Chair, Board of Trustees

Sunday, May 27, 2018
By William A. Plapinger

Thank you, President Bradley, for that incredibly gracious introduction. Good morning! On behalf of my fellow members of the Vassar College Board of Trustees—10 of whom 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 the Board’s warmest congratulations to each of the members of the Vassar Class of 2018! 

On behalf of the Board of Trustees, I would also like to thank President Bradley for her extraordinary leadership this past year.  She is everything the Board could have hoped for, and mofe, when we selected her as Vassar’s 11th President last year, and I hope you agree! 

I also want to add our warmest welcome to the Commencement speaker, Heather McGhee, with whom, unknown to her, I often spend my Sunday mornings, watching her on Meet the Press and elsewhere. We are honored to have you here today.

[As you heard from President Bradley,] Like you, I, too, am sort of graduating today, although, unlike you, in addition to the 4 years I studied here, it took me 22 more years on the Vassar Board of Trustees to get to this point. 

I could not have imagined, sitting at my own Commencement 44 years ago, that my signature would someday be at the bottom of the diplomas of the Class of 2018, as it has been on the diplomas of more than 7,000 graduates over the past dozen years!

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”.

Shirley Tilghman, the former President of Princeton, has said, the ultimate result of a liberal education is an open and critical mind that is prepared for anything. 

I firmly believe that education continues to be the best path to economic and social wellbeing, and addressing inequality.  We know that while talent is evenly distributed among our fellow citizens and around the globe, opportunity is not.  Vassar seeks to reduce that inequity.

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”.

Knowing, however, is not doing, so 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.

Dr. Martin Luther King, who died so tragically 50 years ago this spring, said, “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability.”  I recently heard the founder of Honest Tea say, “If we don’t change the direction we are headed, we will end up where we are going.”

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 Chair 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,

“[Vassar] is a partnership between those who have gone before, those who are here now, and those who are yet to come. . .[We] have the opportunity and [the] obligation not just to conserve [the College’s resources], but to augment them for the future use of those who will enter into this partnership. . .long after. . .we have gone.”

Let me end with this message to you— 

  • First, believe in yourself; find something you want to do, and see if you can get paid for doing it,. . .and, if not, find, or invent, a job that you hope will lead to a better job and, ultimately, a better life, and
  • Second, keep adapting and learning—from your life, your inevitable failures, your successes, and your family, friends and colleagues—because as John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach, once said, “When opportunity comes, it’s too late to prepare”. 
  • Finally, use the education you have earned here at Vassar to become the architects of the best future for yourself and your world!

You may not appreciate it at this moment, but the best years of your lives are about to start! Thank you, good luck, and congratulations to all of you!