President, Vassar Student Association
Thank you President Hill, and greetings to faculty, alumni and students. It is so good to be with you, and it is a privilege to be celebrating the extraordinary contributions and achievements of Vassar students and faculty this year.
I would like to start by expressing my gratitude to those assembled in this historic Chapel. Thank you to the outstanding faculty members seated behind me, who have given us the tools to answer questions we have not yet asked. Thank you to Cappy and the Senior Officers, who have remained steadfast in their commitment to steering Vassar on a course that remains true to College’s enduring values and unique spirit. And thank you to the outgoing VSA Executive Board. Brian, Scott, Aaron, Liz and Stephanie—I am proud to count you among my closest friends. We have shared an unforgettable, challenging year together, and I know our lifelong friendships have only just begun.
To the Class of 2011 – congratulations on becoming seniors! In your last year as students at Vassar, I hope you take time away from graduate school applications, job interviews, and senior theses to truly appreciate living and learning at this incredible place. I promise you won’t regret taking those quiet moments of contemplation, those walks alone along Sunset Lake, those picnics on sunny Saturdays with your friends.
And to my own Class of 2010 – Today is our day to celebrate! We are now officially alumni and alumnae of Vassar College. In the fall of 2006, we sat in these very same seats on our first night at Vassar. Dean D.B. Brown took the stage and praised us for being the most selective class in Vassar’s history. Today, even though the Class of 2014 may have stolen the title of “Vassar’s most selective class,” I, for one, am still convinced we are Vassar’s most distinguished.
Why do I say so? On the eve of our Vassar careers, members of the Class of 2010 had already been recognized internationally as leaders in research, athletics, and the arts. I would like to take a moment to share with all of you some of the accomplishments of the Class of 2010—before we even came to Vassar. Among members of my class are:
And all that was done before we even walked through Vassar’s gates! Over the course of the last four years, the Class of 2010 has gone on to even more spectacular accomplishments in the sciences, arts, and athletics. Indeed, over the past four years, we have been active and conscientious members of this community.
But that’s not to say that we haven’t been challenged at Vassar. I know I certainly have. When I arrived at Vassar that rainy afternoon in August 2006, I was a very different person. Quiet, politically moderate and athletic, I never considered myself to be the most likely candidate to become the student body President. I came to Vassar from a conservative, wealthy, predominantly white high school in St. Louis, Missouri. Needless to say, there weren’t too many hunger strikers lining our halls.
The Vassar of my imagination was loud and liberal. I didn’t expect to fit it. But, in no time at all, I found my place in this community. Vassar is truly a place that allows uniqueness and individuality. Walking through the quad, you’ll meet a tri-varsity athlete who reports for The Miscellany News, a biology major with a minor in history, and an economics major who aspires to work for Doctors Without Borders.
Indeed, Vassar breeds passionate individuals who think outside of the box. We breed people who do not always agree, people who can argue for hours about the definitions of progress and responsibility. Acting as student body president this year, I have been exposed first hand to the dialogue that transpires in nearly every corner of our campus. The economic crisis, for example, certainly provoked robust debate. There were passionate conversations, peaceful demonstrations, and all-campus forums. It was a moment in the College’s history that captured the lively spirit of our campus.
At Vassar, we have all been exposed to problems facing our society. But now is the time to stop complaining, stop talking in circles, and stop procrastinating. Now is the time to use the skills we’ve gained at this institution to take action. As Attorney General Eric Holder said during his speech last Thursday, we must use our Vassar educations to, “make a positive and enduring impact on the world we all share and the future we all seek.”
And as we strive to change the world, we must remember too, our responsibility to have a lasting impact on Vassar. Perhaps our most significant contribution to this College will be the 2010 Endowed Scholarship Fund. Collectively, we are attempting to raise more than any other senior class in Vassar’s 150-year history for what we consider to be the most core value of the College—financial aid and accessibility to higher education. This is an example where we identified a concrete goal (support for financial aid) based on a core value (educational access), and have worked tirelessly to achieve success.
This fund represents our first, in a lifetime of concerted efforts, to be the change that we seek.
And so, amidst this dynamic and passionate group of individuals, I found my place. What I have come to appreciate most about my Vassar education is how I have been challenged by my classmates to reexamine my core beliefs and my basic assumptions about the world. I’ll be honest, I will leave Vassar in a few shorts weeks far more progressive than when I arrived four years ago. I will leave Vassar with different views on the role of government, a new appreciation for public service, and a new understanding of the critical importance of accessibility to higher education. These are some of the most significant issues our generation will consider, and Vassar has fundamentally changed the way I think about them.
Before I execute the last of my presidential duties and hand the gavel over to my successor, I have a few closing words for my beloved Class of 2010 and for our dear President, Catharine Bond Hill.
Thank you. You’ve given me the thrill of a lifetime. This will truly be an everlasting love.
It is now my distinct honor to conduct my final duty as VSA President. I am honored today to introduce to you a devoted colleague and an amazing friend. Mat Leonard has been a committed leader since his first year at Vassar, serving as Cushing House President and House Student Advisor. A junior history major from Kentucky, I know that Mat has a great vision for the future of our student government.
It is my privilege to present to you the passing of the gavel to our 25th VSA President, Mat Leonard. Congratulations, and good luck leading the student body into Vassar’s 150th year!
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