Valedictory to the Graduated Class of 2020

To the Great Class of 2020, congratulations! And to the friends and family who are here with us this morning, thank you for remembering just how special this occasion is and for being present to share it.

In those dark days of March your senior year, I wrote to your class that in a more perfect world, you would be embracing your Senior Spring with its run-up to Commencement.  Well, I don't know if today's world is any more perfect, but it sure feels great to at long last celebrate your graduation from Dartmouth, in person, here on the Green.  

At a typical Commencement, my job as president is to offer one nugget of advice to new graduates just moments after they officially become alumni.  Today is a little different. You come to this moment having the benefit of two full years of experience in the real world.  Two years to reflect on the value of your liberal arts education.

If we did our jobs well, your Dartmouth education literally transformed your quality of mind.

We equipped you with broad knowledge of the world and a recognition of what piques your curiosity.  

Through your major, you made a deep dive into at least one subject.  It doesn't matter which – what matters is that we took you to the frontiers of knowledge to be awed those frontiers.  

We helped you advance your mastery of a whole range of high-level intellectual skills: the ability to communicate effectively, critical thinking skills, being able to work across difference, creative problem solving, cultural awareness and humility.

And perhaps most importantly, you learned how to learn.   

These are the elements of a liberal arts education. Today, I'm asking you to think about whether these elements have played a role in your success. If the answer is yes, I am not at all surprised. If the answer is no, I assure you it will be yes in due time.  

Why do I believe that? Because when I was two years out from my own Dartmouth experience, I was in a highly technical PhD program in mathematics at CalTech. It seemed so far removed from the liberal arts tradition at Dartmouth. But that second year, something else happened. I began to teach undergraduates.  In an instant, all of the skills instilled in me through my liberal arts education came into play. Communication, cultural awareness and understanding, emotional intelligence. Those are the skills that have propelled me throughout my life and career. 

I'm not alone in having this kind of epiphany about Dartmouth. It happens to nearly all of us who have been fortunate enough to cross this graduation stage.

Fellow member of the Dartmouth Board of Trustees, Erica Ruliffson Schultz, Class of '95, initially came to Dartmouth on a pre-med track with a desire to continue her high school athletics career. Her first term got off to a rocky start academically when she ran head-first into Math 11. And to make matters worse, she was cut from the swim team.  

But through this tough first term, she learned a lot about herself. She took Spanish 7, a course that stirred within her a deep curiosity about language, culture, history, and anthropology.  And by walking onto the crew team, she realized that what really motivated her about athletics was being part of a team.  

Erica earned her degree in Spanish and Latin American Studies, graduating with high honors, and joined Oracle, drawn to the company by its global ambitions and the opportunity to be part of a team seeking to compete in a rapidly evolving tech world. Two years after graduating from Dartmouth, she was on her way to work for Oracle in Buenos Aires.  And she never looked back. 

Today, Erica is the leader of a highly successful tech firm, and whenever she's asked the question "Does majoring in Spanish at Dartmouth prepare you for success in the tech world?," she answers with a resounding "YES!"    

Erica has come back to serve this institution because, like me and so many of our fellow alumni, she understands how the Dartmouth experience – the tight friendships formed, the profound sense of place and the transformative liberal arts learning that happens here – changes lives in indescribable ways.  

Today, I hope you are feeling that as well, along with a tremendous sense of pride in all you've accomplished at Dartmouth and in the remarkable road you are on, a road that I'm happy has brought you back home to Dartmouth with fondness today. 

Congratulations, again, to all of you. May your lives be filled with health and happiness always, and may you forever keep Dartmouth close to your hearts.