President Chopp

Listen to the speech

Colgate President Rebecca S. Chopp’s commencement remarks:

President ChoppBefore I give the presidential charge to the graduates, let me take this opportunity to express our gratitude to those who are gathered here this day or those who are at home waiting to hear about this day of celebration and joy. Every graduate who walks across this stage is supported by many here at Colgate and at home who have worked hard to afford and ensure opportunities for our students.

First, join me in thanking the parents, grandparents, and other family members who supported this education in so many ways. Thank you!

Thanks, too, for friends gathered here this day and for alumni who reach out to support our students and our recent graduates.

And a special thanks to Colgate’s staff: They provide us with our daily subsistence, maintain our facilities, keep these beautiful grounds, and support our campus and our work.

Last, but by no means least, faculty members deserve special thanks. Inside and outside the classroom, supporting and challenging, opening new worlds big and small, going with students to Dijon and Geneva and Cape Town and Ellis Island and Washington, D.C., and Utica!

When I ask seniors and alumni what they value about Colgate, their most frequent answer is “the wonderful faculty.” Rightly said. Thank you.

And now my irrepressible, smart, energetic, and gutsy seniors, you are to go out into the world, armed with the excellence of a Colgate education, nurtured and challenged by belonging to a real-life, real-time, not-always-easy-but-often-lots-of-fun community.

Hopefully you have learned to act with passion and confidence, to step forward and leave your mark and to be a team member and build a better world. You are ready! Let’s celebrate!

I am filled with pride and awe and joy looking at you. But I am filled a bit with nostalgia and sadness, for we will never have this experience again.

You will never graduate from Colgate again, and I will never again have the thrill of watching my first class graduate.

You and I arrived at Colgate at the same time. We have learned together what this place means, we have made a difference to this place, and we have become Colgate together.

What an extravagant journey it has been.

Just remember: Move-in day and orientation 2002. Classes to begin, roommates to adjust to, study skills and time management to master.

Lots of new spaces — the Coop, the bookstore, a revitalized downtown — though to us everything was new!

In your sophomore year, there was championship football in the snow and school spirit! Incredible fun.

Water Polo to the Nationals! Women’s basketball played in the NCAA tournament against Tennessee — we were there! 

There was also the announcement of a new residential plan and the announcement of acquisition of Greek-letter houses — many thought the death knell on fun was sounding. (How could they ever underestimate Colgate students’ capacity to create fun?!)

Our gorgeous new boathouse also opened and you created the Colgate Arts! Initiative.  Your sophomore year rolled out with a foam party, democracy dinners, and lots of new speakers.  

Many of you spent your junior year abroad, some of you going into new programs in China and San Francisco, some in expanding extended study programs. The debate team went to Malaysia.

Many of you provided leadership to new groups such as the Cricket Club and the Student Lecture Forum, and participated in new academic programs such as Middle Eastern and Islamic studies, peace and conflict studies, and the architectural emphasis in art and art history.

Senior year: What a great year!

The new townhouses opened, Greek-letter houses did great, and the Upstate Institute inaugurated the Abolitionist Hall of Fame.

Speakers included Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bernard McGinn, Bernice King, Kabul University Chancellor Ghani, and B.D. Wong.

Still going strong and doing well at the end of the year, more than 300 of you signed the environmental pledge.

And all of us reached out in our hearts to support alumnus Bob Woodruff, hurt on assignment in Iraq, and his wife, Lee, and their four children.

But during all your adventures, you, we learned to see Colgate, the world, and ourselves.

At the convocation your first year, I talked about how a liberal arts education is a way of seeing; seeing in terms of looking at clearly, understanding, or looking into, seeing as insight, and seeing in new ways.

And I think we have all learned to see in many ways.

We have learned to see each other at Colgate and to learn that there is no narrow mold for a Colgate student.

We are all different, and we can respect each other. Each one of us is an individual, and we are connected together. 

We have learned that in each person, all of Colgate can be expressed.

A famous and important American, William Sloane Coffin, theologian, chaplain at Yale, minister of Riverside Church in New York City, died this past year. Coffin spoke at Colgate in 1979 and an alumnus sent me his baccalaureate address.

In his address in the Chapel, Coffin talked about the type of seeing that one learns at Colgate: “Human unity is not something we are called on to create — only something we are called on to recognize.”

Coffin said about human unity, “ …when you stop and think about it, what is more quintessentially British and at the same time universal than Shakespeare? What is more Russian and at the same time more universal that Dostoyevsky? Quintessentially more Chilean; and at the same time more universal than the poetry of Pablo Neruda?” 

In the differences, a particular vision of the whole is seen.

And we have also learned to see Colgate in our imaginations, in new ways of living together, and we have found we can adapt and flourish.

If we take these two aspects of seeing Colgate: Our ways of seeing difference and wholeness together, and our ability to imagine new ways of being with others, the world, I think, will be a much better place.

We have learned to see the world, or at least assemble our microscopes, telescopes, and other lenses necessary to see the world.

We have dug deep into the sciences, we have toiled hard to explore the facts of society, we have interpreted texts, performed art, and, at least some of us, mastered new languages.

We have learned to learn and, equally important, we have gained great confidence in our ability to learn what we need to know.

I will forever carry the impression of a number of you in your first year. My goodness how you have changed.

Yes, you are much better at writing and thinking — thank goodness — but you are also more confident in your ability to get a job done, to undertake a task, to build an organization or community. You know how to make a difference.

We have learned a bit about wisdom and insight, though we still have much to learn.

One aspect of wisdom we were introduced to during the opening convocation is our very special Colgate tradition: The ban on triskaidekaphobia.


Said differently, Colgate is filled with triskaidekaphilia.

It is, stretched and played within a liberal arts kind of way, a wonderful insight. Fear of superstition, the quest to really see what is really going on, refusal to accept rampant rumors, the willingness to see the ultimate and the true.

So we have learned to see, but we have also learned to do.

Four years ago, I don’t think I understood what “doers” Colgate students are. You taught me and I thank you for this lesson.

Faculty members say Colgate students are thinkers and doers. And doers you are and so you do.

You reinvented the debate team, you brought back Masque & Triangle and fencing, you worked ceaselessly to build this place and make it better!

You always reached out to those around Colgate and in this way taught many of us the practice of thinking and, yes, doing.

Your work in COVE and the Upstate Institute has been fantastic. You have served as a doula, you have helped families with disabled children get Social Security benefits, you went selflessly to Louisiana to help rebuild, you raised money for tsunami victims, you tutored children in Hamilton and Sherburne, you built roofs, you handed out hot chocolate at holiday parties on the village green, and you helped nonprofit organizations in Madison County.

You used your knowledge, understanding, and insight to make a difference.

So my charge is simple: Step forward with confidence. Make a difference. Continue thinking and doing. Blessings upon you all and upon each one of you.


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