Charge to the Class of 2005 by Dale T. Knoble, University President
And so, graduates of the Class of 2005, we approach the end of this ceremony -- and a beginning. In fact, knowing, as we all do, that you are more at a beginning today than at an ending, that you are about to embark upon portions of your life that will last far longer, possibly with less predictability, and probably with greater consequences for you and for others than the portions now behind you, I am bound by a tradition of our 174 year old college to give you an "charge" as you set out. And so I shall -- with a few observations for context.
Recently, I read a speech that was delivered by Cristovan Barque, currently a Professor of Economics at the University of Brasilia, former Rector -- or President -- of that same institution, and several years ago Brazil's Minister of Education. His message addressed the internationalization of higher education and focused upon all of the developments in our world, technological, social, and political, that affect the teaching practices of colleges and universities around the globe. But what I found most arresting in his comments was this simple phrase: "The university should extinguish the concept of graduate."
Now I know this is an odd notion to be bringing to your attention on the occasion where we recognize your completion of your undergraduate degree. What, no graduates?! But I think it is just right. And it is especially right for those concluding their degrees at a college of liberal arts. Many of you -- if I and your professors are fortunate, most of you -- get it.
As it happens, just a little over a week ago, I had a conversation with one of today's graduates, who, anticipating the end of her undergraduate experience said something like this: "I don't feel like I know very much -- even in my major." Hurrah! May I say this once more on behalf of the faculty? Hurrah! This observation, I'm quite sure, was not an admission of failure, of lack of application, of inattention. Has this senior learned nothing? Far from it; she -- and I believe most of you along with her -- have learned enough to know that you have only scratched the surface of what there is to know -- for personal fulfillment, for meaningful citizenship (not just in community, state, or nation, but the world), and for productive contribution in any career path. Her innocent comment indicates to me that this young person has taken much from her undergraduate experience; it gives me every reason to hope that she is now beginning of a life of learning and growing.
Have you, Class of 2005 learned "stuff"? Of course you have. But ultimately more important, you have, I fervently hope, honed an enquiring mind, learned to "look" intellectually before your leap, acquired a healthy skepticism (though not an unhealthy cynicism) that causes you to ask questions before reaching conclusions, have developed the mental resources that help you separate reliable information from unreliable, and can distinguish sound, supported argument from assertion, emotion, and dogma. Likewise, I and the professors who have been both your guides and co-learners, have counted on your education to give you the poise and confidence to represent your own reasoned understanding effectively to others through the written and spoken word -- and, in some cases, through dance, art, music, or film. But all of this merely opens doors for you to continue to learn and grow; it qualifies you to graduate to a life of learning, not from one.
These have always been the ambitions of a liberal arts education. We count on your openness to and readiness for a life of learning to lead you to a lifetime that is interesting, connected to others, and contributing in its impact upon the world. We also suspect that you will be better prepared to navigate the opportunities and challenges of professions and careers -- unpredictabilities that none of us can even imagine now. Which, of course, takes me back to Dr. Barque's point: extinguish the concept of "graduate." Our dynamic world has less room it than ever before for men and women who are not consciously and continuously seeking to learn. Technology, communications, commerce, the interactions of cultures make it essential for educated persons to never stop what may have begun for them in the college classroom. Education comes in many forms, the formality of the university to the casualness of travel, reading, and conversation. For you, who graduate today but, if all goes well, will never be graduates, I hope that the journey of education has only begun.
And so, members of Denison's Class of 2005, I charge you: celebrate your experiences and your accomplishments of these four years of college. With your diploma in hand, graduate. But do not be satisfied to be a graduate. Do not be content with either the knowledge or skills that you have now. They will grow old. Employ them as tools to renew your understanding, your empathy, your effectiveness. Find not just new things but new ways to learn. Graduating Denisonians: may you be students forevermore.