Peter van Dijk ’82:
President, Alumni Association

As this is the fifth and final year I get to speak at an SLC commencement, I thought it would be fun to share a quick anecdote from my first. I had just never spoken in front of that many people before and I was pretty nervous. So, I prepared myself. I wrote what I thought was a cute little address. It had a lot of jokes about those hats you’re all wearing and how they are not very flattering for most of us.

So I was feeling good, but then the day came, and I’m standing by the wall over there with President Karen Lawrence and Fareed Zakaria, and I really start to get the jitters. So, I had to tell myself, “Chill out. You can do this.” All the way walking in and listening to Karen’s speech, “You can do this.” And it was working. I had some killer mortarboard jokes, and I was good to go, and Karen was getting to the end of her speech—and then she finishes by announcing that Barbara Walters had donated her archives and a lot of money to Sarah Lawrence. And sure enough, as a surprise guest, out walks Barbara Walters. And the place goes nuts, and she was witty and insightful and charming. And she finishes and sits down, right there.

And now it’s my turn. And I have completely lost confidence in the hat joke speech.

Peter van Dijk '82So, I’ve been thinking that some of you might be feeling a bit like I was feeling when I made that long walk from that chair right there to this podium. You may feel like you are stepping out on a bigger stage, and you don’t quite know what to expect and a lot of people seem to be watching. You have prepared yourselves, and you are ready. And if you don’t realize that, you should, because you wouldn’t be sitting there wearing those fetching hats if you weren’t. Getting through Sarah Lawrence is way harder than anything you will be asked to do in any entry-level job, or many graduate programs for that matter.

And in case you haven’t noticed, people tend to leave our little pearl of a college and go on to do interesting and important things with their lives. I’m not just talking about Barbara Walters or Rahm Emanuel or Vera Wang, or even Survivor All-Star Jonathan Penner, the Mount Rushmore of Sarah Lawrence hyper-achievment. (The rest of us—Alice Walker, Carly Simon, Carrie Fisher, Jordan Peele, J.J. Abrams—we’re all just waiting in line behind Yoko.) And that’s before you get to the thousands of doctors, lawyers, educators, entrepreneurs, etc.

So let me give you a tip. The day is coming soon when you are going to feel like you are walking out on the bigger stage: the big interview, the big audition, the big pitch—and you might start to get the jitters. If you do, you just keep telling yourself, “I can do this. I can do this.” And you know what? You can. Because, you are now Sarah Lawrence alumni, and we do interesting and important things with our lives.

So, whatever your vision of a successful life might be, go make that happen. Do not be timid in your aspirations, or in your pursuit of those aspirations. And be sure to stay connected to each other and to the broader Sarah Lawrence community. Because, your life will be richer if you surround yourself with people who are doing interesting and important things with theirs.

So, with that, my fellow members of the Sarah Lawrence Alumni Association, congratulations to all of you and your families.

Remarks as prepared for delivery