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President Sanford J. Ungar's Opening Remarks

Goucher President Sanford J. Ungar at Commencement 2008
May 23, 2008 |
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Commencement 2008

President Ungar welcomes the graduating class, their families, and distinguished guests to Commencement 2008.

Opening Remarks

Good morning.  I’m Sanford Ungar, and I want to welcome you to Goucher College for our 117th spring Commencement.  A beautiful day, an auspicious occasion, and a great opportunity to celebrate a fine group of young women and men who are about to leave our bubble.

But before I talk about the Class of 2008, their accomplishments and promise, and the challenges awaiting them in the larger world, let me draw your attention to a remarkable bit of Goucher history unfolding here today – we are privileged to have in our midst one Janet Miller Bernet, the granddaughter of John Franklin and Mary Fisher Goucher, whose generosity and vision helped create this institution more than 120 years ago.  Her mother, Janet Goucher Bernet, graduated from the college in 1901.  Janet Bernet is with us today because her grandson, John Goucher Bernet, is, in turn, a member of this year’s graduating class.  I don’t know how soon this kind of Goucher genealogical indulgence will be possible again, so please join me in recognizing Janet Bernet and asking her, even as she rejoices in the achievements of her grandson, to accept our gratitude on behalf of her grandparents.

There are other extended Goucher families here today, of course – at least one grandmother-alum I know of watching her granddaughter-alum graduate – and another special opportunity, to honor the exceptional leader of our sister university in Japan.  But more of that later.

As we are often reminded, we lead a privileged existence at a liberal arts college like Goucher.  We have our own worries and challenges and occasional controversies, to be sure – but we are sheltered, even if only temporarily, from the turbulence and trauma of the world around us.  No devastating earthquakes or cyclones here, no civil wars or internal violence intended to prevent expressions of democratic will, no outrageous ethnic conflicts grinding our economy to a halt or epidemics of disease that threaten to bring our intellectual infrastructure to ruin.

We examine those phenomena in minute detail, from the perspective of our various disciplines, with our own superb faculty members and our inspiring visitors.  And we watch, from a slight, safe, and somewhat shrinking distance, the internal woes and international chaos that our own country faces – the runaway cost of gasoline, the plunge in the value of the dollar, the credit crunch that affects everything from mortgages to student loans, the attempt to make ourselves safer in the world . . . the epic and exhausting political contests whose outcome is impossible to foretell.  We analyze, we theorize, and conceptualize – in small classes, in clubs, in ad hoc gatherings.  We try to expose ourselves to unpredictable and surprising points of view and to be a place where our values may not offer easy answers, but they help us figure out how to make a difference.

One thing we can say with certainty: Goucher and the world will be far better off for the efforts of the Class of 2008.  We have an agriculture co-op that has grown herbs and vegetables and developed composting into a new campus tradition; that hand-built shed outside the T, almost complete, is a little monument to ingenuity and perseverance.  We have a student government that promotes and enhances not only the interests of its own constituents, but also a broader sense of social justice.  We have student media that have achieved unusual levels of professionalism – sometimes – and a new publication that helps us understand what study abroad is really all about. 

We have teams leading the way in sportsmanship and academic excellence in a new athletic conference.  We have efforts at community service – here in Baltimore, in New Orleans, in Central America, and beyond – that are truly exceptional for an institution our size.  We have an intergenerational theater workshop that has the residents of a local retirement community on the stage, interchangeably, with our undergraduates.  We ask ourselves hard questions about who we are and how to get where we want to go – yesterday’s kente cloth ceremony in Merrick Hall was a unique demonstration of how moving and meaningful that effort can be.

So once we’ve celebrated the members of the Class of 2008 today, what will they be doing?  Pursuing a degree in advanced economics.  Attending law school, or studying medicine, or security policy, or physical therapy, or cultural studies, or sports management, or higher degrees in education.  Traveling the world, by land or sea.  Walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain on a pilgrimage, or traveling through South America collecting oral folklore.  Joining Teach for America, or taking on AmeriCorps assignments in Baltimore, St. Louis, and other cities.  Assisting communities devastated by natural disasters, fighting wildfires, maintaining trails and restoring natural habitats.  Working in a family bakery, trying out the world of film and television, helping refugees and other immigrants find their way in America in the midst of a very hostile environment.  Teaching English in Guyana, or exploring entrepreneurial opportunities in China.

We hope that in all these pursuits and many more, they will take along fond memories of Goucher College.  We know that in their four years here, they have had the benefits of new programs and opportunities and facilities, including the residence hall they call the T.  And we also appreciate their putting up with the price of progress – the noisy construction work on the Athenaeum this past year, for example.  But we know that they know that the completion in the coming year of one of the most important new buildings on any college campus in America, and the recognition it will bring to Goucher will only enhance the value of their degrees.  Please join me in thanking and congratulating the members of the Goucher College Class of 2008.

This year, as in other years, our commencement takes place at the start of Memorial Day weekend.  Before we go any further today, I want us to pause to express our gratitude to those who have died or been severely injured fighting in wars past or present.  Our principal speaker today achieved an international reputation in part by acting in films and bringing our attention to one unpopular war, and our country now is torn apart by controversy over another war that seems to have no easy end in sight.  Whether we admire those wars or not, the people who have fought them, often at great personal sacrifice, had no part in designing the policies behind them.  They deserve our sympathy and support, and I ask that we take a moment of silence in appreciation of their efforts.

Please join me, everyone, in saluting the Goucher College Class of 2008. It is customary at Goucher for our graduates to extend their thanks and congratulations to their parents and all others who supported their efforts to reach this important milestone. I know I speak for the class in extending to you their affection and gratitude for your constant concern, your patience, and your continuing understanding and support. I join with our graduates as they rise to applaud their families who have done so much to make this day possible.

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