Franklin & Marshall College Franklin & Marshall College

F&M 2012 Commencement

  • DRP commencement 2012

Commencement remarks given by President Daniel R. Porterfield, Ph.D. on May 12, 2012 on Hartman Green.

The Making of Meaning

Thank you, Dr. Bonchek, for that gracious welcome, and thank you to all members of the Board of Trustees who join you in support. We’re grateful to our eminent honorary degree recipients Michael Bloomberg, Lynn Nottage, Jaron Lanier, and Wanda Austin ’75 for joining us today—each one a leader and creator of international renown.

I would especially like to thank all of the colleagues and students who have worked so hard and generously to create the series of events and wonderful use of space that culminates today with this magnificent ceremony.

To the graduates, thank you for all you’ve given this campus. Thank you for your minds, your hearts, your vision, your voices. Thank you for teaching the faculty how to use Instagram while NOT teaching us how to make memes. Thank you for telling your families about that scintillating Saturday night physics symposium you attended on that new NASA project Cobra Starship. And, finally, thank you for sharing with them that stimulating lecture on the meaning of life by the noted Italian philosopher Lupe Fiasco.

Thank you for loving the College House system and your dons and prefects. Thank you for loving the brand-new New College House, Brooks College House, Bonchek College House, Ware College House, and for loving the College House that began as Schnader and has now completed its first year as Weis College House.

To the families, thank you for lending us your precious children. They are your joys. They are your greatest gifts to our humanity. You gave them love and life, taught them right, guided them through change, and empowered them with freedom.

Remember back about 19 years ago when they were toddlers and you first started taking them to parks? Sometimes you’d get to wait patiently as they got down on their hands and knees to explore the mysteries of a worm. Sometimes you’d get to hold them back from playing tag with a squirrel. Sometimes you’d get to dry a tear on your shirtsleeve or cleanse a scrape with a kiss. And sometimes, you’d get to just sit on your bench and marvel at their sandbox inventions and fabulous flights of fancy.

We know that you have been that parent, or that grandparent, on this playground too. 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.

I want to express our gratitude to the faculty and all who educate at Franklin & Marshall. Thank you for sharing with these young scholars your thoughts and thinking, and your passion for thoughts and thinking. Thank you for walking with them, for listening to them, for kindling fire with them, for respecting them. Thank you for writing legibly on their essays and for providing translation services when you didn’t. Thank you for exciting them with your Lady Gaga sightings here in Lancaster…an era, sadly, that may have come to an end.

So much to celebrate. But, of course, it’s bittersweet and every graduate has questions. “Am I ready for what’s next?” “Will we ever be so close again?” “If I have to leave, can I at least go where Dean S. is going?”

Transitions are all about questions, and there can be confusion. So, graduates, if you’re trying to grasp what transpired in these years and how to feel about it all, I have two thoughts I’d like to express. The first will take a couple minutes, and the second about twenty seconds.

First, now and always, never forget the ways you made meaning here. This will be a reservoir of strength for you. Where do I see this?

I see the making of meaning in the young woman who works hard in her major, regularly hitting walls, but she keeps at it, chipping away, striving for a breakthrough, and finally getting it.

I see the making of meaning in the young man who does a u-turn in sophomore year, switches from BOS to bio, from bio to classics, or from classics to BOS, because that’s the way ideas opened up for him—and it is his education, no one else’s.

I see the making of meaning in the joy of creativity and discovery—in the realization that we create the education that we seek.

I see the making of meaning in our unpopular choices; in the times we speak out, when we challenge our friends, or make the tough call to leave behind an activity we love because we know we have to grow.

I see the making of meaning in students who cross borders and cross cultures to attend college at an iconic American institution—intrepid souls and, truly, young global leaders among their peers.

I see the making of meaning in the student who studies abroad in London or Cape Town or Hong Kong. She experiences her nationality in new ways. Sometimes she feels alone and depleted. She must rely upon herself in a new culture and comes back to F&M totally enlarged.

I see the making of meaning in all those high-octane efforts to jump-start community on campus—from OPDs to the BSU, from Hillel to the College House System, from .08 to Orchestra, from Dip Con to the F&M Players, from Common Hour to the Research Fair.

I see the making of meaning in sport, when we subordinate self to team, give our best every day, balance sport with being a student, and learn life lessons in the ups and downs of it all.

I see the making of meaning when we work with a refugee through the Ware Institute, when we try to awaken the world to a human rights wrong, or when we realize that in other countries, on other campuses, free thought is a subversive act—and then, when we carry those cold truths into our classrooms for academic discussion and the work of our minds.

I see the making of meaning in the strong choices of those who are the first in their families to go to college—in the steel of their spines, the reach of their dreams, and the greatness of the loved ones who supported them through it all.

I see the making of meaning in those who come out at F&M, in the many concentric circles where that occurs, from within a family to a peer group to the broader community to a single friend or mentor. This act takes courage. Thank you, LGBT students, who come out and set powerful examples from which everyone can learn. Guess what? We all can grow by sharing ourselves. We all can grow by asserting with pride, “This is who I am,” and “This is how I’m going to live.”

I see the making of meaning in gripping challenges, the stuff of life—when we deal with divorce, a serious illness in our families, or with the death of a loved one. Facing pain we did not choose—and seeking out help when we need it—is part of growing up and forming ourselves. If you did that here, walk across this stage with great pride.

I see the making of meaning in friendship. We fall in love with our friends. We feel known, heard, seen, accepted. We can’t imagine our lives without those we now love. We feel timelessness in our good memories. The conversation that began in Jazzman’s for coffee and ended at a College House lounge seven hours and two meals later. The planning meeting for Relay that began with text message and turned into a party.

I could go on like this because I admire what you have done. But, for now, just one more…I see the making of meaning in the respect you earn, over time, from those you respect. It may be a friend, a teammate, a professor, or a person you work with. We feel it from a subtle sign, a tone of voice, a knowing look, or a detailed response to an essay. That respect lies at the very heart of our enterprise.

Each of you has made your meaning here. Each of you has been “in the zone”—one of those frozen moments of work or thought or prayer or love when it all comes together, when it all feels right, when our hopes and words and deeds fuse as one.

Eliot called these moments “the still points of a turning world.”

We expect that you will seek and find such stillness again—often in joy and love, and sometimes, too, in pain. And when you do, we hope that you’ll be transported right back here to this campus, to these years, to this time, to this community, and feel a sense of continuity and wholeness.

This brings me to the second point, much shorter, not even the length of a self-respecting tweet.

All who work here, all who taught you, tested you, all who watched you grow—we believe in you. We have faith in you. Remember that. Whatever turns life takes, especially when you dwell in doubt, remember that. Your mentors here at Franklin & Marshall, we know you, we believe in you, and we have faith in you.

Take that knowledge with you. Remember that. Know that. We believe in you. Congratulations graduates, and thank you.

  • The Making of Meaning
  • A printable file of the remarks delivered by President Porterfield at the Franklin & Marshall College Commencement ceremony on May 12, 2012.

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