Chair of the Board of Trustees

William A. Plapinger ’74

Sunday, May 28, 2017

On behalf of my fellow members of the Vassar College Board of Trustees—12 current and former members of which, spanning the classes of 1968 to 2007—are here today, I am delighted—first, to bring greetings—and gratitude--to all the parents, families and friends who have supported today’s graduates, and second, to offer our warmest congratulations to each of the members of the Class of 2017! 

On behalf of the Board of Trustees, I would like to thank Jon Chenette for his willingness to step in on short notice to become Vassar’s Interim President for this academic year, and more importantly, for the leadership he has repeatedly shown in the face of an array of challenges at our College and in the country.

I also want to add my warmest welcome to our Commencement speaker, Deborah Bial, with whom, as you just heard, I have the honor to serve on the National Board of The Posse Foundation.  Debbie is a good friend and truly one of my heroes, and I stand in awe of what she has created at Posse and the good she has done in the world.

Her presence here is particularly important as the majority of the members of the first Posse cohort of United States veterans at Vassar graduates today.

The primary mission of Vassar College is not humble—“to furnish the “means of a thorough, well-proportioned and liberal education”, which has been defined elsewhere as an “education that empowers individuals with broad knowledge, liberates the mind from ignorance, and cultivates social responsibility”.

I firmly believe that education continues to be the best path to economic and social well-being, but we know that while talent is evenly distributed among our fellow citizens and around the globe, opportunity is not.  Vassar, like Posse, seeks to address that inequity.

I’m sure no one knows better than you, the Class of 2017, that your graduation does not mean you have learned all you need to know.

As great as your education here at Vassar has been—in large part thanks to our wonderful faculty—there is always more to learn.  As the proverb says, “It’s what you learn after you know it all, that counts”.

But what will you do with this precious education?  Most of you probably don’t know the answer to that question today, but I hope many of you will continue the political and social activism you began at Vassar and try to leave your own footprint on the world for the better.

But no one changes the world by themselves—it takes a team, like a Posse—and it takes real, deliberate effort.  Martin Luther King said, “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability.”

You will soon become Vassar College’s youngest graduates. 

All of you have benefited from the generosity of those who came before you through support from the Vassar endowment, and, as your Class Gift Co-chairs said earlier, it will now be your turn to join the rest of us in supporting the future of Vassar and its students. 

Adapting the words of a former Yale dean,

“Like any institution or society, [Vassar] is a partnership between those who have gone before, those who are here now, and those who are yet to come. . .[You] have the opportunity and [the] obligation not just to conserve [its treasures], but to augment them for the future use of those who will enter into this partnership. . .long after [you and] we have gone.”

Let me end with this message to you--

  • First, when you consider how Vassar has affected your life, ask yourself, “If I hadn’t come to Vassar, I never would have [what?]”
  • Second, believe in yourself; find something you want to do, hopefully something about which you are passionate, and see if you can get paid for doing it,. . .and, if not, at least find a job that you hope will lead to a better job and, ultimately, a better life, and
  • Third, keep learning—from your life, your inevitable failures, your successes, and your family, friends and colleagues—because as John Wooden, the revered UCLA basketball coach, once said, “When opportunity comes, it’s too late to prepare”. 
  • Use the education you have earned here at Vassar to create the best future you can for yourself and your world!

Thank you, good luck, and congratulations to all of you!