Below is the Commencement address as prepared for delivery by F&M President Daniel R. Porterfield, Ph.D., on May 10, 2014, at the Alumni Sports & Fitness Center.
Thank you, Dr. Bonchek. Please join me in thanking all of the members of our community who have worked hard and with care to create the series of Commencement events that culminates today with this magnificent ceremony in a room made ready for you through a long night of labor.
We’re grateful to our distinguished honorary degree recipients George Stephanopoulos, Dr. Jennifer Whiting ’78, and Dr. Caswell Evans, Jr. ’65 – thinkers and solvers, eminent individuals worthy of your emulation.
To the families and loved ones, our arms are wide open. We welcome you, and we thank you.
When I look at your impressive children today, I see forward, to a future we cannot know but they will help to create with their minds and ways and words.
You do too – but you see backward, as well:
You see in each graduate that angelic newborn, little as a loaf of bread…
You see that impish toddler flicking peas to the floor from her high chair, teasing you, knowing exactly what she’s doing…
You see the sleeping child, dreaming in the glow of a night light, so trusting, with clothes for kindergarten laid out on a chair…
And you see the brave adventurer peering over the edge of a diving board, or for the first time finding magic in a book…
It goes so fast. One day we’re reading them Goodnight Moon at bedtime and then suddenly they’re beating us at chess, or showing us math homework we can’t help them with, or shedding tears we don’t know how to wipe away.
On the journey to this day and space and place, there were moments when they blew you away with their capacities and you couldn’t wait to see what they would do next.
Today – and words don’t do this justice – we see before us 604 different demonstrations of how much a good person can grow in a few fast turns of our earth around the sun.
Families, you gave them love and life, taught them right, guided them through change, and empowered them with freedom.
Graduates, please stand, face this crowd, and give the loudest thanks you’ve got to all those who are here today, or here in spirit, whose love has been your launching pad.
I want to welcome you with a story. Almost 25 years ago, our commencement speaker gave a great and graceful toast on the day my wife Karen and I were married. Quoting the poet Wallace Stevens, George told us and our families, “Love makes space,” and then he explained why he knew our marriage would do that.
Just like the way many of you will hold and turn and use an idea first heard on this campus in milestone moments in your future, I’ve often reflected upon George’s idea, and tried to live into it as a husband and a father, and as a teacher and a citizen.
Love makes space. Love in class is called learning. Love in public is called justice. The love of your family made for you the space to leave home and learn here.
We celebrate today the distinct and individual ways that you have used that space. Your love and friendships, your growth and joy, your move to many forms of independence.
We celebrate your papers and theses and findings, those first foundational courses you took here, your personal plunge into the major, like a seagull diving deeper for a next, maybe bigger, catch.
We celebrate the running conversations with professors and friends, your curiosity and creativity and still forming, catalyzing minds.
We celebrate your learning outside of class – on the field or in the field, on stage or at work, at Central Market or in Central America.
We celebrate the times you crossed borders, crossed disciplines, crossed boundaries, crossed beliefs, collaborated for learning and freely chose ideas that now anchor your understanding of the world.
We celebrate the imprints you’ve left on this College – the programs you’ve made, the people you’ve helped, the hashtags you’ve invented that others now use to connect their contributions to yours -- #whyitworks #GODips #friendsforever #turndownforwhat
We celebrate growth that’s not easy to describe – a subtle stretching that comes from studying a painting, or going to office hours, or asking a question, or pacing the stacks of Shad while shuffling five ideas in every possible sequence in order to cement the logic of which point comes first and why…
We celebrate the times and ways you lived in truth – stepping up, making up, owning up – those personal moments of greatest integrity – whether getting help or giving back, going first or holding back, reaching out or coming out.
We celebrate your long years climbing mountains toward this degree – and all the times you took the lonely path, toward uncertain ends – 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 with today’s walk across this stage.
Love makes space. A liberal arts education makes space. This great college makes space, for you and for all.
The physical spaces of our quads and fields and College Houses. The democratic space of communities based on self-governance and shared responsibility. The intellectual space of a liberating way of learning. Generations have given their labor, their love, their careers, and their dollars to make this space for you. If you love what you were empowered to do here, then it is your job to facilitate the preservation of this college and our perhaps fragile tradition of learning, in a society that needs us more than it realizes.
This won’t be new work because you’ve already shown that you know how to create space for one another. The space to explore ideas. The space to resist conformity. The space to put yourselves out there. The space to be heard, be seen and be known – beyond the labels and across the limiting would-be divides of supposed difference. You have created this for one another. Love makes space – space to grow, space to change.
Of course, today we celebrate your friendships and your bonds. You will come together many times at future stages of life. You will always have the glue of this shared time of discovery. What you must do, as classmates, is support one other as you change.
As you do this, the College will always make space for you and all alums. We will embrace you not for who you were, but for who you are and will become.
Love makes space:
At the personal level, when we let our friends change.
At the intellectual level, when we help others find their voices.
At the social level, when we include, empower, and share.
Love makes space. That’s what friendship is about. That’s what education is about. That’s what democracy is about.
That’s what F&M is about.
Thank you, and congratulations.