News

May 24, 2008

Juan Williams Speaks at 173rd Commencement

College awards 599 degrees to 578 graduating seniors and honorary doctorates to four distinguished leaders

Lafayette granted 599 degrees to 578 graduating seniors and honorary doctorates to four distinguished leaders, including journalist Juan Williams, today at the College’s 173rd Commencement.

President Daniel H. Weiss awarded Williams the honorary degree of Doctor of Journalism. Also receiving honorary degrees were Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd III, dean of Washington National Cathedral, who delivered a sermon at the morning’s Baccalaureate service (Doctor of Divinity); John A. Fry ’82, president of Franklin & Marshall College (Doctor of Humane Letters); and Nicholas Katzenbach, former attorney general of the United States (Doctor of Laws).

Read Rev. Lloyd’s Baccalaureate sermon. Hear the sermon.
Read about the honorands. Read the citations.
There was a memorial tribute to Howard J. Marblestone, Charles Elliott Professor of Foreign Languages and Literatures, who died Jan. 29.
Read about Howard Marblestone.
Nathan Parker ’08 delivered farewell remarks for the class of 2008. He is the recipient of the George Wharton Pepper Prize, awarded to the senior who “most closely represents the Lafayette ideal.” Parker, of Milford, N.H., graduated with an A.B. in biology.

Read about Nathan Parker. Read his remarks. Hear the speech.
The first student to receive her diploma was Lia Mandaglio ’08, who achieved the highest cumulative grade-point average in the class. Mandaglio, of Annandale, N.J., received an A.B. with majors in psychology and English.

Amanda Niederauer ’08, Steven Roe ’08, and Andrew Stella ’08, co-chairs of the Class of 2008 Gift Committee, presented the class gift. Niederauer, of Bernardsville, N.J., received an A.B. with majors in art and American studies. Roe, of Lackawaxen, Pa., received a B.S. in mechanical engineering. Stella, of Midland Park, N.J., received an A.B. in economics and business.

Weiss congratulated the recipients of annual Lafayette awards for distinguished teaching, scholarship, and service to the College and recognized June Schlueter, Charles A. Dana Professor of English, and Mercedes Benitez Sharpless, librarian in Kirby Hall of Civil Rights, who are retiring and have been elected to emerita status.

Read about June Schlueter and Mercedes Sharpless. Read their citations.
Alan R. Griffith ’64, chair of the Board of Trustees, recognized Board of Trustees vice-chair Riley Keene Temple ’71, who is retiring and has been elected to emeritus status.

Read about Riley Temple.
Weiss confered degrees upon the graduates and delivered farewell remarks. Assisting in presenting diplomas was James Woolley, Frank Lee and Edna M. Smith Professor of English and clerk of the faculty, and Hannah W. Stewart-Gambino, Dean of the College.

Read President Weiss’ remarks. Hear the address.
Guy L. Hovis, John H. Markle Professor of Geology, the faculty member who is senior in the rank of full professor, led the academic procession as Bearer of the Mace. James F. Krivoski, vice president for student affairs, marshaled the class of 2008.

Wendy L. Hill, provost and dean of the faculty, marched at the head of the faculty. Trustee Emeritus Thomas F. McGrail ’55 led the trustees and the platform party.

John P. Colatch, College chaplain and director of religious life, delivered the invocation and gave the benediction. Jennifer W. Kelly, assistant professor of music and director of choral activities, led the singing of “America the Beautiful.” Members of the Lafayette Choir, led by Kelly, led the singing of “The Alma Mater.”

Address by Juan Williams
173rd Commencement, May 24, 2008

Thank you President [Daniel] Weiss. Good afternoon to all of you. I’m truly humbled by the honor, deeply appreciative to be in a group including Nick Katzenbach, one of my heroes; John Fry, who is reinventing American higher education; and Reverend Sam Lloyd, who leads my Episcopal church in Washington, D.C. I don’t quite understand how I got into such a group, but if you guys want to give me an honorary degree – you’re so bright – who am I to argue with you? I’ll take it! Thank you very much.

It’s an honor, again, to be here at Lafayette. So let’s begin with a riddle for all the graduates this today. What do graduation speeches and good biscuits have in common? The answer is: both are better with a little shortening.
I want to just take a second to recognize this place, Lafayette College. It’s a beacon to the nation of first-rate, liberal arts education. It continues to grow. It is a literal miracle, and I hope that all of us here today, all of us, take a moment to understand to appreciate how precious Lafayette is and to always commit ourselves to acting to protect and enrich this institution, so that it might continue to offer its riches for years to come.

