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President Daniel R. Porterfield's Commencement Remarks

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

The following is the text of President Porterfield's remarks as prepared for delivery:

Thank you, Dr. Bonchek, for that gracious welcome, and to all members of the Board of Trustees who joined us today. We’re grateful to our distinguished honorary degree recipients Ambassador Melanne Verveer, Dr. Stan Dudrick, and Jane Moss -- each a leader, a creator, and a builder of a better world.  I have known Ambassador Verveer for many years and admired her work to empower and protect women and children around the world, and can’t wait to hear her words to the graduates of the Class of 2013. 

Please join me in thanking all of those colleagues -- students and colleagues who work at F&M -- who have worked so hard and generously to create the series of Commencement events and the wonderful use of space that culminates today with this magnificent ceremony.

To the families and loved ones here, thank you for lending us your precious children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews. You gave them love and life, taught them right, guided them through change, and empowered them with freedom.

Graduates, please stand, face the crowd, and give the biggest thanks you can to all those here today, or here in spirit, whose love has been your launching pad.

Look around this great room with all of these flags and with all of these people gathered here. I know John Marshall and Ben Franklin would be so proud.

Two weeks ago, when exams ended, the campus became a ghost town. The faculty retreated into their caves to grade.  The safety shuttles started making 12-hour treks to Myrtle Beach. All that was left in Shad were sleeping bags and empty cans of Red Bull.  And there was no sign of seniors loitering outside of D-Hall accosting freshmen to swipe them in for a free meal. 

And now everyone is back, and it’s wonderful, but not exactly normal. The operative word at the Senior Toast two nights ago was “bittersweet” -- but maybe because of yesterday’s spectacular Baccalaureate and this majestic ceremony we can remove the first two syllables and just make today an expression of “sweetness.” Congratulations graduates. You have a lot to be proud of.

Today we celebrate your love and friendships, your growth and joy, your individuality and your community.

We celebrate your papers and theses and independent studies, your ideas and aspirations, those first courses you took here that became the grounding of a well-rounded education, your dive into depth with the major, the running conversations with professors and peers and friends, in quads and College Houses. We celebrate your curiosity and creativity and catalyzing minds.

We celebrate learning outside of class -- in the field or on the field, in Lancaster or in London, on stage or at work. 

We celebrate the times you crossed borders, crossed disciplines, crossed boundaries, crossed beliefs maybe and chose for yourself an idea utterly opposite to what you’d thought when you started college at F&M. 

We celebrate the times and ways you lived in truth – those quiet moments stepping up, making up, owning up – those personal moments of greatest integrity – whether getting help or giving back, whether going first or holding back, whether reaching out or coming out. Those moments have so much meaning and value. And we celebrate them today.

We celebrate your long years scaling mountains toward this degree -- and all the times you took the hard path, towards uncertain ends -- keeping at it and working hard -- and we celebrate those loved ones who carried you on their backs at least half way up the slope and whose lives and sacrifices you honor in a few moments with that walk across this stage. 

We celebrate each of you as individuals, with your own interior lives, your own freedoms and faiths, your own drives and directions – great futures in front of you, so many ways to grow and give and use your education, so much life in front of you. That’s why today is “sweet.” That’s why today we smile in celebration.

We also celebrate today two traditions that are bigger than you, bigger than all of us, that are now grafted into your neural pathways and your DNA.

First, we celebrate a 225 year-old institution built by our forefathers and our foremothers to bring into practice the audacious idea of American democracy.

I hope it inspires all who are here to recall that these 600 robed graduates, and all who work here as scholars and educators, are the return on the 200-pound investment in education that Ben Franklin made as a down payment on democracy.

And I hope you are inspired to recall that, each semester and each year, we live out the long vision of Chief Justice John Marshall, inventor of the Supreme Court – we live out his vision 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 idea that education is a cornerstone to a sustainable American democracy.

The idea that free inquiry and free expression and free research are as American as the right to vote.

The ideas that the 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.

Franklin College was launched 225 years ago in part to educate the newly-arrived German immigrants of the colonial era -- and so our founding also reminds us that in a society woven of many strands, it is through education that we create unity in our diversity.

As much as any college in this country, Class of 2013, your college, your alma mater reflects the old and enduring American idea of education as a democratic act. This is something to take with you, to wear with you. It is part of who you are to believe in, and to support, for this country and the world. How many other precious communities walking across stages this month can say that about where they went to college?

The second tradition that we celebrate today reflects back even further to antiquity, and that is the idea of liberal arts learning. Class of 2013, this, too, is now your tradition.

That’s the idea that we study rigorously a range of fields, develop depth in a major, learn how to learn, develop skills and sensibilities for a lifetime of learning.

This is the tradition that believes in the power of ideas, of rigorous inquiry, broad-based learning in multiple fields of learning how to learn.

This is the tradition that views students as individuals, sees small classes as the core of education, and values teaching undergraduates how to conduct research.

The tradition that promotes the faculty scholar as model and mentor, and sees the direct engagement of mind-on-mind as the fire-kindling process that creates untold, unimaginable greatness.

This is the tradition that believes every student can cultivate as aesthetic sense, analytical abilities, a respect for complexity, a regard for numbers and the ability to compute, and appreciation for scientific method, active learning and the ability to apply knowledge in action.

This is the tradition that sees you as the shapers of civilization, not simply as employees in someone else’s business, and seeks to embolden you with freedom of thought and the mindset to create.

This is the tradition of thought that views learning with love as the essential human gestures, intrinsically ends in themselves.

The liberal arts education that you created for yourselves will have enduring meaning. It will equip you to make sense of and make your way in an ever-changing, knowledge-based, multi-cultural world. It gives you the capacity to create free choices and self-determined opportunities as the modes and institutions through which we work and live morph rapidly into tomorrows that no one can predict with certainty today.

I remind you: You are the products of these two elevating traditions – liberal arts education, and the distinctive F&M way of connecting education to the common good. They are larger than all of us, and you are larger because of them.

Some in this great space, and many before us, have dedicated their lives to these traditions and their ideals -- their lives in support of those aspirations. It is not self-evident that the tradition of liberal arts learning is eternal. I ask you, the graduates of the Class of 2013, to value them those two traditions, to advocate for them, to defend them, to help develop their contours in the 21st century, and to secure this tradition of learning for those who will follow you.

Today is a major milestone, but certainly a beginning and not end.  Everything you created here and love goes with you where you venture next.  And when you come back to home base, to F&M, changed in ways neither you nor we can imagine, our arms will be open, and we will be proud.