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Welcoming Remarks

May 25, 2014

by Catherine Bond Hill, President

Welcome to the 150th Commencement in the history of Vassar College.

Every Commencement is a landmark in the lives of the graduates and their families, but you have to admit that there's something special about this milestone in Vassar's history.

Class of 2014, you are more than worthy of carrying this special banner today, and at every reunion hereafter.   Congratulations.

I hasten to assure you that our principal speaker Dr. Sau Lan Wu, is present, and I am truly looking forward to her talk.

I might suggest that everyone be sensitive to sun exposure today and protect yourselves – being sensitive as well to protecting the view of those behind you.

We have today our traditional program of speakers and recognitions highlighted, of course, by the awarding of the degrees.  This program has evolved considerably from Vassar's very first --- at which every member of the Class of 1867 spoke -- all four of them.  There were three musical numbers performed by faculty members, an address by the president and the awarding of the degrees.

For those of you who just did the math, there is a reason 147 years after Vassar's first commencement,

We are celebrating our 150th.  During World War II there was an accelerated effort to produce graduates, and for each of three of those years, Vassar held two commencements.

So the count is literally the number of commencements, not the number of years.  The alternative, I suppose, would have been to have had, say a 79th and 1/2 commencement -- not articularly appealing.

While we will not hear from every member of the class, today's program is impressively complete as a celebration of the multiple aspects that contribute to and culminate in you, superbly educated Vassar graduates. 

Families and friends from the communities from which you came are here as witnesses, but also as representatives of the personal and educational support you received before coming to and while at Vassar.

The importance of that support cannot be overstated as the foundation on which your Vassar education was built.

We do, of course, have some student speakers.

The co-chairs of the class gift represent the generosity of the class reaching beyond itself to leave a legacy of support to future students.

And the class president has the honor of, symbolically at least, echoing the spirit of a ceremony that gave every student an opportunity to speak. 

Many faculty members are here, and the Dean of the Faculty will deliver tributes to ten of them who are retiring this year -- an unusually large number.

As the tributes you will hear today will make abundantly clear and as today's graduates will eagerly confirm, the Vassar faculty is the college's greatest asset.   In devoting their careers to the service of Vassar students, the faculty is the strong foundation that sustains Vassar as a model of liberal arts education.  We recognize ten of them today, but we owe them all our deepest thanks. 

The chair of the Board of Trustees will bring greetings from that body.   The trustees are charged with the responsibilities that take the longest term view of the college's future and how best to sustain the ability to fulfill Vassar's mission.  All of them are invested in Vassar as alumnae or alumni, Vassar parents, or, in some cases both.   17 members of the Board are with us today and we owe them our thanks as well.

As evidenced by the number of Vassar graduates on the Board, receiving your diplomas is not the end of your opportunity to remain a part of and contribute to the Vassar community, and I urge you all to do so.  That opportunity is represented today in the person of the president of the Alumnae and Alumni of Vassar College, and she will speak as well.

Lastly, our commencement speaker, also a Vassar graduate.  Her life story is inspiring in so many ways, not least of all in how dramatically it illustrates the combined power of family, friends, students, faculty, trustees and alumnae and alumni.

These are the elements that make what we celebrate today possible. 

Before the announcement of the class gift,  I want to pay my respects sadly to a missing member of the class.  About a month ago, Nicholas Braun was taken from us after a long and brave medical struggle.  His many friends and all who were at the memorial service on campus know how greatly he was loved and admired, and today we miss him especially.  We will remember him as a cherished member of the Class of 2014.