Dr. Shirley Tilghman
President of Princeton University
Dr. Tilghman addressed 234 seniors and 155 graduate students at the 74th Sarah Lawrence Commencement in May. She spoke in favor of considering race in university admissions, a matter then under review by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In 1970, 87.5% of the U.S. population was white, 11% were of African-American descent, with other ethnic groups barely detectable. Today the percentage of African Americans is unchanged from that of 1970, but the representation of white Americans has fallen below 75% of the population. The difference has been made up with Hispanics and Asian and Pacific Islanders, whose numbers have grown eleven-fold in the last two decades so that collectively they represent over 15% of the population.
In 1970, when I was first entering the job market, a minority of women—40%—worked outside the home. Today that number is closer to 65%. We have gone from 30 million to more than 65 million women in the workforce.
What these bare statistics foretell is that your future success in the workforce is going to depend in part upon your ability to work effectively with individuals who are different from you—different by religion, by ethnic heritage and by gender. It will require that you be able to imagine yourselves in another’s skin, to see the world through another’s eyes. In other words, it will require tolerance and empathy, which are qualities that can be understood in the abstract, but they must be tested in the real world. To your great good fortune, this is something that Sarah Lawrence has given you.
You have had the opportunity here to develop these capacities, to test these qualities. You have learned to debate alternative points of view in an atmosphere of civility, and to analyze complex issues with honesty and forthrightness. Educational research has shown that students learn better in classes where a broad spectrum of experience and opinion is represented; that classes are livelier and more engaged when they are representative of the real world. By admitting a student body drawn from around the country and the world, Sarah Lawrence has created an educational environment in which you have been able to develop the intellectual curiosity and the sensibilities needed to live in a pluralistic world.
Michael Moore, Filmmaker
(and parent of Natalie Rose ‘03)
Mr. Moore’s freewheeling Senior Lecture on May 20 was seen live by a capacity audience in Reisinger Hall, as well as on video in the Film Viewing Room.
If I were to give you one piece of graduation-type advice, it would be this: Bad things are going to happen in life. You’re going to get fired. A boyfriend or girlfriend will leave you. Tragedies occur. Whenever these have happened in my life, I’ve always gone into incredible despair: What did I do wrong? What am I going to do now? One thing I found is that the times it was truly darkest were always just before something really good happened: It’s one of those clichés that is actually true.
I took a job as the editor of Mother Jones magazine in San Francisco, and I was fired—from Mother Jones !—after four months. I’d given up everything in Michigan and moved out to San Francisco. But my politics and the owner’s politics were not the same, and he fired me on Labor Day. The next day was Natalie’s first day of kindergarten. I mean, how bad could it be at this joyous moment? But at the time I couldn’t get out of bed, I was so depressed.
Then I saw Roger Smith, the head of General Motors, say on TV that he was going to lay off 30,000 people. And I thought, “Why don’t I make a film about this?”
When I made Roger and Me, I didn’t know how to load film in a camera. We went to interview Jesse Jackson with my buddy Bob—just a friend—doing the sound. Jesse Jackson says, “The knob on the machine isn’t in the right place.” I’m thinking, we’re the filmmakers; you’re the reverend. You do the interview. I go on, and he stops me a few minutes later and says, “Mike, I’ve got to tell you, I don’t think the knob here is right.” He knows the name of the machine. I say, “Bob is it okay?” “Yeah, yeah.” “Bob says it’s okay.” So Jackson does the entire interview. Then he packs up and leaves with his entourage. We check everything out. Bob listens in the headphones and goes, “Mike, Jesse was right. The button wasn’t in the right place.”
So we take off after him, and catch up with him at a gas station. He sees us coming and starts laughing. “I told you the knob wasn’t in the right position.”
And I’m thinking, Jesus—Our film school is Jesse Jackson. How cool is that. Immediately, we have no shame for being screw-ups. Now we’ll never put that button in the wrong place again. And that’s how you learn.