Baccalaureate Address - Lawrence S. Bacow

May 21, 2011

President Lawrence S. BacowParents, family members, faculty, friends, but most importantly, to my fellow members of the Class of 2011, welcome!

It is hard to believe that this day has finally come. Tomorrow you will graduate from Tufts. Your college days have officially ended and you are about to commence the rest of your life. I suspect most of you are feeling mixed emotions: pride at having completed your degree, excitement about all that awaits you, sadness at having to say goodbye to good friends, all tempered by a bit of anxiety -- dare I say fear? -- of the unknown. From the time you were five, each year of school followed the next. Except for having to decide where to go to college and what to study, your choices were quite limited. Now all that changes. You are about to make some very important decisions: where to live, what to do, and how to support yourself in the process. Terrifying, isn’t it?

I know how you feel. Like you, I am going through similar changes. Adele and I are also taking leave from this Hill, from Tufts, a very special place that we have grown to love. Like you, we are leaving the comfort of familiar circumstances, saying goodbye to old friends. We also are not quite sure what the future holds for us. But while this uncertainty can be a bit scary, it can also be exciting, an opportunity for personal growth. I hope you will embrace the decisions that await you with enthusiasm. You are well equipped to take on the world. You know far more than you realize, and if you are like the other 100,000 Tufts alumni spread throughout the world, you will do well.

Watch the full Baccalaureate ceremony:

The last time you faced similar anxiety was four years ago when you entered Tufts as freshmen. It seems like yesterday that we all gathered on the Quad for Matriculation. At the time, you were worried about whether you would like your roommate, what you would study at Tufts, whether you were up to the competition, and perhaps most of all, how you would survive having to do your own laundry. Well, you managed to overcome all those hurdles and you will also manage the challenges that now stand before you. I have great confidence in each of you.

Many of you, including your parents, have commented to me how quickly these four years have passed.

The time has flown by for Adele and for me, too. When we greeted you at Matriculation four years ago, we knew you would be the last class we would see through from start to finish. As a result you have always been special to us and you always will be. In fact, I hope you don’t mind that we have declared ourselves fellow graduates of the Class of 2011.

I suspect you all have very special memories of these past four years and so do we. Let me share a few with you. Adele and I will never forget:

  • Busting a few moves with many of you at the Tufts Dance Collective show. Thanks to Katie and the entire TDC Board for letting us make fools of ourselves.
  • Appearing on stage as a drunken sailor and his wench in Dido and Aeneas, and as beggars in the Threepenny Opera (in both cases perfectly typecast for a university president and spouse).
  • Singing in public for the first time since our respective Bar and Bat Mitzvahs at the opening of Over the Rainbow, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Thanks Sam and Jeewon for the opportunity, but I think Adele and I are going to retire for another 47 years before we try that again.

  • Welcoming an incredible group of distinguished visitors to campus including Joshua Bell, Tony Blair, Katie Couric, Nancy Pelosi, Michael Pollan, Michael Sandel, Stephen Sondheim, and Bob Woodward, to name just a few.
  • Being at the Campus Center with many of you on election night 2008, and then watching with pride as a few thousand of you broke into patriotic song on the Rez Quad.
  • Training through Boston’s worst winter in memory with the Marathon Team and then being at the finish line to give each of you a big sweaty hug. What an amazing experience.
  • Sharing in the excitement when our Men’s Lacrosse team won Tufts’ first NCAA team championship last year. Great going, guys.
  • Throwing out the first pitch at Fenway Park with 700 fellow Jumbos in attendance. What a thrill!
  • Watching with pride as our own Beelzebubs charmed the nation with their amazing run on Sing-Off and now appearing as the voices of the Warblers on Glee.

Senior Dinners, meeting our Tufts in Spain students at the US Ambassador’s residence in Madrid, and enjoying home cooked meals at 39 Curtis Avenue and Hillside 210. All special memories. I could go on.

But what Adele and I will remember most is seeing so many of you arrive as slightly insecure freshmen and, now, leave as confident, well-educated, worldly young men and women. Moms and Dads, four years ago at Matriculation I told you that the fact that you were sitting at Tufts on that beautiful day was evidence that you had done your job well as parents. Now I hope you will agree that the fact you are sitting here today is evidence that your kids have done their job well (but with a little bit of help from our faculty and staff.) Your sons and daughters are truly amazing and Adele and I have loved getting to know them. Thank you again for entrusting them to us.

