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Tufts E-News --Lawrence S. Bacow's Matriculation Address

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [09.01.04] Ladies and gentlemen, members of the faculty, staff and administration, the Board of Trustees who are represented here today by Dr. Bernard Harleston, but most importantly to members of the Class of 2008, welcome to Tufts! You have finally arrived.

This day, which you have been looking forward to for years, is finally here. No more answering questions about where you are thinking about going to school. No more college tours. No more SATs. No more of those awful college essays. No more interviews. No more waiting anxiously for admissions letters. No more decisions. You are finally here. You are now in college. You are now officially Jumbos. Congratulations!

The last few days have probably not been easy for either you or your parents. Invariably you have had lots of discussions about what to bring, how to get it here, and whether it will even fit into your room. Judging from the looks of some of the cars coming up the Hill this morning, some of your folks will be investing in new shock absorbers soon.

You have discussed what computer to buy, what kind of cell phone service to get, and whether to pack your winter clothes now or wait until later to bring them to school.

No doubt, lots of you have spent considerable time this summer negotiating with your new roommate over who will bring various electronics and other appliances for your room. I note that most of these devices did not exist when people of my generation attended college.

Then there are the more difficult conversations. Your parents have probably cautioned you to study hard, to behave responsibly, and to avoid the temptations that may present themselves to you while living independently.

Some of you may even have extracted promises from your parents not to embarrass you later today with emotional goodbyes. Well, to all those parents assembled, I grant you a special presidential release from all such commitments.

My wife, Adele, and I know from personal experience that it is not easy to send a son or daughter off to college. It is an emotional time for you and maybe even for your child. When the time comes later today, give them a big hug, hold them tight, and cry if you want.

To the Class of 2008, you are entering college at an extraordinary time in history. Every new advance in science and technology holds great promise, but also seems to pose new challenges for society.

For example, we stand on the verge of being able to grow new organs from stem cells but we are still grappling with the ethical implications of harvesting these cells from human embryos.

We have created new communications technologies that are not only shrinking the world, but that also are profoundly influencing culture, language, art, music and national identity.

Economic growth is bringing new prosperity to much of the developing world, especially China and India, but also creating challenges from increasing consumption of the world's natural resources.

I could go on.

Tufts is a particularly good place for you to prepare yourself to help the world address these challenges. At Tufts, we truly value a liberal education. Society's most important problems do not respect disciplinary boundaries.

If you are going to participate in public debate as a knowledgeable citizen, you must have a good grasp of multiple ways of knowing. An educated person today must know science and mathematics, but also literature, language, culture, history and the arts. Our curriculum is designed to give you broad exposure to these different fields regardless of your major.

If I were to give you any advice about what to study while at Tufts, it would be to play to your weakness, not to your strength. Go out of your way to challenge yourself by exploring subjects and disciplines that you have not yet encountered. Sample broadly from what this extraordinary faculty has to offer.

You may surprise yourself by discovering your passion in a place that you did not expect to find it. If so, have the courage to pursue your passion wherever it leads you. I guarantee you that you will not be disappointed.

Some of you may be entering Tufts convinced that you know what you want to study, or even what profession you wish to pursue. Do not cling too fiercely to these preconceived notions. If you do, you are likely to miss out on an even more interesting life.

I entered college absolutely convinced I would be a lawyer. In my sophomore year, I discovered economics. The rest, as they say, is history. I became an academic because one of my professors turned me on to his field. I would not be standing before you today but for him.

In electing to study at Tufts, you are enrolling in one of this nation's great research universities. Our faculty are both great teachers and great scholars. They routinely push the limits of knowledge through their research.

As students, you have an opportunity to be part of this process of discovery. Don't be bashful about talking to your professors about their research. I guarantee, their faces will light up when you ask them about it.

Moreover, we have created a number of ways for you to get personally involved in this process. We maintain a web site that describes undergraduate research opportunities.

There is also a Summer Scholars Program administered by the Dean of Undergraduate Education that provides stipends for undergraduates who work collaboratively with faculty on research over the summer. Faculty from all seven of our schools and our four affiliated teaching hospitals participate in this program.

And finally, to encourage students and faculty to engage outside of the classroom, if you and a faculty member share a cappuccino or cup of coffee in our new Tower Café in Tisch Library, it is free for both of you. The only requirement is that you come in and order together and sit together. Not a bad deal for all concerned.

Not all of the learning that takes place at Tufts occurs in a classroom. I hope you will also learn the value of teamwork, leadership, preparation, management, and getting people with diverse views to work together for a common purpose.

