Presidential Remarks

Sunday, May 21, 2023
by Elizabeth H. Bradley, President


You made it. Friends, families, it is so wonderful to be together on this momentous occasion to celebrate the accomplishments of these exceptional students.

We come to this moment today from different places, with different histories, with different perspectives and nurturing diverse aspirations. Yet, we share some common experiences, particularly as we sit together on this hill.

Today, we celebrate what we share—a love of learning; hopes for a safer, healthier, more equitable world; and—in an hour, at least for the students among us, you will share having a Vassar degree!

One of the many capacities that a Vassar degree confers is “critical thinking”—you know, being a little suspicious about simple answers, asking incisive questions to discover new insights about recurrent patterns, and let’s face it—never following instructions.

And as you have learned, being able to critique is a privilege. To be in a community that values your voice enough to let you contest the status quo and that believes enough in your freedom to encourage you to think outside the accepted norms—is rare and should be cherished.

When you depart from campus today or tomorrow, you will join a new set of communities; they may have different approaches to critical thinking. These communities may seem not to be as free or as accepting of challenges as you may have experienced at Vassar. And you may become disappointed in that, maybe enraged, or maybe the opposite—withdrawn because the vision of a just society seems simply too far away.

In those moments—and there will be those moments—it may be helpful to keep in mind the words from the late Professor Saba Mahmood, professor of anthropology at Berkeley and author of The Politics of Piety, in which she wrote:

“Critique is most powerful when it leaves open the possibility that we might be remade in the process of engaging another’s worldview, that we might come to learn things that we did not already know before we undertook the engagement. This requires that we occasionally turn the critical gaze upon ourselves, to leave open the possibility that we may be remade through an encounter with another.”

So let us take a moment now, in the bustling of this Commencement day, to settle ourselves, as Rev. Speers suggested. Let us notice all that is around us, in its exquisiteness. Pay attention to the littlest of items—the blades of grass, the slight breeze on your cheek, the smell of this moment. We will not be all together in this place again. May we be mindful of the enormity of this moment, and be open to the possibility that we may be remade through an encounter with another.

I am so grateful to be here with you all and to celebrate with you now. Congratulations, Class of 2023!