Congratulations Class of 2011, the first graduating class of the School of Arts and Sciences!
We hope that each of you, whatever your School, takes with you the open-minded, analytically acute, and thoughtful approach to knowledge and experience that the School of Arts and Sciences seeks to inspire. For those of you who today graduate with degrees in the arts and sciences disciplines, we hope you take with you both deep knowledge of one of them and a larger sense of the skills, understanding, and wisdom that you will need to lead productive and happy lives.
The School of Arts and Sciences is the largest academic unit in our university, and your graduation is a defining moment in its history. Today is the first graduation of the unified School of Arts and Sciences, following a long era in which the liberal arts were taught at four separate colleges across the campuses in New Brunswick and Piscataway. Your graduation represents a milestone in the transformation of undergraduate education initiated and led by President McCormick, and you are the very first graduating class of SAS. No group of young men and women will ever again be able to say that they were members of the very first graduating class in the School of Arts and Sciences!
And no group will so deserve the honor as you do either. There are almost 5,000 of you, which is why our convocation takes place here in the stadium rather than in a separate venue: only the stadium is big enough to hold all of you, but not even the stadium can contain our pride and your families’ pride in what you have accomplished.
Great universities have much of which to be proud: famous faculty members, astounding research, great libraries, magnificent laboratories, fine buildings, great athletic teams, and so on. That is what makes them great. At the School of Arts and Sciences, however, we reserve our greatest pride for our students, for each and every one of you. You are something special, more special than you may realize. No graduating class in any university in this country is even close.
A third of you are the first in your family to graduate from college, half of you are the children or grandchildren of immigrants or are immigrants yourselves, you speak, among you, several dozen languages (and you didn’t learn them here), more than half of you identify yourselves as non-white, and almost all of you have had to struggle against the economic odds even to be at this University, never mind to stay here and to graduate from it.
You sit here in this great stadium today because, unlike so many undergraduates at other institutions, you actually know that your education counts for something important; it isn’t just the obvious next step in someone else’s plan of your life. You know this more profoundly than we do: you have proven for four years that you understand that what you have been doing here is the essential transformational opportunity of your entire life.
You are not only historic because you are the first to graduate from SAS, but also because each of you embodies the dream of unfettered democratic achievement that has been the center of this country’s aspirations for two and a half centuries. I speak to you as a graduate of this university myself when I tell you that although many young women and men will graduate from American colleges and universities over the next several weeks, none will have achieved more, none will have overcome more obstacles, none will have so perfectly and so completely epitomized the utterly essential role of public higher education in a democracy as you have. We congratulate you today, but we also thank you for the honor having accompanied you on your journey.
May I now ask those graduating with honors from the School of Arts and Sciences to stand?
These honors graduates of the School of Arts and Sciences represent the highest level of academic achievement that our School can offer. We recognize their accomplishments today with pride in what they have done at Rutgers and with the certain knowledge that they leave us prepared for comparable accomplishment in the world beyond the university. We offer you our congratulations on the highest level of academic achievement at Rutgers and for that you have our deepest congratulations.
Thank you. Please be seated.
Each member of the School of Arts and Sciences Class of 2011 leaves this place knowing that no one educates you, that real education is not what we have done to you these last four years but what you have done for yourselves. Your achievements in the classrooms and laboratories and library and outside them are truly breathtaking. Wherever you go and whatever you do after today, you will carry the name of your university with you and all of us here are proud that our name will be forever linked with yours. Congratulations!
Read more about the 245th Anniversary Commencement.