Commencement 2016: Anthony P. Monaco

BACCALAUREATE SPEECHES

Anthony P. Monaco
Baccalaureate Address to the Class of 2016

May 21, 2016

Welcome

Family, friends, colleagues, and distinguished guests: Welcome to this year’s Baccalaureate service. The members of the Class of 2016 are today’s most special guests. So welcome Seniors!

Graduation from Tufts is a milestone for all those close to our students. A college career can bring with it unforeseen challenges as well as hoped-for triumphs. Those who love and care for our graduates have provided them with support and encouragement all along the way, rejoicing in good times and offering a steadying hand when things got rough.

As we begin, I would like to ask the graduates to stand and recognize the support… care… love… and sacrifice of the parents… grandparents… siblings… partners… children… and friends, who have made this day possible. Seniors, please give them a hearty round of applause.

All of you shared a portion of this journey and supported our graduates. We are grateful to you for entrusting these young people to be educated at Tufts, and helping them thrive while they were here.

I would also like to recognize the devotion and excellence of Tufts’ faculty, deans, coaches and staff. In countless ways visible and invisible, academic and personal, they have supported and guided our students. It is a privilege to share the stage with their representatives.

Thank you, Sharad, for that inspiring Wendell Phillips address. I got to know Sharad during his first year, and we have remained close throughout his time here. I will never forget travelling to a Tufts ice hockey game with Sharad and cheering on the Jumbos. Sharad was the manager for the team, and it was clear that the whole team thought the world of him. He is an outstanding representative of the Class of 2016, and his address was all that I could have expected from someone who exemplifies the very best of Tufts.

I am also grateful to the students who have enriched our campus and this day with the important messages of their faiths, traditions, and philosophical perspectives.

Reflections on the Class of 2016

Before I share my reflections on your Class and what lies ahead for you, I would also like to pause for a moment in memory of two members of the Class of 2016, whose time with us was cut short. Although they are no longer with us, they have left an enduring legacy in the hearts and minds of their friends, classmates, and faculty. Let us remember:

  • HyunJae Kim, a biomedical engineer from South Korea.
  • And Julia Lee, who came to Tufts from Hong Kong to study computer science.

[Pause for a moment of silence]

Class of 2016: You were already accomplished when you arrived at Tufts. Chosen in the most selective undergraduate admissions cycle up to that time, you set new records for high school academic achievement.

You have gone on to excel in your chosen pursuits at Tufts as well. The ceremonies to present this year’s Academic Awards, Presidential Awards for Citizenship and Public Service, and Alumni Association Senior Awards all reflected how exceptional your accomplishments have been. Your Class includes the first cohort of BLAST Scholars to matriculate to the School of Arts and Sciences, and the third cohort of BEST Scholars in Engineering. And among you are the very first graduates from Tufts’ newest major, Film and Media Studies.

I have watched you act in extraordinary plays, and sing, dance, and perform with passion and brilliance. And you have participated in national competitions for various dance groups and slam poetry.

Your arrival coincided with the opening of the Steve Tisch Sports and Fitness Center, and during your four years here, the university’s athletics teams have won many NESCAC championships and participated in multiple NCAA championships, winning an impressive number of them.

In the spring of your first year, Tufts, Boston, and the nation were shaken by the Marathon Bombing. In the past week, our community was challenged by disturbing events on campus. Through these events, and many others in our turbulent, challenging, and often troubling world, you have helped us come together as a community to support each other and make sense of senseless acts.

You have not been just onlookers. Far from it. You have worked for social justice and against racism… fought for LGBT rights and to prevent sexual misconduct on campus… and advocated for changes in university policy. You have been activists on campus, in our local communities, and around the world.

Navigating the Future

You leave Tufts to enter a world that is evolving every day. Success and satisfaction in a changing environment call for flexibility. I hope that you will look forward to the future with an open mind and embrace it with the same enthusiasm and passion that you brought with you to Tufts.

This is not just a question of adapting to circumstances: You can never know when an experience or interaction will unlock new opportunities by encouraging you to move in an unanticipated direction.

I think I can best illustrate what I mean by a story from my own experience—a story that reflects how your path can change unexpectedly. A story that some of you heard me share at this year’s senior dinners.

After college, I pursued a combined M.D.-Ph.D. program, expecting to study Neuroscience. In my first year of graduate studies, I heard a young faculty member outline a strategy to identify the gene for X-linked Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and I was blown away by his talk. It was as if a light had been turned on. Suddenly, in this new field of molecular genetics, I saw ahead of me the most amazing scientific opportunities.

