May 20, 2012
by William Plapinger, Chair of the Trustees
Thank you, Cappy.
On behalf of my fellow members of the Vassar College Board of Trustees—15 of whom, spanning five decades of Vassar graduates, 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 class of 2012!
On behalf of the Board of Trustees, I also want to welcome Leymah Gbowee. We are in awe of what you have accomplished, and truly honored to have you here at Vassar today.
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 no one can dispute that these are uncertain, although I hope slowly improving, times for college graduates.
As President Hill said, there are those today who question the value of a liberal arts education.
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. . .”
Even students at leading business schools are taught today how to approach questions in a manner similar to what is taught at liberal arts institutions. Clayton Christensen, the well-known Harvard Business School professor and author of the recent book “How Will You Measure Your Life”, says that rather than telling his students and clients what to think, he teaches them how to think, and then he lets them reach correct decisions on their own. He says that “if we knew the future would be exactly the same as the past, simply doing now what has succeeded before would be fine. But if the future is different—and it almost always is—then that would be the wrong thing to do.”
To paraphrase a recent commencement speaker at another liberal arts college, while we may have equipped you perfectly to deal with nothing, your Vassar education, which has come primarily through the efforts of our extraordinary faculty, should have left you well equipped to deal with everything!
We just heard from your student gift co-chairs that, working with the other three classes, you have made a wonderful gift to the important Internship Grant Fund to support your fellow students in their summer internship experiences, an increasingly important part of the Vassar experience.
On behalf of the Board of Trustees, I want to extend to you our profound appreciation for this wonderful gift.
This year’s student gift is also part of a major fundraising effort by the college, called the “Vassar 150: World Changing” campaign.
The campaign is focused on the college’s highest priorities, which include our commitment to three things:
-- First, ensuring access to a Vassar education for all deserving students, regardless of their ability to pay—next year’s College budget provides more than $57 million for financial aid, and almost 60% of our students will receive some portion of that money
-- Second, providing the state-of-the-art science facilities our outstanding science faculty and students deserve, and
-- Third, encouraging every graduate to give every year, year in and year out to the Annual Fund in order to provide the ongoing financial resources to support the college.
Our goal is to raise $400 million for these top priorities, and I am delighted to announce that to date, including your gift, we have raised a total of almost $ million!
You will soon become Vassar College’s youngest graduates. 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 student gift, and its record setting participation rate, 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 end by returning to my main message to you.
Alan Kay, the pioneering computer scientist, has said, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”
The founder of this college, Matthew Vassar, had a vision in 1861 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. He believed, as do I, that education is the most powerful tool we have in addressing social inequality and inequity.
His last written words were: "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, my charge to you this morning is as follows. 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 an uncertain future; use the education you have earned here at Vassar to invent the best future you can for yourself and your world. Let your motto be “Progress”! Thank you, and good luck!