Most likely you will develop these life skills through your participation on the playing fields, on stage, and through the 168 student activities that make this campus so active and vibrant. Some of your best teachers at Tufts will be your coaches, trainers, advisors, and fellow students. You are likely to learn as much from them as you will from your professors.

One of the great traditions that we embrace at Tufts is active citizenship. This university is not an ivory tower. Our students, faculty, staff and alumni are all encouraged to get involved in their communities; to use their expertise to try to make a difference in the world.

One of the first responsibilities of an active citizen is to vote. So, Class of 2008, get ready for your first homework assignment! Each of you who is eligible to vote is expected - perhaps I should say required - to participate in the upcoming election on November 2.

We have made it easy for you to register if you have not already done so, or to request an absentee ballot if you are registered back home. All you have to do is to go to the website of the University College of Citizenship and Public Service.

If you have any second thoughts about voting, let me remind you that some of your contemporaries will not enjoy the luxury of spending November 2 on a college campus.

I speak, of course, of the men and women serving in the armed services in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. Elections matter. You honor their service by participating in this most important obligation of citizenship in a democracy. I expect 100 percent of Tufts students who are eligible to vote to cast a ballot.

Particularly in an election year, you will hear many passionate opinions expressed on this campus on a variety of issues. Most of the time people express themselves as we expect - with civility and respect. However, from time to time, strident voices are heard on this and other campuses - voices that offend. Tufts is not a cocoon. We recognize and embrace free speech.

We would not be preparing you well for the world you will inhabit if we isolated you from the gritty reality of dealing with people who see the world through very different eyes than you. One reason you are here is to be exposed to different opinions, different cultures, and different backgrounds.

Treat each such encounter as a learning experience and you will get the most out of the next four years. Moreover, if you seek out people who are different from you, you will be amazed at what you will learn, and also, what you have to teach.

You are going to school in one of the truly great cities of the world. Get to know Boston. You will find a city steeped in culture, history, and wonderfully distinct and interesting neighborhoods.

Walk the Freedom Trail. Go to the North End, Chinatown, Back Bay, and the waterfront. Visit the city's great museums - admission to the Museum of Fine Arts is free to all Tufts students. Take in a concert at Symphony Hall. And of course, everyone should make the obligatory pilgrimage to that holiest of Boston shrines - Fenway Park.

If the Red Sox keep winning, you may even get to be part of one of sport's great rivalries as the Red Sox and the Yankees square off again for the championship of the American League East.

Also, get to know our host communities, Medford and Somerville. They also are rich in history. Medford is the fourth oldest English settlement in the U.S. Founded in 1630, clipper ships were built on the Mystic River just off of South Street. Around the corner from campus you can visit Royall House where slaves were once quartered.

Somerville is home to the first flag raised by the American colonies in 1776 on Prospect Hill. Go down to Powderhouse Circle and see where it gets its name - from the colonial building used to store gunpowder during the American Revolution.

The American Revolution started in Lexington and Concord on April 19,1775, also the day of Paul Revere's famous ride. His route passed just a few blocks from here. The start of the Revolution is still celebrated in Boston as Patriot's Day.

In addition to commemorating the opening battle on Lexington Green, Patriot's Day also coincides with the world's largest block party. I speak, of course, of the Boston Marathon. Literally one million people turn out annually to cheer on 20,000 runners as they make their way along the 26 mile, 385 yard route from Hopkinton to Boston.

Last year, Tufts had the largest team in the race of any Boston area college or university. 174 students, faculty, staff, alumni and parents ran as part of the President's Marathon Challenge. I trained all winter with the team, and only illness prevented me from running the race, as I did the year before. If my body holds up this year, I plan on doing it again. So if any of you are interested in running Boston with me, start training now.

As you sit here today, you have much in common with generations of Tufts alumni who have preceded you on this Hill. Much of the reputation that this great university enjoys is due to their extraordinary accomplishments.

If you watched the Olympics this year, you might be interested to know that four of our alumni were members of the U.S. Olympic team. One of them medaled.

Now many colleges and universities can make similar or even bolder claims. But Tufts is the only university in the U.S. that can claim the person who presided over the Olympics, the Prime Minister of Greece, Konstantinos Karamanlis, as an alumnus.

If you watched the Democratic National Convention this past year, it was also presided over by an alum, Bill Richardson, Governor of New Mexico. Last year's Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Rod MacKinnon, a graduate of our Medical School.

