June 14, 2020
To the members of the Great Class of 2020: you may be physically distanced from one another today, but no distance can diminish the bonds you’ve forged at Dartmouth over these last four years. The friendships you’ve made will endure and only grow stronger in time. As you will come to appreciate, the Dartmouth fellowship is forever.
Perhaps, on this occasion, it’s fitting that most of you are with your families—those who have loved you the longest, cheered you the loudest, and supported you not just for the last four years, but for the entirety of your lives. Remember to honor and appreciate them, today and always.
We come together to celebrate a truly extraordinary achievement—you’ve earned your degrees from Dartmouth. For me, it is a reminder that even in the darkest times, there are always points of light. You are points of light. You give us all—faculty, staff, family and friends, even the world at large—reason to believe that there are brighter days ahead.
Usually, the culmination of your Dartmouth experience allows you time to reflect on all you’ve accomplished, take stock of the opportunities and bright futures ahead of you. Maybe even kick back for a bit before you start your careers. But for you—the Class of 2020—the experience is drastically different.
With the coming of spring came the gravest of threats to our American ideals that we have ever experienced. First, a global pandemic. Then, a deep economic recession. And now, most serious of all, the senseless murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery—manifestations of the bigotry, hate, and systemic racism that continue to plague our nation and are, yet again, tearing our country apart.
Now is not the time for you—or for any of us—to sit back. It is a time to rise up. Only we, together, have the power to cure the ills of society and realize the set of ideals upon which our democracy was founded—rights, liberty, opportunity, equality, and justice.
This is no easy mission, but it is one that we must take up. The world needs our vision, our intellect, our determination and above all, our compassion, as never before.
Fifty years ago, many members of the Great Class of 1970 were called into service for their country, drafted to fight a war in Vietnam at a time of social upheaval and unrest here at home.
Today, you, too, are being called into service. While we are not at war in the traditional sense, we are fighting another kind of battle, even more consequential. We are fighting for the fabric of our country. For equality and justice in our communities. For the health and security of our people. For our continued prosperity.
But this is not a moment of despair. Instead, it is a moment to ask yourselves, “What can I do to restore unity to our nation? How can I help the most vulnerable among us and put an end to discrimination and inequality, once and for all? What knowledge can I apply to improving the human condition?”
This is your call of duty. This is your call to lead.
As we’ve watched our nation’s political leaders grapple with the realities we face, those who have stood out as most successful show empathy, compassion and an understanding of the human condition; they appreciate the complexities of society and economics and the links between them; they have a respect for, and comprehension of science; they’re fluent in mathematical and statistical reasoning; and they recognize the capacity of the arts to elevate the human spirit.
In short, the leaders who have lifted us up during these very dark times are those who have mastered, just as you have, all that the liberal arts has to offer.
And so, as I see you go forward to take on the great challenges of the day, I am filled with optimism and hope, because you are Dartmouth graduates. I know your awesome capabilities. And I have felt the strength of your passion to better the world.
As President Kemeny said to the ’70s half a century ago, “Civilization needs the dedication and the convictions which you share at this moment. You must not lose those and you must not, against any odds, lose that hope which can alone save us.”
Congratulations to all of you. I wish you good health, good luck, and good spirits, now and always.