Vassar College

Convocation Remarks, Mathew Leonard, V.S.A. President

Vassar College Fall Convocation
September 1, 2010

Hello everyone, welcome to fall convocation. Today, we congratulate the class of 2011 and formally welcome the class of 2014.

I just want to start by saying: 2011— congratulations. It’s our time. This is our year and it is a big one. Three years ago, when we entered this campus, we were excited, we were ready to learn and we were ready to have fun. Three years later, we’re still the same class. I know, that no matter what happens this year, we will find a way to have a good time This is the year when we, the graduating class during the 150th anniversary of Vassar College, finally get our chance to shine.

As for the class of 2014—I cannot help but be envious of you; you have four more years in this amazing place. Enjoy this college. This is a world-changing place, immersed in tradition.

I love traditions. As a child, I would make up family traditions—every holiday had to proceed the same way, every trip to visit relatives had to include certain “traditional” stops. A strong tradition was one of the things that, as I grew older, drew me to Vassar. In the simple act of meeting to celebrate Convocation today, you are partaking in one of the oldest traditions at Vassar College. Every student who has come here before you, for 150 years has come together for Convocation.

We as students at Vassar College, have joined into a larger tradition of excellent education. We are just one generation of in a long history of Vassar students, always changing, but all brought together to experience a Vassar education.

Presidents, professors and perspectives have all come and gone, but the power of a Vassar education never changed. Vassar has continued its commitment to educating the mind and the spirit of their students, not merely teaching them facts, but challenging them to change the world.

As Vassar Students and, soon enough, Vassar alumni, we are pushed forward by the Vassar’s legacy. The professors, the curriculum and the campus that carries Vassar’s name have shaped us all. As we move into the next 150 years of Vassar’s history, we as Vassar students are given the charge to maintain the legacy and to uphold Vassar’s place in the world.

Yet, we must remember, that we have the agency to change our traditions. Another long held tradition at Vassar has been that of serenading; which will be taking place this Saturday. The Serenading of today little resembles its predecessor of the 19th century. The basic tenets of the tradition still remain—seniors move from dorm to dorm, listen to songs—but each successive generation has left their stamp on the event, until they developed something new.

Former Vassar College President Henry MacCracken once wrote that, "A tradition is not something you just repeat by rote, but something you re-interpret, giving new patterns, new meanings, new beauties within the old framework.” This has long been an unofficial motto for Vassar College. Despite the weight of 150 years of history and despite the confines of tradition, Vassar has continued to push itself—to reinvent itself and always stay ahead.

This is where each generation of students makes their mark. There may be 150 years of Vassar Students before us and there will be another 150 after us. There is however, only one class of 2011. There is only one class of 2012, 2013 and 2014. Use this time here. Use the legacy that come with Vassar, but leave your own mark on this school—give our traditions a new meaning for the next generation to enjoy.

For those of you arriving this year, that is my challenge to you. In this 150th anniversary, celebrate the history of the school, but examine how, in your four year here, you can leave this campus a better place. How you can re-examine the traditions that have long made this school special, and make them even better.

This year, I, along with the VSA Executive Board—Samin Shehab, Ruby Cramer, Laura Riker, Tanay Tatum and Travis Edwards—we will be working to help you make your mark at this school. We are here to listen to you, come, continue to talk to us.  

For those of us leaving after this year, our role in Vassar’s history is far from over. In leaving this place, we enter into a larger set of traditions. Yet, while the task may seem daunting, remember, we have a lot more time. There is no four-year limit to the rest of our lives, there are no semester deadlines. From this point on, what we do in the world is our prerogative. It is now our turn to continue the tradition of excellence, of which Vassar Alumni are so known, but do it in our own way—so that our achievements become a part of the greater beauties in an age old tradition. 

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