield's Reunion Weekend Remarks

  • Daniel R. Porterfield Franklin & Marshall President Daniel R. Porterfield, Ph.D.

The following is the text of President Daniel R. Porterfield's remarks at the June 8, 2013, Alumni Celebration during Reunion Weekend, as prepared for delivery:

Thank you, Dave, for that gracious welcome, and for your outstanding leadership of the Alumni Association and service on the Board of Trustees. 

Reunions are the result of extraordinary staff planning and generous toiling by alumni leadership. And so, please join me in thanking our class leadership committees and our Advancement and Alumni Relations teams, led by Cathy Cross Roman '77 and our new VP for Advancement, Matthew Eynon. 

I'd like to extend the warmest possible welcome to all who are here – alums, families, spouses and partners. Congratulations to our award recipients -- Tony Ross '91; Evelyn Farkas '89; and Art Taylor '80, also a member of the Board of Trustees. 

We're joined today by several of Art's Board colleagues who are celebrating reunions. Please join me in recognizing: Ken Mehlman '88; David Lehman '68; Ray Sanseverino '68; Susan Kline Klehr '73; and Sue Washburn '73.

Both Susan and Sue served on the Presidential Search Committee with Art Taylor, and Sue was the chair, which means they cross-examined me mercilessly and did reference checks going all the way back to high school ...

I hope that it feels terrific to come home – to reconnect with longtime friends, revisit moments of the lasting meaning, and meld and morph time-past and time-present in your own journeys, the College's, the country's and the world's.

As you walk these welcoming grounds today, I suspect that the enduring images of Old Main or Hartman Green or a sloped lawn or the red bricks or a certain bench, still here, will transport you back to a class or a conversation, a concert or an athletic contest, a book or an idea that preoccupied you then, a friendship, a consuming passion, a time of doubt or loneliness. I hope that you feel the presence of a friend or a family member who loved you, and that you recall the youthful yearnings that made you want more or ask why or take a leap of faith that the gift of perspective now tells you has made all the difference.   

Of course, the more we age, the more the campus of a great college becomes peopled with ghosts -- the faculty who pushed or prodded or nurtured or scared us -- now gone, the Sid Wises and Ruth Van Hornes and John Mosses, or retirees like Bill Hutson, Alice Drum, Carl Pike and Kathy Triman. These were colossal figures in our late adolescent eyes, embodiments of this place, whose advice we've held close or lived by, and perhaps shared (unquoted) to dear young people in our lives. 

A great college also regenerates itself, which can be disconcerting when we come back to a campus we hold close in our time-bound lives as a still point in a turning world. Where once there was a tennis court or a tree where we made meaning and memories, we find bold new facilities. There are new Sid Wises -- I assure you, they are just as eminent -- but they may seem impossibly young. And there is a new generation of students making meaning on the self-same place where you roamed – as a composite they look different and reflect the world we live in today … and they're worthy. I can vouch for them.

Reunions present a paradox, but we hope, a pleasing one: So much the same, so much has changed. How long ago it was, how much it seems like yesterday.   

Because it's F&M, we're all part of something bigger than ourselves. Even as you mark the anniversary of your graduation anywhere from 5 to 60 years ago, Franklin & Marshall is celebrating its 225th Anniversary. 

It's awesome to look at this gathering and reflect that you, our alumni and alumnae, are the return on the 200-pound investment in education made by the one and only Ben Franklin as a down payment on democracy.

And I hope you are inspired to recall that we are living out the long vision of Chief Justice John Marshall, inventor of the Supreme Court -- that democracy, justice, private enterprise and education are four strands of a great chord pulling America forward.

Even as F&M has become more global, no college is more enmeshed in the idea of America. 

The notions, for example, that national strength requires intellectual strength, that economic growth requires academic growth, that upward mobility requires equal educational opportunity, and that global peace requires the broad sharing of knowledge.

At this moment in history, and with your steadfast support, your alma mater is achieving distinction as a national institution with Franklin-esque aspirations.

Last year, five students won Fulbright-Research, Truman, Mitchell or Pickering Scholarships. No institution in the country had winners in all four competitions -- not Stanford, not Yale, not Amherst, not MIT.

This year, we are implementing a highly competitive $1.4 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to identify genetic conditions in Amish and Mennonite babies in utero and then provide immediate life-enhancing treatment as soon as those children are born.

Powered by the enhanced our financial aid budget, we've recruited the most competitive, qualified and diverse three-year pool of students in school history -- including, for the Class of 2017, 17 percent international students and 21 percent with extraordinary high school records who also are the first in their families to attend college.

And, our students are growing in extraordinary ways. This past year, an F&M junior discovered a new extragalactic pulsar. Our dance students reconstructed a daunting 1934 piece by the legendary choreographer Martha Graham, and then, undaunted, performed before the experts at New York's elite Joyce Theater. More than 75 students are on campus right now holding Hackman scholarships to do graduate-level research with faculty doing national caliber scholarship -- also central to the mission of a great national institution.

Our vision for F&M is simple: World domination. 

To be a national liberal arts institution of the very highest quality and caliber, competing confidently to make a disproportionate difference, always in ways authentic to F&M, for generations to come. I'm grateful to all of you for supporting our educational mission – yesterday, today, and tomorrow ...

You were all built by F&M for lives of intellectual restlessness, and so it's fitting to end with the words of a poet:

"We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time."

Thank you. Enjoy this Reunion, the company of your friends and classmates, and the mystic chords of memory evoked by coming home.

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