Pulitzer Prize winning historian, Gordon Wood, is an alum as is the Academy Award winning producer of Forest Gump, Steve Tisch, and Grammy Award winning singer-song writer Tracy Chapman. I could go on.

I fully expect that some day either I or one of my successors will be describing your accomplishments to future generations of Tufts first-year students. May you each find your passion and your inspiration on this Hill.

The more than 82,000 Tufts alumni who are represented here today by Ann Palmieri, President of the Alumni Association, are an extraordinary resource for you. They have already helped you arrive on this Hill by interviewing you, supporting scholarships that underwrite your education, and by promoting Tufts throughout the world. In the future, they will help you with career advice, internships and contacts. Wherever you go, you will find fellow Jumbos ready to help.

One tradition that we honor at Tufts is that each generation helps the next. You have already seen this at work as upperclass students have helped you unpack and get settled in your rooms.

You will soon meet your peer advisors, fellow students who have come back to school early so they can help your faculty advisor with the advising process. In the future, you will have the opportunity to continue this tradition, and I hope you will do so selflessly and willingly as others have done before you.

Class of 2008, in a few hours you will say goodbye to your friends and family. You are going to be on your own - with lots of support, but on your own nonetheless. No one is going to look over your shoulder and tell you to study, clean up your room, go to the infirmary, or go to sleep.

If you want, you can eat pizza and potato chips every night for dinner, although I would not recommend it. Part of what you are here to learn is to make these choices responsibly. We have great confidence in your ability to do so.

No doubt, you will be tempted to engage in activities that may seem to be fun at the moment, but that might put you at risk. Please think twice before doing so. We admitted you because we thought you had good judgment. Please do not prove us wrong. If you could not look your parents in the eye and explain why you thought something was a good idea to do, you probably should not be doing it.

I must also tell you that Tufts is not a consequence-free zone. You cannot expect to flaunt the law or behave in ways that would get you in trouble elsewhere, and expect a free pass merely because you are a tuition-paying Tufts student.

We expect you to be the type of person you described in your application. The Dean of Admissions assures me that none of you claimed to be loud, obnoxious, drunk, and offensive to your neighbors. We don't expect you to behave that way here either.

You have been prepared well for this day by your parents, family and friends. Many of your parents have literally sacrificed so that you may enjoy the privilege of a Tufts education. Honor their sacrifice by behaving responsibly and making the most of this extraordinary opportunity.

Going off to college is a big adjustment for each of you, but in some ways it is an even bigger adjustment for your families. You have lots of people to help you through this transition - advisors, deans, counselors, and fellow students.

Your parents are on their own. It is up to you to help them adjust to a life where you are no longer a constant presence. Please keep in touch with them. Let them know how you are doing. It is even okay to ask them how they are doing. They will greatly appreciate email, phone calls, and even the occasional letter.

And now a word to parents: It is sometimes said that the greatest gifts we give our children are roots and wings. You should be enormously proud of what your sons and daughters have already accomplished. The fact that they are matriculating at Tufts today is but one sign that you have done your job well.

But I am also certain that as you prepare to say goodbye, your hopes and aspirations for them are tempered by more than a bit of anxiety. You are probably asking yourself, "Are they ready for all that awaits them? Will they act with maturity? Will they use good judgment?"

We raise our children to be independent, yet when they reach the moment when they are ready to spread their wings, our natural inclination is to cling to them.

I must now ask you to do the hardest thing you have ever done as parents - let go. Let your kids fight their own battles. Learning to deal with a large organization is another useful life skill that they will master at Tufts, if you let them.

Let them figure out how to sort out their classes, or resolve roommate problems, or get things fixed in their dorm. You cannot be everywhere for them, and I assure you, your kids don't want you to be.

You must also trust your sons and daughters to make the right choices. Of course, they will make mistakes, just as we did when we were their age. But you must give them the space and the opportunity to learn from their errors. Rest assured, they will remember the lessons that you, their first teachers, have taught them. And of course, we are here to help.

This is a good place, a caring place. All of us at Tufts are here to help your sons and daughters continue to grow and learn, to build upon the wonderful foundation that you have so lovingly provided to them.

So, members of the Class of 2008, welcome and congratulations! Your time has come. I speak for the entire faculty and staff of this great university when I say that we are delighted to have you join this special community.

Make the most of your time on this Hill. We look forward to getting to know you, to teaching you, and to learning from you. May your next four years be filled with challenge, growth, opportunity and fulfillment.

Good luck.

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