From the Goucher Quarterly, Summer/Fall 2013

This essay is drawn from the address given by President Sanford J. Ungar at Goucher’s Commencement on May 24, 2013.

This was a challenging year in many respects—in the larger world, as well as here inside the Goucher bubble. It remained very difficult for a college like ours to escape the impact of national and global economic turmoil, and for many Goucher families to climb out of the Great Recession. Sadly, today’s national political environment sets a poor example for young Americans who would like to help solve the serious problems they see around them. Fortunately, this community has great resilience and strength; we keep talking and re-examining our processes until we achieve new levels of harmony and understanding.

One challenge we all face is the unrelenting attack— there is no other word for it—on liberal arts education. People who should know better are proclaiming that only certain majors are worthwhile, because they allegedly lead directly to high-paying jobs. The governor of Florida, I’m told, commented that he wanted to shift funding away from majors that didn’t directly lead to jobs in science or technology. “Is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists? I don’t think so,” he said. That’s the equivalent of political slapstick, but I also heard one distinguished researcher and social commentator on the radio the other day lamenting the state of things. How, she asked, can we persuade these young people today not to focus on such irrelevant subjects as history and philosophy?

Well, we have an answer at Goucher College. We should not, and we will not, try to tell our students to narrow their scope to allegedly marketable skills as defined by politicians and efficiency experts. Of course, there is a great need for reform in American higher education—and costs must be brought under control—but we know, and the students who graduated in May well know, the importance of learning how to understand and solve problems in a broad range of disciplines in the natural sciences, the humanities, and the social sciences. We will continue to teach our students how to read carefully, think critically, write clearly, speak articulately, and devote themselves to an understanding of the human condition and how to improve it. We will remain dedicated to the idea that a liberal education in the arts and sciences is best career education of all, and we will help our remarkable students launch their lifetime of learning.

We will, above all, continue to transcend boundaries. Let me tell you a bit about this graduating class: The 329 students in the Class of 2013 participated in 388 unique study-abroad experiences in 60 different countries. Our participation rate in international education sits at 118 percent—18 percent of our students go abroad more than once—while the national average is still under five percent. In this class, 50 students studied abroad twice; three studied abroad three times; and one, incredibly, studied abroad five times, in five different places!

Here is a partial list of what Goucher students from the Class of 2013 have done: studied post-genocide restoration and peace-building in Rwanda; taught in rural and township schools in South Africa; organized a major international performing arts festival for the Theatre of the Oppressed in Paris; learned about biodiversity on Bioko Island in Equatorial Guinea; photographed the Tour de France bicycle race for the French government; studied at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan; performed in dance productions in Arezzo, Italy; worked with a women’s empowerment center in Rabat, Morocco; taught English as management in Tanzania; enhanced their artist portfolios in Glasgow, Scotland; interned in Santiago, Chile, for the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean; worked for the Tianjin Institute of Children’s Welfare in Tianjin, China; interned at the Louvre and other museums in Paris; worked to establish a music program in the village of El Rosario, Honduras; and interned at the Department of Social Welfare in Cape Coast, Ghana.

And what are they going to do when they leave this place? Again, just a partial list: They will study chemical biology at Harvard; journalism at Columbia University; art history at Oxford; international relations at the University of California, Santa Cruz; conflict, security, and development at the University of Bradford in Yorkshire, England; experimental physics at the University of Wisconsin; global public health at Boston University; information science at the Pratt Institute in New York; and pure mathematics at Brandeis University.

They will become doctors and lawyers, dentists and pharmacists. They will teach English in Japan and track the movements and development of hyenas in Kenya. Six of them will work for Teach for America—in Eastern North Carolina, southern Louisiana, New Mexico, Detroit, Nashville, Baltimore, and the Mississippi Delta. Others will become involved in local or national politics, make music, dance, or act. They may not know how to make widgets, as some would have them do, but they are prepared to work to improve this community, this country, and the world.

I am immensely proud to have been associated with all these students during their time here—as are the Goucher faculty and staff—and we have learned as much from them as they have from us. To quote the student speaker at this year’s Baccalaureate ceremony, “They are ready to step courageously into the unknown, well fostered by their experiences together.”