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To the Class of 2000:

Commencement Remarks by President Thomas E. Cronin

Members of the Class:

It's an honor to be with you and your families as you graduate from Whitman.

For all but a handful of you, these are your final hours here. Under these stunning sycamore and locust trees on this sun-drenched Sunday, I hope you will remember those in this community and especially in your extended families, who have helped you learn, grow, and succeed. If you have not already done so, thank your parents and your teachers for making these four years at this very special place possible.

One of the most valuable lessons all of us hope you have learned here is that you, ultimately, are the one who is responsible for your life, for your success, for your community. You don't blame others. You don't blame circumstances. You dream dreams and discipline yourself to attain them.

You have doubtless learned here, too, that one of the greatest mistakes one can make is to be afraid of making mistakes. Boldness and risk-taking have a genius, magic, and power to them. It is our hope that each of you will become leaders in your professions and communities and that, in whatever way you decide, you will use your intellectual abilities to help people and be a responsible force on this sacred planet we temporarily occupy.

Constitutional democracy, social justice, a sustainable environment, and healthy communities do not just happen. They require countless acts of imagination, courage, and leadership if we are to see progress.

You graduate into a world where inequality, regional wars, environmental imbalances, and ethnic and racial intolerances are far too present. People like you can help lessen these forces. Yet it won't be easy. You will find, as all leaders find, that initial progress or achievements merely lead to more challenges and yet more problems to solve.

When you arrived here four years ago, you enjoyed a greater sense of freedom than you had ever experienced. Today your freedom expands again. Embrace this freedom but understand its consequences. With freedom comes certain obligations as well. Liberty and duty, freedom and responsibility they come together. That's the deal.

You began eight semesters ago by reading Homer's oft-told story of Odysseus and his wanderings his event-filled journey as he slowly made his way home. One of the most notable journeys of courage in our time was the journey of South African leader Nelson Mandela, who set out to win his own freedom and was imprisoned for 27 years for his efforts. Later, after he won his freedom, he helped liberate his people and his country.

The last paragraphs of Nelson Mandela's vivid autobiography explain how he wrestled both for and with freedom:

As a student [Mandela writes in his Long Walk to Freedom] I wanted freedom only for myself, the transitory freedom of being able to stay out at night, read what I pleased, and go where I chose. Later as a young man . . . I yearned for the basic and honorable freedom of achieving my potential, of earning my keep, of marrying and having a family. . . .

But then I slowly saw that not only was I not free, but my brothers and sisters were not free. I saw that it was not just my freedom that was curtailed, but the freedom of everyone who looked like I did. That is when . . . the hunger for my own freedom became the greater hunger for the freedom of my people. It was this desire for the freedom of my people to live their lives with dignity and self-respect that animated my life, that transformed a frightened young man into a bold one, that drove a law-abiding attorney to become a criminal, that turned a family-loving husband into a man without a home. . . . I am no more virtuous or self-sacrificing than the next man, but I found that I could not even enjoy the limited freedoms I was allowed when I knew my people were not free. . . .

It was during those long and lonely years that my hunger for the freedom of my own people became a hunger for the freedom of all people, white and black. I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed. A man who takes away another man's freedom is a prisoner of hatred; he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness. . . .

When I walked out of prison, that was my mission, to liberate the oppressed and the oppressor both. Some say that has now been achieved. But I know that that is not the case. The truth is that we are not yet free; we have merely achieved the freedom to be free. . . .

I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps. . . . But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities.

So, Members of the Class of 2000:

Here's to the blue sky above us;
Here's to the wheat fields gold.
Here's to the freedom and leadership responsibilities that await you
And to the values and favorable winds that will see you through.

Thank you and congratulations!

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