For First-Generation Students, Not Advice but Questions

At a special ceremony for graduates who are the first in their families to attend college, Tufts Dean James Glaser told them learning is about inquiry
a graduating senior and her mother hug, as others look on
Students hug after the first-generation ceremony at Tufts on May 3. The ceremony celebrated fifty-eight students who are the first in their family to receive a college degree. Photo: Anna Miller
May 19, 2019


This is a transcript of the remarks given at a ceremony for first-generation college graduates at Tufts on May 3 by James Glaser, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences.

What if I told you that because a university is a place of questions—and hopefully some answers—that I have decided to give my remarks to you entirely in the interrogative? Is this OK with you?

Are you better off now than you were four years ago?

What has happened in these four years? How much has changed?

Did you experience great success? Did you experience failure, and if so, did you learn from it?

Did it take perseverance, resilience, grit and a few all-nighters to get here?

Did you become more civically involved? Were you able to connect what you learned outside the classroom with what you learned inside the classroom?

James Glaser, dean of school the arts and sciences at Tufts University, addresses first-generation college students. Photo: Anna Miller Have you looked at any of the work you did first year and said, “Oh my God!”?

Did we encourage you to question authority?

Did you meet someone special? Would you believe that my 5’1" sister met her 5’4" husband in a short story class? Have you made lifelong friends?

Through your years in college, have you become more independent and confident and wise? And have you come to appreciate your parents and families more?

Do you have gratitude for some of the staff and faculty who have taught you and mentored you and guided you?

Toward the future, will you keep in touch? Will you make a difference in whatever large or small way you are able?

Ladies and gentlemen, will you please join me in congratulating our students upon their graduation?

James Glaser is dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Tufts.

This article was first published in The Conversation.