Valedictory to the Graduating Class of 2014

To our faculty, staff, alumni, honored guests, family and friends, let me bid you good morning, and welcome.

And to those who are graduating today, the unforgettable '14s, let me offer my congratulations!

I offer congratulations also on behalf of the many members of the Great Class of '64 who are here today, and indeed from all alumni, from those of us who have walked the paths of this Green ourselves, we salute you in deep respect for all you have accomplished.

As wide-eyed 18-year-olds we too joined the Dartmouth community. We looked around at these impressive buildings, met Dartmouth's incredibly smart people, pondered the impenetrable course guide – and asked ourselves, as I am sure many of you did four years ago, "Am I ready for this?"

An appropriate question to ask! Because you were challenged at Dartmouth – intellectually, socially, physically – challenges that seemed insurmountable.

Realizing late at night, 10 pages into that 20-page paper, that your thesis was somewhere between unsupportable and flat-out wrong.

Looking down at that Physics test that no one short of Einstein could have aced.

Looking up at the granite escarpment on Mount Moosilauke that would surely give Edmund Hillary second thoughts.

You pushed yourself to success in the classroom; in the laboratory; on the field of competition; under the bright lights of the stage.

But in college, as in life, you also endured setbacks and made mistakes. Not every risk you took resulted in reward. Perhaps you had to settle for a grade that was not the first letter of the alphabet, or even the second or third. Maybe an injury hampered your success on the field after years of diligent preparation. Many of you, at times, felt the pain of not being selected or included. And together this year, we endured the deepest loss that any community can experience – the deaths of two precious members of our student body, Torin Tucker and Blaine Steinberg.

And yet, you stand here today. Which shows that through it all, you picked yourself up and you moved forward. You came to appreciate – I hope – that a truly hard-fought B can be a triumph not inked on paper, but carved into the granite of your character.

Each of you has stories of resilience – resilience that you forged here at Dartmouth. And with resilience, you discovered that in spite of any doubt – in the face of every setback – you really were ready for the challenges and opportunities of Dartmouth.

And today, as a reward, we hand you a hard-earned degree, and we say "You haven't seen anything yet. Here's a world full of muchmore complicated challenges – now, please go solve them!"

And the hard truth is, those of you who were born in the late '80s and '90s entered a world that is changing more rapidly than at any time in the past. Imagine the changes the last two decades have seen:

  • The birth of e-commerce and social networking.
  • The Internet in your pocket (I know it's there because I can see some of you checking it right now!)
  • 9/11 and war on terrorism.
  • Intense financial volatility: the dot-com bubble, followed by a housing boom, followed by a housing bust, and then the worst global recession since the 1930s.

A wise Dartmouth graduate, John Rosenwald '52, likes to say that no pancake is so thin that it doesn't have two sides. And indeed, during this period of rapid change, your generation will grapple with the flip sides of progress like no other.

The mobile revolution brings a gain in productivity but only deepens the divide between the developed and the developing world.

Medical advances bring longer lifespans but also 9 billion people to house and feed.

Industrialization in emerging markets challenges us with energy demands the world has never before known.

The list could go on.

And I pose these challenges not because they are unfamiliar, but to prompt you to ask, as you did four years ago, "Am I ready for this?"

At this moment, it is again a very appropriate question.

And though it goes against my DNA as a teacher, I'm going to give you the answer, because I want you to hear it said loudly, and with absolute confidence.

Class of 2014, you are ready!

You are ready, because Dartmouth not only honed your powerful intellects, but gave you an even more valuable gift - the gift of resilience.

Here you forged resilience. You learned that setbacks are not the end of the road but rather an opportunity to learn, adjust and move on. Hold tight to that thought because it will see you to success in the years ahead where many others, who do not have that gift, will fall short.

Every year, at this quintessential Dartmouth moment – when the President addresses the graduates - something special comes into view from our vantage point on the stage. It's a sight that is humbling and inspiring.

At this moment, looking out across our Green as we do, we do not see a world of insurmountable challenges. We see a fellowship of leaders, standing many rows deep, who will work to conquer them.

It is a wonderful moment when the future looks so promising.

And so unforgettable Class of '14, one final thought from your president.

Just as you stepped out of your comfort zone by coming here, now you emerge from the long comforting shadow of Baker Tower into the world beyond these woods.

You may not feel ready to leave, but you are ready to succeed.

Today, I stand with the Class of '64 and all our alumni in saying that wherever you go, and whatever passions you pursue, you will find the Dartmouth fellowship ready to support you. Our hearts rejoice as we welcome you into our ranks.

For the unique role you've played in the history of our beloved alma mater, we applaud you.

For the impact you will have on a world that badly needs your leadership, we commend you.

For the indelible memory you will leave with me, as the first class I have the privilege of seeing walk across this stage as president, I thank you.

And now, the world beyond the woods awaits.

It is there you will risk a lot –

It is there that you will find successes and failures –

And it is there you will ultimately leave your mark.

Best of luck, and remember to always keep Dartmouth in your hearts.