May 23, 2010
by William Plapinger, Chair of the Trustees
Thank you, Cappy.
On behalf of my fellow members of the Vassar College Board of Trustees—23 of whom are here today, including your Commencement speaker and 2 trustees who are parents of graduating seniors---it is a real honor for me to be able to speak with you on this, the 36th 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 the amazing Class of 2010!
I probably feel closer to this class than to any class since my own in 1974. As Cappy said, my daughter Lizzy is a member of the Class of 2010, and over the past four years, my wife and I have gotten to know many of her classmates, and their families, which has been wonderful for us.
Over the past 18 months, Vassar has moved deliberately, and sometimes painfully, but I believe successfully, to address the challenges occasioned by the global financial crisis, balancing our ever more limited resources with preservation of our long-term priorities, including need-blind admissions and our financial aid polices, which next year will award almost $51 million to deserving students. I want to thank all the members of the College community for their work, and understanding, in meeting these challenges.
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…”
Education is the most powerful tool we have in addressing social inequality and inequity. Your Vassar education, which has come primarily through the efforts of our extraordinary faculty, has given you the tools to make a difference in your own lives and in the lives of others.
There’s an old joke about a man who, when asked for directions, replies, “Well, I wouldn’t start from here.” To the contrary, I can’t think of better preparation for what lies ahead than the education you have received at Vassar College.
At a meeting I recently attended that examined data comparing Vassar to its peer institutions, Vassar’s Director of Institutional Research said something that resonated with me—when you try to achieve the average, you lose distinctiveness. The comedian Bill Cosby put it another way--“I don’t know the key to success, but I know the key to failure is trying to please everyone.”
While it is important to respect points of view that differ from your own, your education should have helped you find your own voice and your own opinions that make you distinctive. The Economist magazine once editorialized, you need to avoid the herd instinct, the feeling that it is better to be wrong in large numbers than to be right alone.
You have set a record for a graduating class in donating, with matching gifts, an endowment of more than $68,000 for financial aid, the College’s highest priority, and, on behalf of the Board of Trustees, I want to extend our profound appreciation for this magnificent gift.
You will soon become Vassar College’s youngest alumni and alumnae. 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 been with your class gift.
Just as you have benefited from the generosity of alumnae and alumni who came before you, as Brian Farkas said before, it will now be your turn to join the rest of us in financing Vassar’s future.
I can promise you, you’ll be hearing from us…and we look forward to hearing from you!
Let me conclude by turning to Ralph Waldo Emerson, who wrote, “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” Now, to tell a class of college graduates that what lies before them is a tiny matter might seem cavalier in the extreme, especially in the current economic climate, but what I think Emerson was saying was that relying on your own education and your own distinctive views and beliefs are the most valuable ways to meet life’s challenges.
So, let me end this morning with a charge to you--
- First, find something you want to do, and see if you can get paid for doing it, and
- Second, use what lies within you to make a life for yourself and by giving much to others in the years to come.
Thank you, and good luck!