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Tufts University Baccalaureate Address

Lawrence S. BacowOn Saturday, May 20, 2006, President Lawrence S. Bacow delivered his Baccalaureate Address to the Class of 2006

Medford/Somerville, Mass.
Members of the Class of 2006, it seems like yesterday that we last gathered as a group on the Quad. I was a relatively new university president and you were first-year students, excited and a bit anxious about what the next four years would bring. Well, here we are, four years later. Tomorrow morning we again will gather on the Quad, and once more, most of you will be excited and anxious about what the future will bring.

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Of course, some things have changed. You are all four years older, and I hope a bit wiser. You have read great books, written countless papers, mastered new languages, studied different cultures, and spent endless hours in the lab and the library. You have made great friends, traveled abroad, fallen in and out of love, engaged in activities that you have sworn never to tell your parents or your children about, and stretched yourselves intellectually and socially.

You are not the only people who have changed in the past four years. Your families who were anxious about your leaving for college have, for the most part, learned to live without you. If they have any anxiety today it is probably over your not making it on your own and moving back home. Moreover, while you may be anxious about finding your way in the world, they are collectively expressing a large sigh of relief at having paid their last tuition bill.

At times like this I always like to recall a wonderful story that Mark Twain used to tell about a young man who had just graduated from college. “What did you learn during your four years at school,” he was asked. “Not much,” he replied, “but while I was gone my parents seemed to have learned a great deal.”

But now you really do have to confront life beyond The Hill. About a third of you are going on directly to graduate school while the rest of you will enter the work force immediately. For those of you in the latter category, I know that you are dreading getting up at 6:30 in the morning and the loss of spring break, and Christmas and summer vacations. However, you will enjoy the independence that comes from earning a pay check, having control over your nights and weekends, and being free from homework and exams. You are also about to discover something about yourselves that is immensely satisfying: You are quite capable and competent, and well prepared for the world you will encounter.

Over the course of the past four years, you have learned how to think critically, how to learn, and how to express yourselves. These are the products of a liberal education, and they will serve you well regardless of what you decide to do. To be sure, very shortly you will find yourself in situations where you will be asked to do something that you have never done before. As long as you are willing to ask for help, to be humble about what you know and do not know, and to learn from your mistakes, you will thrive. You are not expected to know everything at the start of your career, or even at the end. In my experience, the people who are happiest with their work are those that constantly put themselves in situations where they must master new challenges. As long as you are constantly learning, work is never dull.

One of the joys of being president is that I get to travel the country meeting Tufts alumni. You will find your fellow Tufts graduates employed in virtually every possible form of job. I have met doctors, lawyers, dentists, vets, engineers, teachers, playwrights, poets, actors, musicians, astronauts, diplomats, governors, prime ministers, fellow college presidents, entrepreneurs, scientists, community activists, clergy, professional athletes, you name it. I have yet to meet a professional wrestler who is a Tufts graduate, but I am sure if I looked hard enough I would find one as well.

My point is that there are lots of ways to make a living. You too will find your path. It probably will not be what you expect it to be, but the journey is half the fun. Imagine how dull life would be if you actually knew your career in advance. In fact, a career is only knowable in retrospect. On the day you retire, you will be able to describe what your career was. Up until then, you will only be making plans. Be prepared to recognize opportunity when it presents itself. It will come from the most unexpected directions.

I never expected to be an academic, let alone a university president. When I was sitting in your position I was certain I would be a lawyer. It took me three years of law school to figure out that I wanted to do something else. I am glad that I had the courage to change my mind. Too many people find themselves trapped in jobs or careers that they do not enjoy. Take some risks. Try some things especially when you are young and have little to lose. You will never be disappointed by pursuing your passion.

Far more important than planning your career is to lead a meaningful, happy life. Perhaps the best advice I have ever read on this topic comes from a wonderful source – the Talmud. In the volume, Ethics of Our Fathers, Ben Zoma asks three questions for the ages:

  • Who is wise?
  • Who is mighty?
  • Who is wealthy?

Who is wise? The Talmud answers, “The person who learns from all people.” While you may be graduating from college, you are just commencing the rest of your education. Those who have degrees from elite institutions do not have a monopoly on wisdom. I went to the same barber for 37 years until his death from cancer earlier this year. John only had a high school education, but he was unusually perceptive about people. I learned a lot from him. Treat everyone with dignity and respect, and you will be pleasantly surprised to discover new teachers all around you.

Who is mighty? The Talmud answers, “The person who exercises self-control.” There will be times in your life when you will face different kinds of temptation. You may be tempted to shade the truth, to take advantage of others, to put your own interests ahead of those who care about you. Pick up any newspaper and you will see examples of businessmen, politicians, and others who have embarrassed themselves by succumbing to temptation. Being able to resist these temptations is not only a sign of maturity, but of strength of character. Always strive to do the right thing. It is so simple to say, but often so hard to accomplish.

Who is wealthy? The Talmud answers, “The person who rejoices in his or her portion.” Some people are always striving for the next rung on the ladder. And while there is nothing wrong with ambition, ambition for ambition’s sake can be corrosive. Try to understand what gives you satisfaction in life. You are likely to discover that satisfaction does not come from material possessions alone or external measures of success. In fact, unless you have truly extravagant tastes, it does not take all that much before you learn that the really scarce commodity in your life is time and not money. Make sure you spend your time on things that really make you happy.


Adele and I have loved sharing these past four years with you. While each of you has your own special memories, we also have ours. We will not forget greeting you in Gantcher on your first night on campus, serving pancakes to you during reading period, or welcoming President Bush and Senator Clinton to Tufts for the Fares Lecture. We have great memories of senior dinners, and of course we will never forget that we got to share two Super Bowls with you and a World Series victory. (And yes, we will also not forget the gathering outside our home after the Red Sox came from three down to beat the Yankees. What a night that was.) To all of my running partners in the audience, thanks for keeping me company on those early morning runs. And to those of you who came out to cheer on the Marathon team on Patriots Day, we can never thank you enough. Your cheers of “Go Tufts! Go Jumbos!” literally lifted us over Heartbreak Hill.

I know that tomorrow will be bittersweet for many of you. You will say goodbye to many dear friends. But if you are like those who have come before you, the friendships you have made at Tufts will endure. You will share so many of life’s passages together – weddings, the birth of children, major career moves, and personal challenges that give life its texture and its meaning. Your friendships, your relationships will only deepen with the passage of time.

I think I speak for every faculty and staff member at Tufts when I say that it has been our pleasure to be part of your lives for these past four years. Faculty think of their students much like parents think of their kids. No matter what you do, you will always be our students. We will follow your lives and careers with great interest and tremendous pride. For all of us who work at Tufts, nothing pleases us more than to hear from former students. Please stay in touch.

To the parents in the audience, thank you for entrusting your sons and daughters to us. They are terrific and remarkable young men and women. We now know why you are so very proud of them. Thank you for helping them to reach this very special moment in their lives.

To the Class of 2006, your time has come. Go forward from this Hill and make your mark on the world. You are well prepared. Good luck and Godspeed.








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