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May 25, 2014

President Alison Byerly Says Farewell to Class of 2014

President Alison Byerly presented her farewell remarks to graduating seniors at the 179th Commencement. Her speech is below.

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President Alison Byerly speaks at Commencement.

President Alison Byerly speaks at Commencement.

It is a privilege to have the opportunity to close this ceremony by offering a few brief words of my own to the graduating class. The class of 2014 is very special to me. When I arrived on campus as a new president this fall, many of the first students I met were student leaders, most of them seniors. The head of student government, the editor of The Lafayette, the leaders of the pep band, the presidents of various fraternities, sororities, and clubs, are among the Lafayette students I know best, and I have benefited greatly from your support and friendship during my first year.  Many others of you I have met over the course of the year at football games, at the library, at band and choir concerts, the Halloween party at my house, 100 nights, Derby Day, and the Tour de Ville karaoke contest.  I will miss all of you.

Having come to know and respect Brad Bormann, it is a pleasure to see him win the Pepper Prize and to hear his thoughtful remarks.  And Brad’s “fitness” for the role of “first wielder of the sword” was apparently anticipated by the editors of The Lafayette, who last week printed a photo of him striking a pose in front of the statue of the Marquis.  Lafayette’s tradition of celebrating a student who seems to meet the ideals set by the institution is a wonderful one.

To me, a key dimension of the Lafayette ideal is the fact that the College is named after a man who shaped his own identity and chose his own destiny. Lafayette was not required to fight in the American Revolution. His decision to travel from France and join forces with Washington was based entirely on his affinity for the ideals of liberty and self-determination that the revolutionary cause represented.

I believe that the choice made by the citizens of Easton to embrace the Lafayette ideal explains the unique spirit of Lafayette College. It is a place that reflects, and fosters, a powerful sense of self-determination.  It is a place that asks you to seek an ideal, and live up to it.

For graduating seniors, this may be harder than you think. Up until now, the expectations laid out for you have been very clear. You had to work hard at specific tasks, subjects, and accomplishments in order to be admitted to Lafayette.  Once here, you were given the freedom and opportunity to chart a path for yourself, but within the guidance offered by a curriculum, and a community, that shaped those choices.

When you leave Lafayette, you may find it difficult at first to define meaningful goals that do not come prepackaged in the form of grades, or prizes, or athletic victories, but instead are set by you. Like all of us, you will have to balance many competing roles – worker, friend, son or daughter, partner, parent– and you will find that you are the only person in a position to judge whether you have balanced them well.  I hope that Lafayette will have instilled in you an ability to develop an ideal to which you can aspire, an example of who you want to be in the world.

I look forward to finding out in the coming years what paths you have chosen, and I know that we will be proud of you.  I hope that you will stay in touch, will come back often, and will always consider Lafayette your home. Congratulations, and best of luck to all of you.

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