Welcome and Presidential Remarks
Vassar College Commencement
Sunday, May 22, 2022
Class of 2022 … WELCOME TO GRADUATION!
You made it. Friends, families, it is so wonderful to be together on this momentous occasion to celebrate the accomplishments of these most fearless, most resilient students. This class has endured through the worst pandemic in a century, which completely reshaped five of their generally eight semesters at Vassar.
The losses have been many. Let us take a moment to remember the many lives of people we know and people we do not know—lives that have been turned upside down and even lost due to the many social, biological, and ecological forces that press upon us: COVID, racial violence, the climate emergency, and political upheaval and violent exclusion of all kinds.
We come to this moment today from different places, with different histories, different perspectives, and nurturing diverse aspirations. Yet, as different as we all are, we share some common experience as we sit together on this hill. I suspect that the experience of living through COVID has each of us and our collective more nervous, more suspicious, more insecure, more depressed, and more wary. Yet, our resilience has also made us proud, strong, more compassionate, humbler, more attentive to accessibility challenges, more aware that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, and—knowing that our daily actions can profoundly influence others’ experiences—more grateful for the moments like this, when we can share common space in safety and health.
How do we go forward, embedding in our lives and in the structures of our shared work these capacities, born of our unprecedented time together? Certainly, we are not done with many forms of violence and persistent inequities that characterize human life in 2022.
The answer to that question of how to move forward is different for each of us and will unfold in predictable and unpredictable ways in the days and weeks and years ahead. As I was preparing for today, something kept coming back to me, knocking on my door, begging to be given voice, and it is this most lovely and succinct poem by Mary Oliver, an alumna of Vassar who studied here in the mid-1950s:
“It doesn’t have to be
The blue iris, it could be
Weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
Small stones; just
Pay attention, then patch
A few words together and don’t try
To make them elaborate, this isn’t
A contest but a doorway
Into thanks, and a silence in which
Another voice may speak.”
Her words remind me to pay attention, whatever it is—be mindful. And in my mindfulness, not to be distracted by the need to perform but instead focus on gratitude—thanks—and gratitude particularly that one’s mindful silence may allow another voice to speak.
This poem, in its few words, refocuses my attention, reminds me that whatever is in front of me is itself important and worthy of engagement, with thanksgiving and openness to what may be.
So let us take a moment now, in the bustling moment of your commencement, to settle ourselves. Look to your left and look to your right. Notice what is around you, in its exquisiteness. We will not be all together in this place again. This is a unique moment in time. May we be mindful of its enormity, thankful that life is, and full of silence so that another voice may speak.
I am so honored to be here with you all. Congratulations, class of 2022!
—Elizabeth H. Bradley, President, Vassar College