May 24, 2009
by William Plapinger, Chair of the Trustees
Thank you, Cappy.
On behalf of my fellow members of the Vassar College Board of Trustees – twenty of whom are here today – it is a real honor for me to be able to speak with you on this, the 35th anniversary of my own graduation from Vassar, first, to bring greetings – and gratitude – to all the parents, families, friends and others who have supported today's graduates, and second, to offer our warmest congratulations to each of the members of, I was going to say amazing, but I guess ultimate Class of 2009!
In common with other colleges and universities facing the effects of the global financial crisis, Vassar's challenge today is to balance the effective allocation of ever more limited resources with the preservation of our core values and long-term priorities.
A well-known expert defines leadership as the activity of mobilizing the community to tackle tough problems, especially when the solutions are not clear-cut. Vassar is being forced to make hard, and painful, decisions to fulfill its mission and to assure its continued place among the nation's great liberal arts colleges. On behalf of the Board of Trustees, I want to thank everyone working on behalf of the College during these challenging times in protecting the mission of the institution.
The French poet and philosopher Paul Valery once remarked, "The trouble with our times is that the future is not what it used to be." And the economic crisis might well lead today's graduates to fear that this is accurate.
Be that as it may, today is where you start. A Chinese proverb says, "The best time to plant a tree is 100 years ago. The second best time is today." There is no alternative, and Vassar has prepared you well.
The primary mission of Vassar College, articulated in its first catalogue, is to furnish the "means of a thorough, well-proportioned and liberal education", which has been defined as an "education that empowers individuals with broad knowledge, liberates the mind from ignorance, and cultivates social responsibility…"
Your liberal education at Vassar has come primarily through the efforts of our extraordinary faculty, to whom we are all grateful for the exceptional job they do.
Education is the most powerful tool we have in addressing social inequality and inequity.
Your Vassar education has given you the tools to make a difference in your own lives and in the lives of others. As you head into the next phase of your lives, don't ever stop working toward that goal.
In just a little while, you will become Vassar College's youngest alumnae and alumni.
I couldn't stand before you as the representative of the guardians of this wonderful institution, and not urge you to be supportive of this College in the future, as you have in your Senior Class gift. The money we raise goes toward our outstanding faculty, our aging physical plant, and, most importantly, toward financial aid – some $44 million next year – to make Vassar an ever more inclusive place in every way.
I can promise you, you'll be hearing from us…and we look forward to hearing from you!
Let me conclude by turning to one of the 20th century's greatest leaders, Winston Churchill, who said, "You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give."
My charge to you this morning is, first, to find something you want to do, and see if you can get paid for doing it, and second, to make a life by giving much to others in the years to come.
Thank you and good luck!