I know from our conversations at the Senior Brunch last week that this is a bittersweet time for many of you. You are worried that you are saying goodbye to friends who have been so much a part of your life for these past four years; people that you have lived with, laughed with, loved with and cried with. Well, not to worry. You are not saying goodbye. The relationships that you have forged during your time on this Hill will only deepen with time. You will attend each other’s weddings; share in the joy of the birth of each other’s children; vacation together and go into business together. You will find a way to stay in touch whether by phone, email, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, or technologies yet to be invented.

And if you don’t believe me, let me illustrate my point by example. Here today with their wives are three of my college roommates - Alan Detsky, Ken Musen, and Alan Spoon. We met 42 years ago this fall as freshmen. We are still the closest of friends, and we still get together regularly. So will you.

I suspect many of you would love to have a crystal ball that would allow you to peer into the future, to tell you what you will do with your life. You would love to know how you are going to earn a living, whether you will be happy and successful, and with whom you will share life’s passages. If such a crystal ball existed, I would tell you to throw it away. Life is interesting in part because your future is not ordained. You have the opportunity, indeed the responsibility, to shape your life. Take control. Make your choices deliberately and intelligently. Embrace uncertainty and be prepared to recognize opportunity when it walks up and hits you in the face, because it will.

There are many ways to earn a living. Far more important is to live a meaningful life.

Freud was once asked about the meaning of life. I am paraphrasing his response only slightly: He said, “To work and to love.” And at the risk of being accused of editing Freud, I would also add, “To serve.”

How fortunate you will be to find meaningful work, work that fulfills you, work that you enjoy, work that makes a difference.

Whenever I have confronted career decisions I have found it useful to ask myself three questions:

First, is the job worth doing? Not all jobs are. We spend so much time at our work that I think it should have a purpose that we believe in. This is a very personal judgment and you are entitled to make it on your own. Listen to your heart.

Second, will you grow and learn in the job? A job should stretch you, force you to master new skills, and embrace new challenges. If it does not, you will soon grow stale and unhappy.

Finally, will you like and respect your colleagues? Life is too short to work with people that you neither like nor respect. Also, it is difficult to learn from people if you do not hold them in high esteem.

It is not enough to ask these questions when you are contemplating a new job. You have to continually ask them because circumstances change. Candidly, one reason I am stepping down as President after ten years is that I worry about growing stale. Serving as your President has been a true joy. I could not have asked for more meaningful work, and I love my colleagues, but I need to move on if I am going to continue to grow as a person. I hope that some day each of you will be similarly blessed to have the opportunity to do work that makes a true difference in other people’s lives -- work that stretches you --and to do it with people that you really like and respect.

What about love? You will never find fulfillment if you do not have the opportunity to love and be loved. Finding the right life partner is the great lottery in life. I was lucky. I won this lottery big time. Thank you, Adele. I hope all of you will be as fortunate. But if you are to be happy and fulfilled, I think you need more than just a loving spouse. Family and friends are also incredibly important. As you find your way in the world, you will have to make choices about how you lead your life. Are you going to put family or career first? Anyone who consistently resolves this tension in favor of their career risks putting their most important relationships in jeopardy. It is not always easy to find that elusive balance that Freud understood deeply. Meaningful work without love is empty, and love without meaningful work is often not sustainable.

I hope throughout your lives you will look for opportunities to serve and to help others. None of us have ever accomplished anything of consequence on our own. If we have succeeded, it is due in no small measure to the help and support we have received from others. In some cases, this support was visible. Someone encouraged us, gave us a lead, or otherwise opened doors. In other cases this support was anonymous – the person who long ago volunteered their time to help create an organization that is now the center of your life.

Nothing is more rewarding than extending a helping hand to those in need. When you leave this Hill tomorrow as Tufts graduates, you bear a special responsibility to help those less fortunate. With education comes responsibility. I have yet to meet anyone who believes this world is perfect. This statement is as true for Democrats as it is for Republicans, for liberals as it is for conservatives. If the world is not perfect, the only way it will get better is if good people like you commit yourselves to repairing it. We all bear this responsibility. Please do not sit on the sidelines. We expect you to get involved.

So Class of 2011, may you find meaningful work, may you love and be loved, and may you find fulfillment in serving others. If you do, I guarantee you a happy life.

Let me close with one of my favorite passages from the Talmud, a sacred text and source of much wisdom. It is the reflection of a great Talmudic scholar. He says, “I have learned much from my teachers, more from my colleagues, but most from my students.”

Class of 2011, on behalf of all of your teachers over these past four years, thank you for having taught us so well.

Photo by Alonso Nichols, Tufts Photo