When a pinch hitter comes into a game, it's usually a crucial moment — hope
balanced against uncertainty. At Wesleyan's 176th Commencement May 25, the
hope shone through, and by all accounts the pinch hitter sent a grand slam
far over the fences.
have the distinct honor today of pinch-hitting for one of my personal heroes
and a hero to this country, Senator Edward Kennedy," said U.S. Senator
Barack Obama (D-Ill.). "He called me up a few days ago and I said that I’d
be happy to be his stand-in, even if there was no way that I could fill his
Senator Obama then went on to give a speech talking about service
inspiration that drew on his own experiences as well as the examples of
Senator Kennedy and his brother, the late President John F. Kennedy.
As an estimated crowd of nearly 20,000 people listened, Senator Obama spoke
about challenges graduating students faced from the daily "busyness" of
their own lives to the needs for clean renewable power, more teachers for
disadvantaged children, to rebuilding New Orleans.
need you," Senator Obama said.
"At a time of war, we need you to work for peace. At a time of inequality,
we need you to work for opportunity. At a time of so much cynicism and so
much doubt, we need you to make us believe again. That's your task, class of
Wesleyan President Michael S. Roth seemed to presage Senator Obama's
sentiments with his own remarks made moments before.
"Being in the company of students as gifted and energetic as Wesleyan's
class of 2008, gives me faith that we may well be able to reject the status
quo, to build a politics and a culture of hope and community rather than of
fear and divisiveness," Roth said to the gathered graduates, who included
737 undergraduates awarded bachelor's degrees, 29 students receiving master
of arts degrees in individual fields, 64 master of arts in liberal studies
degrees and 12 Ph.D. recipients.
also presented an Honorary Doctor of Laws to Senator Obama, an Honorary
Doctor of Humane Letters to author Jamaica Kincaid, an Honorary Doctor of
Laws to Morton Owen Schapiro, Williams College president, and an Honorary
Doctor of Fine Arts to photographer Philip Trager ’56.
Rashida Richardson, senior class president and student speaker, acknowledged
the accomplishments that she and her peers made during their time at
"Some [classmates] participated in the World Universities Debating
Championship in Bangkok. Two were recipients of the Projects for Peace
award, which are going to help build a bio-gas digester in Kenya. The
student-run Long Lane farm was awarded Connecticut's Higher Education
Community Service Award. Two students have received prestigious Watson
Richardson also mentioned students who took trips to Mexico and Peru with
Wesleyan Without Borders, and championed the student-run endowment
Obama stayed through the entire ceremony, sitting by the stairs that the
students ascended to receive their degrees, and shaking the hands of each
Senator Obama also left the crowd with a message from Senator Kennedy:
"To all those praying for my return to good health, I offer my heartfelt
thanks. And to any who'd rather have a different result, I say, don't get
your hopes up just yet!"
Click here to see video of Senator Obama’s complete speech.
Click here to see video of President Michael Roth’s complete speech.
Click here for additional Commencement