Cristle Collins Judd: President of the College

Good morning!

Good morning and welcome to this beautiful campus and this celebratory occasion. This is a special day for our graduates and their families as we come together to celebrate the 91st Commencement of Sarah Lawrence College.

As we prepare to honor our graduates, I would like us first to pause and recognize those who have helped guide these students to this day. Continuing a tradition that I began last year, I would like to ask the graduating class of 2019 to please stand. Now graduates: turn to face your parents, friends, and family—those who have supported and nurtured you—and thank them with a hearty and heart-felt round of applause.

And graduates, please continue to stand. I now invite you to offer a second round of applause for the Sarah Lawrence faculty and staff who have been committed to your pursuit of learning and to your success for these past four years and to whom you will continue to be connected long into the future. (Thank you, please sit.)

I also want to add my recognition and thanks to the parents and families of our graduating seniors. We are grateful for your commitment to Sarah Lawrence and for your support of our students. I have had the opportunity to meet many of you since my arrival at Sarah Lawrence—and to greet more of you this morning as you scouted out the best seats in the house! Today we mark a rite of passage not only for our students, but for you, the dedicated families who accompany them here today. Please know that we consider you, too, to be a part of the Sarah Lawrence community not only now, but into the future, and we hope that you will stay connected with us.

Commencement offers an opportunity for the president not only to offer words of welcome and thanks, but also to speak briefly as the “warm up act” to various greetings and our distinguished commencement speaker. I want to take advantage of that presidential prerogative to offer some thoughts and a challenge to our graduating seniors as you prepare to leave Sarah Lawrence.

Very (very!) shortly, you will officially be alumni of Sarah Lawrence College. I have shared only two of your four years at Sarah Lawrence, but in that time, you, the Class of 2019, have helped me understand SLC through our passing “hellos” around the campus (some of you might say my relentless “hellos”!), through your work, your performances, your art, your clubs, your writing, your science posters, your sports events, your activism … through midnight breakfast and formals and the faculty show and so much more … through all that I have seen you engage so deeply on this campus, and above all through your passion—your passion for your education and your passion for a better world.

And we’ve shared some “firsts” and some “lasts” this year. Your class was the first “inside” the Barbara Walters Campus Center as you signed the final beam at the beginning of this academic year, and I look forward to welcoming you back to events in the Center in the years to come. You were the first to enjoy The Remy Theatre, the new open-air theatre beside the PAC that has already become a place of performance and gathering. And you are the last … to experience a campus that marked the seasons by raising tents for all manner of events—imagine it: next year this commencement tent will be the only time a tent pops up on campus!

You, the class of 2019, have welcomed me into this community and helped me move from being the “new president” to being just “the president”. And you have also welcomed me in the Sarah Lawrence way, with many moments of celebration paired with just as many moments of hard and pointed questions, with persistence and passion and protests and petitions. As classmates, you have shared together far more over these last four years, a commonality of experiences particular to your Sarah Lawrence education that you may not yet fully recognize or appreciate.

So here I stand, representing your College—our College—sporting Sarah Lawrence green, and wearing this presidential medallion bearing the seal of the College—a portrait of Sarah Lawrence, along with the year of the College’s founding (1926) and the motto “Wisdom with understanding.” I quite literally “put on” Sarah Lawrence College every time I don this regalia. But you, class of 2019, as you go forth from this place, you will always be Sarah Lawrence. You are Sarah Lawrence in the world and to everyone you will encounter.

Portrait of Cristle Collins JuddSo what do I mean by that?

One of the things your Sarah Lawrence education allowed you to do was to connect your passions as you created your path over these last four years; not only did the College allow it, but we required it as you navigated your way toward the degree you receive today. And in connecting your passions to create that path, you took important steps toward creating your future. Sarah Lawrence allowed—challenged—you to invent yourself over these last four years. But we didn’t leave you to do that on your own. While we are justly proud of the self-directed model of education we offer, as you all know too well, it is really co-directed. You had four years in which you invented yourselves, but you did so not only alongside a don, but with other supportive faculty members, and internship sponsors, and community partners, and librarians, and coaches, and deans, and so many others who came alongside and mentored you and supported you and challenged you. That ability to make a path, to connect your passions to create your future, while really hard, is an extraordinary opportunity, experience, and accomplishment that very few college students are privileged to have. It wasn’t easy, it was probably pretty messy sometimes, it was equal parts frustrating and exhilarating, and you’re still trying to get enough distance to reflect on what you’ve done over these last four years. But here’s the thing: having invented yourself here with the assistance of your don and other partners, you’re now prepared to go out over your lifetimes and re-invent yourselves in ways you haven’t yet imagined—you’ve got this! That’s what Sarah Lawrence has prepared you to do, that’s what Sarah Lawrence graduates do.

So, take a moment and look around you. You are surrounded by people whose lives have shaped yours and with whom you have shared a very special experience, place, and philosophy of education. Some of these people will be your friends for the rest of your life; others will turn out to be future colleagues or collaborators. These include not only your classmates, but also the faculty, staff, and even the president of this college! What all of us share with you is the special privilege associated with a Sarah Lawrence education.

At Sarah Lawrence, you have lived, actually lived, day in and day out among people very different from you—people from different places and experiences and backgrounds and values. And it has not always been easy. You graduates must and will continue that work beyond Westlands Gate in a world that is even more challenging than Sarah Lawrence. As you leave here you will have choices about where and how you make your community, indeed about whether you choose to surround yourself with like-minded people of similar backgrounds who will act as a kind of self-reinforcing insulation. My hope is that you will use your Sarah Lawrence education, and the challenges you encountered here, as a foundation to continue to stretch yourselves, to help build and be part of communities that recognize all that diversity promises.

So let me circle back to the motto of the Sarah Lawrence education embossed on the diplomas you are about to receive—“Wisdom with understanding”—and offer a suggestion of how you go out and live into that motto as our newest Sarah Lawrence graduates. This is not merely a quaint reminder of Sarah Lawrence’s past, but a motto for our time. “Wisdom with understanding” points to the essence of a Sarah Lawrence education: discovering which questions to ask and how to follow them relentlessly, digging deep to pursue a possibility, bringing all of one’s creative energies to bear.... But it also signals a way of proceedingwith understanding—that reminds us of the necessity for empathy, for generosity and grace when encountering competing views, for an inclusivity, that is itself deeply and openly inclusive.

So, Class of 2019, this is my hope, my challenge, and my charge to you as you go forth from this place:

Live into the promise of your Sarah Lawrence education;
Continue to connect your passions as a way to constantly create the future; and
Let wisdom with understanding be a hallmark of all that you do.

And while you’re at it … Stay connected to this, your college, and come back to see us often.

Remarks as prepared for delivery