And the very next day I decided to switch research topics. It was unquestionably an impulsive decision. In fact, I was taking a huge risk, because I knew nothing about genetics!

But it turned out to be absolutely the right decision. I found myself working on a fascinating challenge. And it was not just an intellectual puzzle, because I knew the answer would have significant implications for health. The work led to the discovery of the first gene for a human inherited disorder based solely on a genetic approach. And now, some thirty years later, we see the promise of real therapeutic outcomes from it.

I had followed my gut instinct about accepting a challenge, even though it meant turning aside from the path my advisors and I had mapped out for me. And I did it again many years later when I had reached the height of my scientific career. I was looking for a new challenge and working across a university in administrative leadership was not an obvious next step. But I took that leap and ended up here at Tufts as President. It has been an amazing and rewarding journey both personally and professionally. Never a straight path, but certainly an exciting one.

Educated for the 21st Century

That is my story. Now, it is time for you to write yours.

The world you are entering is continuously evolving—economically, geopolitically, technologically and culturally. This change is anxiety producing; it is a natural reaction to want to be practical, to have everything figured out, to move down a straight, planned out path.

As a result, perhaps now more than at any other time in recent history, there is a drive to measure the practical value of a university education.

Intensifying the concern about the value of education is a more general sense of economic insecurity. In the wake of the recession, families and students have worried quite understandably about the stability of the economy, and a job market that seems to be changing, and often volatile.

In this climate, it is tempting to shift how we view higher education. Many think of a college degree as a vocational certificate, rather than a ticket to broader skills and lifelong learning. There is a rush to ensure higher education produces immediate returns especially given the high cost to individuals and families to obtain a higher degree. The Internet is littered with blog posts, articles, and polling data about how students are faring professionally and financially after they graduate.

While this may be a natural response to economic uncertainty, I challenge you to think beyond income alone. It is more important than ever to step back and thoughtfully evaluate what it means to be educated in and for the 21st century.

I was struck by a figure put out by the MacArthur Foundation, which estimates that 65 percent of young people today will end up with jobs that have yet to be created. In other words, you need an education that will help you succeed over the course of a lifetime—not just in your first job.

Today, I am here to tell you that I am certain you have acquired such an education here at Tufts—even if you are not yet sure of it yourself.

During your time here, you have acquired invaluable skills through transformative learning experiences ranging from rigorous course work, study aboard, and independent research to energetic participation in athletics and the performing arts, leadership in campus activities, and service in the community.

You have learned critical thinking, complex problem solving, expertise in written and verbal communication, and habits of minds that enable you to question conventional wisdom and social assumptions.

All of these will enhance your ability to be flexible and succeed in a changing environment. They are skills that will help you navigate transitions now and into the future.

And they are actually the skills that employers currently say they prize most highly in employees. They are the skills and lateral thinking of the true innovators for the 21st century.

Active Citizenship

But of course your education here is not just about preparing you for future jobs. Our world needs individuals who are willing to take on causes larger than their own self-interest or professional development.

We need your generation to provide future leaders for positive change in society.

Fortunately, I know that your Class is ready and willing to serve.

As students, you have demonstrated a commitment to active citizenship through your advocacy and your service to organizations and communities surrounding campus and around the world.

As graduates, many of you will be drawn to mission-oriented roles that are vital to thriving communities and advancing society. No matter what career path you follow, I hope that you will be an engaged member of your community.

Closing

Members of the Class of 2016: While you have been on the Hill, your classmates have benefited from the experiences you brought growing up in 46 American states, D.C., Puerto Rico, and 37 nations. Tomorrow, you will join the over 100,000 members of our global alumni community representing Tufts all around the world.

As I said to you at Matriculation, alumni often say to me, “Tufts changed my life.” It is clear to me that you have indeed allowed your experiences at Tufts to change your lives, too.

I hope that you will cherish the friendships you have made here, keep in touch with your advisors and mentors, and stay connected with the university. I know that your careers and accomplishments throughout your lives will give us cause for pride.

Before Charles Tufts donated 20 acres on Walnut Hill for the founding of Tufts University in 1852, he was reportedly asked what he was going to do with the hill. “I will put a light on it,” he replied.

I hope that your experience at Tufts has been indeed a source of light. I believe we need that light now more than ever given the complex issues facing our world. And I challenge you, the Class of 2016, to make that light shine even brighter in the 21st century.

Thank you—and Congratulations!


Photo by Alonso Nichols/Tufts Photography