Thank you President Hill, and greetings to faculty, alumni, and students. Welcome to the inauguration of Vassar’s 148th academic year. There is a lot to love about Vassar—the least of which is an indoor speech on a beautiful day like today.
Special greetings to the Classes of 2010 and 2013. 2013: I envy the experiences ahead of you. Sitting here this afternoon, you have no idea how lucky you are. You have no idea how these four years will change you—change your career goals, change your personalities, change your politics, your hopes and your passions. You have no idea how unique a Vassar education really is.
The only people who really do know these truths are sitting around you. My own Class of 2010 has worked so hard and accomplished so much together. At first, it was not easy deciding what to say to the freshmen class this afternoon.
But I want to take this opportunity to share with you the most basic, fundamental truth I have learned about Vassar: your experience here is entirely what you make of it. It’s that simple. Forget all that you’ve heard about Vassar being a small school. You will be blown away by how much goes on here. Whether you play basketball or play the trumpet, whether you’re an aspiring poet or an aspiring chemist, you can undoubtedly find your niche here. The Vassar experience is so varied, so rich, and so indescribably diverse that I can promise each one of you that you will return to these seats in three years with memories entirely distinct from your classmates sitting to your left and right.
But for all of these new experiences, remember too that Vassar is a living safety net. And the strongest strands of your safety net are your own classmates. Undoubtedly, you will face many common challenges together: you will each get lost looking for a building. You will each lose your VCARD at least once. You will certainly make mistakes here. You will also make lifelong friends here. You will learn to question absolutely everything, and you will learn the answers to questions you didn’t even know were being asked. You will grow and change here. Vassar will become a part of each one of you in more ways than you can imagine. And you can experience all of this resting easy, knowing that the people in your classes, in your hallways, and on your teams are all going through the same journey.
So go explore without worry. Go to our Activities Fair. Sign up for student organizations. Meet new people. Talk to professors outside of class. Go out there and forge your own Vassar experience, scary as that might be. They say starting your freshmen year is like standing on the edge of a cliff and jumping off, without knowing whether you’re wearing a parachute. Take the jump. As anyone in 2010 will tell you, the risk is worth it.
Now more than ever, Vassar needs your energy and enthusiasm. Last year, this College—like the rest of the world—was hit by the sudden recession. The VSA leadership made successful strides to work with administrators to preserve a rich and diverse curriculum, to find innovative solutions to cutting costs, and to help ensure that student voice was heard in the process of difficult decision-making. But the recovery process is far from over. As the College moves into one of the most challenging years in its history, the VSA leadership is poised to help rethink Vassar’s structure in creative and dynamic ways.
Undoubtedly, we will take many risks, but I have no doubt that the College we love will emerge from the crisis stronger, leaner and bolder than ever before.
Last spring, I had the pleasure of meeting one of Vassar’s most likeable trustees, an entrepreneur by the name of Mark Ordan. While most of you may not know him personally, it is Mark we all have to thank for the beautiful gates and landscaping design on the north edge of campus. Mark, a member of the Class 1979, has worked tirelessly to make Vassar and the surrounding Arlington community a better place for all of us, and many were reluctant to say goodbye as he retired from the Board after twelve years of service. But as he left, he imparted a message that struck me—a message that I thought would be particularly fitting to share with you on this day of new beginnings. Last May, Mark stood before Cappy and the rest of the Board and said with his typical nonchalant charisma, “We run the risk of something better.”
Mark’s words were said in a context of difficult budget deficits and harsh financial realities, but his message pertains to all of us here today. As the College moves forward to recover from the global recession, each of us must also serve Vassar by thinking creatively and taking advantage of the tremendous resources at our disposal. Now is the time to take risks, think boldly, and come together to create something better.
In eight months, I will be graduating with the rest of the Class of 2010. Looking out at you all this afternoon makes me feel thankful though: When I go, I know that I will have left Vassar in good hands with the Class of 2013.
As freshman, your class has the opportunity to make a difference. Vassar is a huge explored universe, and it’s yours to discover. As you stand on the steep edge of your first year, take the plunge. Use the wealth of great minds here to create a new culture, a new leadership, that you respect, and that you believe in.
You are all privileged to be at a place where knowledge and creativity flow so freely. But once something becomes a great privilege, it also becomes a great responsibility. Your hard work has earned your place at Vassar. Your debt is to make something of it.
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