Today is just a gorgeous day. It is truly a day the Lord has made. It is beautiful. There is a little bit of a chill in the air – enough to relieve the heat of the sun. Last week, it just seems to me, was a lot of rain, so I guess it is even more outstanding and auspicious that we would have such a beautiful day.
I’ve been traveling the country on the political campaign trail and I can tell you I have been cold for a long time. I was cold in Iowa. I was snowed-in in New Hampshire. I was cold in even South Carolina, pelted with icy rain, then here in Pennsylvania on icy highways. I complained to my wife so bitterly, she said it’s very unusual for you to talk about the weather so much. Finally, I said to her, “You know what? It’s so cold out here the politicians are walking around with their hands in their own pockets. It’s that cold. It’s just freezing.”

But no matter the temperature, on this glorious day, we’re warmed with pride in the accomplishments of these graduates, the Class of 2008. Every parent, every grandparent, aunt, uncle, friend, guardian, husband, wife here today shares the pride, the sense of the incredible — love fulfilled, a dream realized to see the graduates reach this stage.

Because no matter how wealthy, no matter how poor, sacrifices had to be made, not only to pay bills, but to offer encouragement and to shoo away doubts, to tell these young people that past generations in their families did not have such a fine supportive Lafayette education. They could not have seen that this generation would be so blessed. Yes, parents: congratulations! Our greatest teachers are often our parents. It’s been said that an ounce of mom is worth a ton of priests, and one little bit of dad is worth a thousand teachers. So today, parents, you learn the answer to one of life’s ancient mysteries: when does life begin? As you know, some argue that life begins at conception; others argue that life begins at birth. But today you truly discover that life begins when the kids get out of college.

And congratulations to the students. Congratulations today, Class of 2008, today is your day! You’ve made it through late nights of study, through tough tests. The world awaits your energy, your ideas. The world hungers for your talent. Today is not an end for you; it is truly the starting line, an opportunity to use your education, to use your spiritual powers, your confidence as committed people to help shape this world.

You have to understand that the genius, the true genius, that you see demonstrated in this world is the genius that comes from people who are passionate, from people who care deeply, from people who are dedicated to a cause. And here at Lafayette, you have had the opportunity, because of this fine faculty, to become focused, to become dedicated, to become disciplined – the things you need for success.

No horse gets anywhere unless it’s harnessed; no steam or gas drives anything unless it is confined, and here at Lafayette you have learned how to accomplish change, to stand tall in even the strongest wind. Only the educated are truly free in the world to avoid manipulation and evil. Only the truly educated can avoid not thinking, avoid not caring, avoid not excelling. Mark Twain once said that a man or a woman who doesn’t read has no advantage over a person who can’t read. Here at Lafayette, you’ve learned to love reading, but not only that, to love thinking, to love challenges, to love people, to love the drama of life. What a gift! And it’s in part a gift, again, that you owe to this wondrous faculty here at Lafayette.

As you go out from this school, you will face economic challenges. We live in a fast-changing society; global economic and political pressures prevail. But I hope you remember your grandparents, your great-grandparents – people who faced the world without a college degree and sometimes overcame such hurdles as the Great Depression, World War II, Korea, Vietnam. Think of the world 50 years ago for a woman, a black man, a Hispanic woman. Every generation has its hurdles to leap, and you are ready to jump high to reach your dreams.

Since you’ve been in high school, we’ve impeached an American president and seen the horrors of 9/11. America has gone to war in Afghanistan and in Iraq. We’ve seen controversial elections in 2000 and 2004. We’ve seen Hurricane Katrina. This summer, if you go to the movies, you’ll see many heroes on display, heroes like Iron Man and Indiana Jones and Speed Racer. But in so many ways, as I look out upon all of you, I think I see heroes, people who are going to have to really stand tall against an increasing class divide in American society, people who will have to deal with the increasing number of high school dropouts (people who could not even dream of being here today to compete with you). You’re going to have to deal with the increasing number of children being born to single mothers, with our daunting and sad high number of people incarcerated in America’s jails. You’re going to have to deal with the face of increasing immigration in our country, and you’re going to have to deal with the fact that we live in such a rapidly aging society.

In a time of so much change, how will you, the graduates of 2008, find your place? Some people will appeal to you to scapegoat, to hate, to point fingers at the poor, minorities, immigrants. I ask you, good people, to be role models, to seek to inspire your community – our community – to common ground and common understanding by offering solutions to problems, and not sitting in bitterness, not sitting in those problems.

This year at Lafayette, you have been honoring the legacy of the Marquis de Lafayette and his dedication to human rights and freedom, this year being his 250th birthday. You’ve had a series of lectures on “lives of liberty.” It seems to me that when I think about you, this year the greatest honor to the namesake of this college would be for all of you to live lives of liberty.

