Don’t be afraid of risk, and don’t shy away from
service to others.
These were among the thoughts offered during Wesleyan University’s 175th
commencement ceremony by Jim Lehrer, anchor of PBS’ The News Hour with
Jim Lehrer and noted novelist. Lehrer delivered the commencement address
before more than 10,000 people at Wesleyan’s campus in Middletown, Conn.
During the ceremony, the Binswanger Prize for
Excellence in Teaching was awarded to Joyce P. Jacobsen, Andrews Professor
of Economics; Richard Slotkin, Olin Professor of American Studies and
English; and T. David Westmoreland, associate professor of chemistry.
Lehrer, whose daughter Lucy graduated from Wesleyan in 1985, became an
official member of Wesleyan’s class of 2007, receiving an honorary Doctor of
Humane Letters from the university. The graduating class included five other
honorary degree recipients, along with the recipients of 731 bachelor’s
degrees, 58 masters of arts in liberal studies, 25 masters of arts and 14
The ceremony also marked the 12th and final commencement presided over by
Wesleyan President Douglas J. Bennet, who is retiring from Wesleyan in June.
Early in his remarks, Lehrer shared with the audience that, in the capacity
of reporter, parent, friend or otherwise, he had been to hundreds of
commencement ceremonies and that
“I not only cannot remember what any of the speakers said, I can’t remember
what most of them looked like. I have no doubt that this will be the case
He then exhorted the graduates to engage fully with the world they are
stepping into. He reminded them that most of the military men and women
currently in harm’s way in Iraq are the same ages as themselves, and that
each had made a conscious choice to wear the uniform.
“That makes them no better, no worse than you or anyone else who chooses to
do something else," he said. "But they are risking -- some are giving --
their lives and they do so in your name, my name, our names, in the name of
our country. So…no matter what your view on Iraq, whether you support what’s
happening or hate what’s happening, cheer them when they come home.”
He asked the graduates to serve society – not necessarily in the military,
but in some way. “Serve your neighborhood, town, city, county, state and
country…serve a common purpose beyond yourself and your immediate family
and/or interests,” he said.
Lehrer reminded the graduates that life with out risks, without seeking out
challenges, is no life at all.
“To search for a safe place is to search for an end to a rainbow that you
will hate once you find it," he said. "Take charge of you own life. Create
your own risks by setting your own standards, satisfying your own standards.
…The way to happiness is to risk it. Risk it.”
President Bennet sounded a similar theme in his own address to the
graduates. Having traveled the country and the world during the 12 years of
his Wesleyan presidency, he had met alumni and alumnae from across the
social spectrum, he said.
“They are accomplished academically, but they are, in addition, risk takers,
change makers and people, individually and collectively, with an
extraordinarily high level of concern for the welfare of society,” Bennet
said. “The class of 2007 will find a lot of kindred spirits.”
Arjit Sen, president of the graduating class, urged his classmates to keep
pushing themselves, to enjoy the rewards of their pursuits, but to never see
these rewards as goals in themselves. “I wish only thing for us: that we
never ever allow ourselves to become insignificant,” he said.
Along with Lehrer, honorary degrees were awarded to Jewel Plummer Cobb, Alan
M. Dachs, Rosa DeLauro, Nobutaka Machimura and Thomas F. Malone. Robert G.
McKelvey was awarded the Baldwin Medal, Wesleyan's highest alumni award.
At a ceremony on Saturday, May 26, Taft Armandroff, Wesleyan Class of 1982,
was among the recipients of the University's Distinguished Alumnus Award.
Full bios of all the recipients of honorary degrees and awards can be found
To read Jim Lehrer’s speech go to:
To read President Bennet’s speech, go to:
To view photos of Wesleyan University's 175th
Commencement Ceremony go to: