May 22, 2011
by William Plapinger, Chair of the Trustees
On behalf of my fellow members of the Vassar College Board of Trustees—15 of whom are here today—I am delighted
- 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 great Sesquicentennial Class of 2011!
“Vassar College. A.D. 1861” says the College seal on your diplomas.
150 years—in many ways, that’s hard to believe. But while a century and a half is impressive, mere longevity is not what makes an institution great. That comes from a consistency of aspiration and ambition, a sense of shared purpose.
In Vassar’s case, those aspirations and ambitions, that sense of purpose, started with our founder, Matthew Vassar. He was the most unlikely of revolutionaries. Born in England, at the age of 8 he emigrated with his family to Poughkeepsie, New York, where he later became a successful brewer.
But Matthew Vassar had a vision—of a college that would offer access to a first-rate education to a group of promising students who previously had been denied that opportunity.
His aspirations and ambitions for his College, and that profound sense of purpose, have endured, even as the College has grown and changed.
The primary purpose and 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…”
Rachel Kitzinger, Professor of Classics and Dean of Planning and Academic Affairs, said in her Sesquicentennial lecture in January that the liberal arts are the basis for making complex moral decisions in a modern world full of difficult concerns.
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.
As we just heard from your class gift officers, working for the first time with the other three classes, you have set both a student participation record and an absolute financial record with your All College Gift to the Annual Fund, which is critical to the operations of the College.
On behalf of the Board of Trustees, I want to extend our profound appreciation for this magnificent, record-setting gift.
This year’s All School Gift is part of a major fundraising effort by the College, called the “Vassar 150: World Changing” campaign.
The name of the campaign resonates on many levels:
- Vassar changed the world when it first admitted women;
- Vassar changes the world of each student who enters its gates;
- Vassar graduates leave the college to go out and change the world; and
- Finally, the world itself is changing, and ever more rapidly.
Our goal is to raise $400 million for the College’s top priorities, and I am delighted to announce that to date, including your gift, we have raised a total of more than $276 million!
You will soon become Vassar College’s youngest alumnae and alumni. Just as you have benefited from the generosity of those who came before you, it will now be your turn to build on this year’s All School Gift and 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 with these thoughts. About a month ago I was in Berlin with my wife, and we went to view a still-standing section of the Berlin Wall, on which had been painted various images. One panel in particular caught my eye. It says, “He Who Wants the World to Remain As It Is, Doesn’t Want [the World] to Remain At All.”
A character in the well-known Italian novel “The Leopard” put it somewhat differently—“If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.”
These statements remind me of Matthew Vassar’s last written words: "If we only follow on in the old beaten paths, we will make no progress. We do no more than others have done before us. We are only copyists and not progressionists. My motto is ‘progress’."
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, you’re going to spend the rest of your lives in the future; see if you can use the education you have earned here at Vassar to change your world. Let your motto be “Progress”!
Thank you, and good luck!