Brown University News Bureau

The Brown University News Bureau

1995-1996 index

Distributed May 27, 1996
Contact: Mark Nickel

Commencement remarks
by President Vartan Gregorian

Vartan Gregorian, sixteenth president of Brown University, addressed nearly 2,000 degree recipients and 20,000 parents, friends and guests during University ceremonies on The College Green May 27, 1996. The text of Gregorian's remarks follows.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

This is a joyous day for the magnificent Class of 1996! In celebrating you, today we are celebrating your continuous journey towards the creation of the future.

We are celebrating knowledge as a means to learning, to autonomy, to dignity, to individual and collective freedom.
We are celebrating hope, the human spirit, human potentiality, the joy, agony and ecstasy of learning and discovery.
We celebrate our community with humankind.

Today is a double holiday: It is Commencement Day and Memorial Day. Memorial Day is a national remembrance day, a day of gratitude for sacrifices of past generations, their contributions to future generations, to us. Today we also remember Brown University's historic losses as well as recent losses.

From Brown University's very inception its "merry youth" left these halls to serve their country. The same year as the Declaration of Independence, this college lost its first student in the American Revolution. Twenty-one Brown men lost their lives in the Civil War.

Yesterday, at Soldiers' Arch, we paid our respects to four Brown University generations who fought during World Wars I and II, as well as in Korea and Vietnam. Yesterday, the bell in University Hall tolled 243 times to honor those who died.

To echo Ambassador Nathaniel Davis's senior oration in 1944:

"......someday [America's] arms will grow rusty and we must have a force of ideals, not consumed, but strengthened. For we should not have a small objective for such a big war, when there is a big objective: to build a free world for free men and women."

And many Brown University studentsdid return to begin rebuilding America at the end of each war. Sitting here before me is the great 50th reunion class -- the wartime Class of 1946. They marked not only the end of a war, but new hope for a just society. They formed a new generation which, aided by the GI Bill, restarted the engines of America.

I salute the entire Class of 1946 for their courage, their sacrifices and their hard work and I salute all veterans of all wars who are present at these ceremonies. The Class of 1996 -- and all of us here today -- owe you men and women a personal debt for preserving the freedom we have in abundance in America today. Please stand to be recognized.

I also want to pay tribute to the memory of our faculty and alumni who died during this academic year, particularly the faculty and students who suddenly and tragically lost their lives since last Commencement.

Last December 20th, in the American Airlines crash outside Cali, Colombia, Professor Paris Kanellakis, together with his wife Dr. Maria-Teresa Otoya and their two children Alexandra and Stefanos lost their lives. Paris and Maria, a gifted psychotherapist, were professional leaders in their fields. Paris's contributions to theoretical computer science were brilliant and unique. The University community continues to grieve for the great promise that was lost with these lives.

We also mourn the death of a Resumed Undergraduate Education student, Katherine DeLeon, as well as the loss of three international students, Khaled al-Sabah, Gregory Tso and Michael Fung in fatal auto accidents.

But let me now turn to the joyous happenings of today -- the beginning of the best of beginnings. Your future -- the future of the Class of 1996.

Since Brown does not have a tradition of Commencement speakers, every year I address the Senior Class at a dinner held in their honor. You, as parents and grandparents of this class, should know the substance of my remarks on that occasion.

Last Tuesday, once again I reminded your sons and daughters that they are not socio-biological, consumer or entertainment units in the great course of things. That they are spiritual, moral, rational human beings. That they are not mere actualities, they are potentialities.

I told them that life does not end with college. I even reminded them not to worry -- that most of them will have another 60 or 70 years of challenge to fulfill their potential.

I also reminded them that while pursuing success, they should remember that success comes in different forms. While youth is forever, material wealth, fame, beauty, laurels of every kind are ephemeral. What is enduring in life is character, reputation, integrity, honesty, authenticity and, indeed, a much abused word, honor . None of these should be mortgaged for opportunism.

Members of the Class of 1996, on many occasions you have heard me warn you to resist the charm of cynicism -- the most corrosive of human failings. Cynicism sows suspicion and distrust, demeans hope and debases idealism. It diminishes us all.

It is cynics who have tried to foist upon you the label of "Generation X." Such generalizations are not new. It was Hemingway who, in 1926, gave "The Lost Generation" its name. That was followed by other facile characterizations, such as

The Restive 30's;
The Conformist 40's;
The Beat Generation of the 50's;
The Unstable 60's
The Me Generation of the 70's;
The Self-Contented Yuppies of the 80's.

Adlai Stevenson was right when he said "Nothing so dates a man as to decry the younger generation." So I ask that you refuse the title of Generation X and insist on one that suits your highest ideals and aspirations. I know firsthand what those are for I have witnessed firsthand your idealism, your understanding, the high expectations you have of yourself and your peers, the 50,000 hours of service which you, as Brown students, give annually to Providence and the Rhode Island community.

Through that public service and in many other ways, you have already affirmed the concept of citizenship as the social and political bond that unites us. You have shown that you understand that it is citizenship that makes the social contract a moral transaction, governing not only our behavior towards one another now but toward generations past and future.

Therefore, in my opinion, you have the makings of The Compassionate Generation, the one which cares for social justice, the one which will dedicate itself to the unfinished agenda of American democracy.

You leave here understanding that educated men and women must build and affirm rather than merely deny and debunk. You leave Brown understanding that your liberal education encourages -- not discourages -- the formation of stable ideas and the taking on of firm commitments.

Remember that our Founding Fathers did not found a land of opportunists, but a land of opportunity.

I am confident that you will do well. And I am also confident you will do good. You have learned to perform well as writers and speakers. You know your way around the laboratory, the stage and the playing field. Most importantly, your professors have endowed you with the skills for critical thinking. I share their confidence and your pride. I am sure you will leave for the next generation a better future.

As a valediction, I paraphrase a Jewish sage who said, "Every age has its time, every man has his hour. To seize the time, to seize the hour is all." This is your hour and you must seize it with all your strength.