Commencement Address to the Class of 2022

11 June 2022

Good morning! It is an honor and a privilege to welcome faculty, staff, trustees, family, friends, distinguished guests, and members of the Carleton Class of 2022 to today’s Commencement ceremony. It is wonderful to have you all here. Greetings as well to those watching the livestream across the country and around the world.

On a college campus, there is no more special day than Commencement. It is our Super Bowl, World Cup, and Academy Awards all rolled into one. I think we all feel a heightened sense of how special this moment is when we have lived through a period in which many such ceremonies had to be canceled or deferred. While there might have been a time that I as college president would worry about having a slightly rainy Commencement, I have to say that after 2020 my feeling is that any day our graduates walk across an actual stage, in the company of their classmates and families, and collect a physical diploma, is a fantastic commencement!

The Class of 2022 has lived through a period of extraordinary change. You began with a typical first year experience, then had your education interrupted and transformed by Covid. We all faced enormous challenges to our personal or family health and wellbeing. In addition, some of you missed out on planned off campus study experiences, or had to adapt to different research opportunities, and all of you had to work hard to maintain your energy and your focus. As a community, we relied more heavily on each other than ever before, and I have heard from many of you how much you valued the empathy and support of professors, mentors, and friends. The last two years have reinforced for all of us how profoundly social the act of learning truly is. Learning is not simply about being presented with information. It is about asking questions, sharing problems, and being part of a community in which your ideas are valued.

Over the course of this year, I have admired how fully you have embraced the Carleton experience, and how hard you have worked to make the most of your remaining time at Carleton. I have loved seeing the moments that showcased your individual passions. I think of rigorous comps presentations made to packed audiences of faculty, friends, and family in classrooms and on zoom; swim meets, basketball games, or other venues in which student athletes returned to competition with discipline and enthusiasm; concerts, plays, poetry readings and dance performances that brought people together to share their extraordinary talents. I also think of the spirit of activism that brought students together to talk about ways to strengthen and transform Carleton.

I have also admired your capacity for fun — within reason 🙂 — and determination to seek balance and build friendships with each other. I have enjoyed glimpses of this at games, dinner parties, battle of the bands, Sproncert, and in moments when you are just hanging out together in Sayles or in the Adirondack chairs that dot the campus. That too is an important part of the learning experience of these four years.

The spot where we are sitting and standing today is a special one, in many ways the epicenter of life at Carleton. Affectionately known as the Bald Spot since early in the 20th century, it has been the scene of countless games, concerts, and even teach-ins for several days in 1970 when students were on strike from regular classes and instead attended “Bald Spot U.” Commencement has been held on the Bald Spot since 1950, the first year that the number of graduates and family members had outgrown Skinner Chapel.

Over the course of your time at Carleton, you have seen many events take place here. Frisbee tosses. The student activities fair. A picnic, lawn games, and trivia night during Family Weekend and my own inauguration. You may have skated or played broomball on the rink on a cold winter night, or you might have spread out a blanket to bask in the sun on a warm spring day. Generations of Carleton students have done the same. 

More recently, the Bald Spot has gained some recognition for a different reason. Last spring, the College completed a five-year transition to a geothermal heat pump system that allowed us to convert all of our campus energy usage from steam to geothermal energy. This system is anchored by 134 geothermal bores dug deep into the Bald Spot, 520 feet below us. Already, the new energy system has reduced the college’s energy consumption by 46%. It has been lauded and recognized by national environmental organizations, and we are serving as a model for other colleges and universities.

To me, these geothermal wells make the Bald Spot a perfect image for Carleton: a pleasant, unassuming, somewhat quirky place that has enormous reserves of energy and power hidden beneath the surface. 

As a Carleton graduate, you too have tremendous power and potential ready to be tapped. Whatever your major, and whatever your plans, you do not yet know all the uses you will make of your Carleton education. In talking with Carleton alumni across the country, I have been struck by how many of them describe a realization, ten, twenty, forty years after graduation, that their lives have been impacted in often unexpected ways by what they learned here. I spoke recently with a former English major with a leadership role in the technology sector, who spoke about how her ability to think analytically and write elegantly distinguished her from her colleagues. I also met a top scientist who insisted his most valuable courses were those he took in philosophy, which gave him a way of thinking about science that had a profound influence on his research. 

These alumni share an abiding affection for the faculty mentors who often continued to be friends and advisors for decades, as well as a deep commitment to Carleton and to the friendships they formed here. In just a few days, nearly 2,000 of them will descend on the campus. After two years of less travel and personal connection, they are eager for Reunion, and excited to reconnect with friends and with the College. 

As all of you make the transition from student to alumni, I hope that you will carry with you the knowledge that Carleton is a continuing resource in your life. Your professors and staff mentors are happy to hear from you and to continue to offer advice; Carleton alumni in every city and across the world are eager to meet and support you; the alumni association, members of the administration, and I hope that you stay in touch, and that you will, in the manner of true Carls, continue to hold us to high standards and share what you think about the College’s development in the years and decades to come.

When you return here five, ten, 20, or 50 years from now, and celebrate with your classmates under a tent on the Bald Spot, I hope that you will look back on Carleton as the secret power that made your life, whatever you choose it to be, possible, and as a source of energy from which you can always draw strength. 

Carleton is not your school for four years; it is your home for a lifetime. You will always be welcome here, and I hope that you will come back often.

My best wishes and congratulations to all of you. Thank you.