I’m reminded of a trip I took to South Africa more than 10 years ago. The occasion was the release of Nelson Mandela from prison. Mandela was being let go, and correspondents from near and wide were sent, not only from here in the United States – the likes of Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw, and Dan Rather – but also their peers from around the world. I was sent as a correspondent from the Washington Post, and of course I wanted to get an interview with Nelson Mandela. But I was told by his aides that it was not possible, there was just too much pressure on Mandela, too much demand on his time. It turned out that he had read a book that I had written, so I was put in a line of dignitaries, because he wanted to shake hands with the author.

When I got up there, I wouldn’t let go of his hand. I just held on for dear life and I said, “Mr. Mandela, it would mean so much to us if you would give me a few minutes of your time for an interview.” I don’t know if you’ve ever seen that silly show on TV – I think it’s called “Showtime at the Apollo” – where they literally bring out a hook and take the comedian offstage, but it looked like that. I was being dragged away by his aides to stop pestering this man when he turned to me and said, “Well, you’re a writer. If you’re willing to help me with some correspondence –I don’t have a personal secretary – you can stick around and talk to me.” I said, “Absolutely. It’s a deal.”

So I ended up writing some silly notes, things like, “Thank you, Comrade Gorbachev. It’s great to be out. Hope to see you soon. Love, Nelson.” But in exchange, I get to sit with Mandela when he’s meeting grandchildren, eating home-cooked food, seeing old friends. At one point, we’re left together and I say, “Mr. Mandela, from the time that you were a young man, your heart must have been absolutely bursting with the desire to break apart this cruel apartheid system.”

Mandela, who’s such a sober and serious individual, began to laugh out loud, and I thought there had been some misunderstanding, some miscommunication. I started to apologize, and he said, “No, no. It’s just so absurd. People all the time say this,” but when he was a young man, all he wanted to do was rebel against his parents. He just wanted to leave his family. He didn’t want to live in any township, he wanted to go to the big city, which for him was Johannesburg. He wanted to become a prize-fighter, wanted to learn the language of the Dutch settlers, wanted to be a poet. And then he wanted to do what you have done on this day, he wanted to get what he called a Western-style education.

Once he had graduated from college, then he decided that he wanted to become a lawyer, and even his friends couldn’t understand why a black man would want to become a lawyer in South Africa – what kind of juice, what kind of power would he have? And yet, Nelson Mandela persisted and got his degree and tried to represent the few clients that were attracted to him, but found that he couldn’t do it because of the limits of the government. So he began to protest and get involved with older lawyers, Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo and the African National Congress, and pretty soon he was giving speeches and organizing and, wouldn’t you know it: the government said that he was such a threat that he was a criminal.

They put him in the dock and sent him to jail for 27 years. A journalist couldn’t write his name in the newspaper; you couldn’t broadcast a tape of a Nelson Mandela speech, you couldn’t play it on the radio. But somehow, despite being in jail – left to break rocks on Robbins Island for 27 years – Nelson Mandela, despite having his light covered over became a beacon of hope to people involved in freedom struggles all over the world. That’s why so many correspondents came from so many corners of the earth when the news came that he was being released.

I must tell you that his story doesn’t stop there. He goes on to become the first president of a democratic, multi-racial South Africa. I remember seeing him here in the United States on the 50th anniversary of the United Nations, as all the world leaders were gathered and saying, “There goes the kid who only wanted to rebel against his parents,” the kid who had no idea that he was going to become a symbol to the world, the personification of freedom’s struggle.

So, today, here at Lafayette, as I’m looking at you, I would ask that all of you take a second to understand that your parents love you so much and that you have been nurtured by this institution in a way that would make you the envy of 99 percent of the world. The education you have received here makes you part of American leadership and America’s elite. The way that I look at you is as the people who are going to the leaders in terms of American arts, American business, American science. You are our future, and you are much loved.

But don’t worry about all of us. Don’t worry about your parents, the faculty, those of us who have been honored this day. I would ask you from my heart instead to worry about yourselves. I would ask that you surprise yourselves. Talk with people that you never thought you would talk with. Travel to places you thought you would never go. Dare yourselves to achieve things that are seemingly beyond your grasp. Reach out, reach out and challenge yourselves in such a way that you will say, “I didn’t know I was up to it. I didn’t know that I could do that.”

It will be such a gift, not only to yourselves, to your parents, and to the faculty. It will be a gift to the ages and a gift to the grand legacy and tradition of this wonderful college.

May God bless all of you. Congratulations, Class of 2008.

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