Thank you, President Emeritus Poskanzer, for your thoughtful remarks, and for being with us today.
It is a tremendous honor for me to be able to address the Carleton Class of 2020. Though I was not part of your Carleton journey, I have heard a great deal about you, both individually and collectively, from the professors, administrators, staff, and other members of the community who know you well. I share their enormous pride in your accomplishments, which are rendered even more impressive by the challenging circumstances you faced at the end of your time here.
Others are better able to speak to your experience at Carleton. I would like to speak about your impact on Carleton.
In my first year as president of Carleton, I devoted much of my energy to learning about the College. It was already very familiar to me in some ways, both as an excellent peer liberal arts college I had always admired during my time at other institutions, and also as the home, then alma mater, one of my own children, a member of the Class of 2015.
Nevertheless, as I spent time on campus, and got to know students, faculty, staff, alumni, and parents, I developed a deeper understanding of Carleton, and the way in which it has been shaped over time by the people who have been part of its community. Of course, I have been interested in the actions of prior presidents and administrators, and the accomplishments of the generations of amazing faculty who have built the broad and varied curriculum that we have today. But I have been especially struck by the way in which Carleton’s students have shaped the DNA of the College.
If you think back to your own first visit to Carleton as a prospective student, I am guessing that like many prospective students, what you were most looking for was a sense of what Carleton would be like as a community and a place to live. As I know from my own experience as a parent, Carleton does a particularly good job of conveying a distinctive sense of its student body. The students who work in Admissions, the students you meet on campus, the vibe you get from student comments on social media, all of these combine to create a
picture of students who are very different from each other, but collectively are, to my mind: smart, curious, earnest and yet also ironic, hard-working, unpretentious, and very supportive of each other.
I know from my conversations with Carleton alums over many decades of class years that these characteristics are a common thread that binds the community together over generations. Carleton alums, whatever their age or level of professional eminence, feel to me a lot like grown up Carleton students – they ask good questions, they want real answers, and they are deeply invested in community.
Each class plays a role in both replicating and transforming that DNA over time. Students are drawn here by what they relate to in the existing campus culture – but then they also seek to change it for the better.
Over the course of your time here, you each had an impact in your classes and in the campus community, whether you played an obvious leadership role or not. In the classroom, faculty use what they learn from current students to adjust, modify, and expand what they are doing in their courses or in their individual research programs. The faculty as a whole makes changes to curricular requirements over time in part to respond to perceived needs and interests among students. In student organizations, senior leadership plays an integral role in modeling for those who come after you how best to work together, play together, and help each other to enjoy Carleton.
One could imagine the disruptions of the pandemic placing this experience in jeopardy. It would not be hard to picture members of the Class of 2020, struggling to finish their senior year remotely, becoming distant and disengaged. And certainly we all recognize the tremendous challenge that situation presented to everyone’s reservoir of emotional energy.
Instead, your class succeeded by staying connected and remaining focused on the ideas and interests that brought you to Carleton. Faculty who themselves were put under enormous pressure in having to rapidly adapt their courses to an online format were impressed by many students’ patience and thoughtfulness in adapting to the new circumstances. They recognized that for seniors in particular, being asked to complete your culminating work and prepare for your next steps, while mourning the loss of the events that would normally make your senior spring a special time, was a unique burden. The fact that you managed it so successfully was inspiring to them, and to the underclass students who look up to you.
You also remained focused on the goal of strengthening Carleton through addressing inequities of experience that became even more visible during the pandemic, and then were thrown into greater relief by the trauma of the murder of George Floyd. Over your years here, many of you were actively engaged in working to address racism, climate change, gender violence, and other issues both within and beyond the campus community. This activism did not stop in the spring of 2020, but was in fact heightened by the killing of George Floyd and the call among students, alumni and others to address issues of race more comprehensively on our own campus. I know that as you made the transition from students to alumni, many of you remained deeply engaged in efforts to encourage the College to do more.
I hope that you recognize your own role in helping the College to move forward, and feel some pride in the important steps we have taken in finalizing the Community Plan for Inclusion, Diversity and Equity last April. The completion of this plan does not mean our work is finished. In fact, the work is just beginning. We are in the process of working to hire a senior administrator to serve as chief diversity officer in overseeing these efforts. In the meantime, we are already implementing some of the recommendations of the IDE Plan, and will be working energetically to implement others as quickly as possible.
When I think about your legacy and influence among your peers who are still at Carleton, I see the marks of your activism and persistence among current students who are invested in our progress in becoming a more inclusive community. Students are eager to see us move faster in achieving the goals of our plans, and they are also interested in seeing us address concerns of other underrepresented groups that they feel are not sufficiently addressed in the plan. We intend to take up many of these concerns in our continued strategic planning effort this fall. There is also continued focus on other issues such as campus sustainability and divestment; the college’s processes for addressing sexual misconduct; student mental health; greater outreach to local Indigenous peoples. Today’s students, like you, do not intend to let issues drop when they get busy or life becomes complicated. They intend to keep pushing the College forward. You helped model that as an important dimension of the Carleton DNA.
Many of you have probably heard a quote from legendary Carleton president Lawrence Gould, who often told students, “You will always be part of Carleton, and Carleton will be part of you.” Your relationship with the College is a two way street. I hope that you feel that the College has helped you to grow and develop. At the same time, you have helped Carleton to grow and develop, and you will have the opportunity to continue to do that as alumni.
Today’s event, as I noted earlier, is truly unique. We are celebrating you as graduates. We are also welcoming you as alums who have already been alumni for two years. This is a moment of closure, and a symbolic departure. But it is also a Reunion and a homecoming. In that sense, it perfectly exemplifies my own comments to the Class of 2022 in June. I told them that Carleton was not just their school for four years, it was their home for a lifetime. For you, too, Carleton is not just your home for …3.66… years. It is your home for a lifetime, and one that looks different because you have lived here.
We hope you will come home often. Just think, your first Reunion is only three years away!
My very best wishes and congratulations to all of you. Thank you.