Valedictory to the Graduating Students by President Philip J. Hanlon ’77

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“Engagement with the arts is integral to the experience of every Dartmouth student,” Hanlon told the Class of 2019.


Graduates of the great Dartmouth Class of 2019, congratulations! Revel in this moment. It is a milestone.

And to the friends and family members gathered to share in this happy occasion, we celebrate you, too, for the love and support you’ve provided to the graduates during their Dartmouth journey!

In this 250th year of our beloved College, nostalgia fills our hearts for our cherished Dartmouth traditions: first-year trips, the homecoming bonfire, Winter Carnival. But today, with the incomparable Yo-Yo Ma in the house, I want to talk about another storied Dartmouth tradition: the arts.

The arts have been alive at Dartmouth from the earliest days of the College. Our very first Commencement exercises in 1771 featured an “anthem” composed and set to music and performed by the graduating class. Don’t worry, ’19s—composing an original song is no longer a requirement for earning your degree.

The very next year, 1772, featured the first play put on by Dartmouth students, organized by none other than John Ledyard.

Throughout our history, Dartmouth faculty and graduates have had an outsized impact on the world of the arts. Frost, Geisel, and Orozco in early times; Pilobolus, Romero, Kaling, Rhimes, and Arad in more recent years, just to name a few. And as Gail and I have attended your student concerts and plays, visited your studio art installations, and enjoyed the works of aspiring authors and poets on campus, we actually see the future of Dartmouth’s impact on the art world.

At the end of World War II, the famed School for American Craftsmen was born right here on the Dartmouth campus. And in 1962, Dartmouth pioneered a new model for performing arts centers across all of higher education with the opening of the Hop. Not long after, the Dartmouth theater department served as the earliest pathway for women on this campus, some of whom are seated amongst you today as proudly adopted members of the Class of 1969.

And today the Hop, the Black Family Visual Arts Center, and our newly reimagined Hood Museum of Art together serve as the epicenter of artistic creation and expression on our campus and an incredible source of fulfillment for all of us.

But make no mistake, engagement with the arts is integral to the experience of every Dartmouth student—not just those who actively create art. I grew up in a small mining town in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains. A rough-and-tumble place, my town had no shortage of taverns but not a single movie theater. So, when I arrived at Dartmouth in the fall of 1973, movies were a magnificent, unexplored terrain; and the Film Society became my obsession. My freshman fall, the Film Society ran a series of John Ford classics, and I marveled at these films—how they could stir such deep feelings with their irony and nostalgia. A year later, the Film Society became yesterday’s news when Springsteen played at the Hop.

For me, the arts at Dartmouth opened my mind to entirely new ways of thinking, helped me see the world as it is, and imagine the world as it could be.

Class of ’19, you embody Dartmouth’s lofty mission: to prepare our graduates to lead lives of leadership and impact. The arts have always been a magnetic presence on this campus exactly because they are core to that mission.

While data, evidence, logic, and reason provide one way to make sense of the world, the arts provide another: a distinct, yet complimentary mode of understanding oneself and experiencing the world, beyond facts and figures. Engagement with the arts has been shown to elevate resilience in the face of change, empathy and understanding of others, and capacity to solve problems.

And in today’s volatile world, having a well-developed creative capacity, in addition to strong analytic skills, is paramount. In fact, a 2016 World Economic Forum report placed creativity as one of the three most important work-related skills anticipated for 2020.

So, my message to you today is simple: Never relinquish your paintbrush, your pen, your musical instrument, or any other creative tool at your disposal, because there is always another stroke, another stanza, another measure, another chapter in the work that will forever be known as you.

And when you see an opportunity to engage with the arts, or to support the arts, embrace it with all you’ve got.

If any one of you has doubts about your own creative capacity, think again. Over these last four years, you’ve designed—with the help of our faculty, staff, and those around you–the greatest masterpiece of all: yourself.

Class of 2019, I have every confidence that you will let your creativity reign as you seek to impact the world and become every bit the person you wish to be.

Congratulations, once more, to all of you! May you meet with success and happiness always, and forever keep Dartmouth close to your hearts. Congratulations.

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