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

News subtitle

“Remember always that the things most precious to us are often the most fragile, and that they need nurturing and protection and stewardship,” President Hanlon told the class of 2021.


Graduates, congratulations! What a thrill to be gathered together, in person, to celebrate your Commencement. To be in one another’s company on such a joyous occasion takes on extra special meaning for all of us this year.

And to all the friends and family members in the stadium today along with those who are watching with equal pride from afar, thank you for the love, support and encouragement you’ve provided to our graduates, not just on their Dartmouth journey, but every day of their lives.

Fifty years ago, President Kemeny, in addressing the Great Dartmouth Class of 1971, remarked, “I think your class has seen more turmoil and changes of mood on campuses than any class in the history of higher education.”

Class of ’21, I think you’ve got them beat.

Your class has faced a cauldron of tumult and tragedy unlike any other. The painful reckoning of the #MeToo movement. Racial injustice ravaging communities across the country. Divisive politics and an unprecedented attack on our democracy as the peaceful transition of power in this country was marred in violence earlier this year.

And as you looked to your senior year to be filled with all the cherished traditions that serve as the culmination of the Dartmouth experience, your world was turned upside down by a global pandemic the likes of which we’ve not seen in our lifetimes. 

In an instant, you were faced with some stark and startling realities. Over half a million deaths in this country alone. The devastating downstream effects on the global economy forcing financial hardships on many. And the impacts on mental health that we already feel and will surely amplify in the period ahead.

As you work to make sense of all this in the years to come, I want to leave you today with just one lesson to be taken from these tumultuous times.

Remember always that the things most precious to us are often the most fragile, and that they need nurturing and protection and stewardship. Our health and well-being. Our friendships and family bonds. Our economic prosperity. Our democracy. Even this institution we all call Dartmouth, which has played more of a role in shaping the people you’ve become than you have yet to realize.

Today, I stand here with hope for the Great Class of 2021, knowing that your Dartmouth experience has uniquely prepared you to become stewards of those things you hold most dear. With all you’ve faced over the past 18 months, you leave here undaunted by challenge and adaptive to change, knowing how to think with your minds and feel with your hearts. 

And through the shared challenge of the journey you’ve taken together, you’ve learned the value of your friendships and the importance of drawing strength from the Dartmouth fellowship. So when you return to the Hanover plain for your 5th, your 25th, and your 50th reunions, I know you’ll feel the joy that comes from being in the presence of one another as much as you do today.

Class of 2021, congratulations, again, on an extraordinary ride. I wish you success and happiness always, and may you forever keep Dartmouth close to your hearts.

Office of Communications