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May 21, 2023: Commencement Address

Remarks by President Sarah Bolton at the Whitman College Commencement ceremony held on Sunday, May 21, 2023:

Class of 2023, today, faculty, staff, families, friends and alumni are gathered—here, as well as across the country and around the world—to celebrate you. We celebrate because of who you are, and the great work you have done here at Whitman. And we celebrate you because of who you will be and the impact you will make in the world. Your brilliance, your scholarship, your dedication, your commitment to others, your knowledge and wisdom and perspective, will make a difference.

At the commencement of the class of 1973, 50 years ago, the commencement speaker, Bernard Berrelson, ended by saying “you may not be able to predict the future, but you can invent it.” Members of the class of 1973 are with us today to celebrate you, and having spent time with them over the last few days I can say without a doubt that they took that advice seriously, and also that they hold tremendous hope for you—the class graduating as they celebrate their 50th reunion.

We celebrate your individual talents, but also who you are as a community. Together, you have made things happen, from new student organizations, to native plantings, to research and music and poetry and theater and conference championships and much, much more. You support and care for each other in times of loss as well as celebration, and you invest yourselves deeply in one another’s well-being, success and joy. You have made friendships that have changed who you are, and you will always be connected. Thank you for your deep engagement and hard work to help Whitman become an even better place. You have faced and addressed challenging issues in ways that are well-informed and respectful, listening to one another while also holding true to your values and moral center. Your leadership has mattered here, and it will continue to matter in the world you will enter tomorrow.

Class of 2023, we celebrate you because, together, you have emerged from this difficult time to lead and to care for a world that is ready—and hungry—for the change that you will bring.

You are now poised to commence in the finest way, armed with knowledge and wisdom, with curiosity about the world and tools to understand it from a wide range of viewpoints. That is a potent mixture, one that prepares you to make a powerful positive impact in the world.

No matter how far you travel as you undertake your life’s work, you will always be part of this Whitman family. There is an old blessing which says “may the wind always be at your back.” Although I hope that’s true for you, I don’t need to give you that blessing, because each of you has something even better. You will always have the many generations of Whitman alumni, who have made this College, and your education here possible, at your back, ready to help you along life’s every path. Members of the Class of 1973—thank you so much for joining us and for all the ways you support students of today and the futures they will build.

Class of 2023, we will always welcome you back to Whitman. We hope you will stay in touch with us and with the generations of Whitties who will follow you. You will, in turn, make their journeys possible. Indeed, you have already begun to do so.

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