Cristle Collins Judd: President of the College

Welcome and greetings to you all, where ever you may be. Like most of you, I am joining this event from home—in my case, on campus in the living room of the President’s House, where I first welcomed many of you to campus two years ago. Since we often host college functions here, it does mean, conveniently, that there was a podium handy and that my regalia was right upstairs.

I want to begin today with a big shout-out to the dedicated faculty and staff, seen (and mostly unseen right now), from the College’s offices of events, communications, IT, A/V, campus operations, student life, alumni relations, registrar, provost, filmmaking, and more who have worked tirelessly and creatively to make this event possible in this way.

A virtual ceremony can’t replace the in-person festivities that we were all looking forward to, but I strongly believe that we cannot and indeed we must not put our lives on hold, despite the extraordinary disruption through which we are all living. At this time, as we acknowledge and grieve our collective and personal sorrows and disappointments, and as we mourn deeply the losses touching so many, we also need to allow ourselves to celebrate that which merits celebration—and today that is you, our graduates!

And now, to our ceremony proper… 

Today we celebrate our graduate and professional programs and the important role these programs—and the students who are graduating from them—play not only here at Sarah Lawrence but out in the world.

We are a small college, but we have a long history of innovation and an out-sized influence on the arts, education, and health professions. This College has understood the centrality of the arts—of writing, theatre, dance, and music—from our beginning. We added a focus on early childhood education shortly after and our first graduate degree programs began some 70 years ago—extraordinarily, that was just as today’s commencement speaker was graduating from Sarah Lawrence! Our Human Genetics program was the first graduate-level genetic counselor training program in the United States, and remains the largest. Our Women’s History program, established in 1972 by Gerda Lerner, was the country’s first graduate degree program in that field. And—you might be sensing a theme here—when our Health Advocacy master’s program started in 1980, it was also the nation’s first. Dance/Movement Therapy is the most recent addition in our graduate offerings and among the vanguard of accredited dance movement programs in the United States.

I’m proud of all the firsts in our history, but—as importantly today—I proudly tell you, graduates, that you are not the first. Today you join a distinguished group of Sarah Lawrence alumni who in their lives and in their work make a difference in the world daily. You are now part of a group that has shared a very special experience, place, and model of education. Some of the people from your time at Sarah Lawrence will remain close friends for the rest of your life, and still others will become valued colleagues—these include not only your classmates, but also the faculty, staff, and even the president of this college! All of us share with you the special privilege that is associated with a Sarah Lawrence education.

We are all at a moment of reflection, and as we are, I want to turn to something that most of you probably haven’t thought about very much, but which I can tell you I have been thinking about a great deal these last few months, and that is the College’s mission.

Our mission statement begins:

To graduate world citizens

And it concludes:

...[who will] “thrive in a complex and rapidly evolving world.”  

And, of course, it says a lot in between because as you all know we are a place that loves words, but I want to take a moment to focus on that mission in capsule: To graduate world citizens … [who will] thrive in a complex and rapidly evolving world.

First, our responsibility to graduate world citizens... That has never been more timely nor more apparent, nor more necessary than in the midst of this global pandemic. And then, that ending of our mission statement: “thriving in a complex and rapidly evolving world.” I am sure that right now some of you are ruefully shaking your head as you think about the last seven weeks, unsure whether you are “thriving,” and newly appreciating just how complex and rapidly evolving our world can be.

Yet here I stand, calling you into that mission, representing your College—our College—sporting Sarah Lawrence green, and wearing the presidential medallion bearing the seal of the College—a portrait of Sarah Lawrence, along with the year of the College’s founding and the motto, “Wisdom with understanding.” I quite literally “put on” Sarah Lawrence College every time I don this regalia. But you, our graduates, as you have already gone forth from this place, you are and you will continue to be Sarah Lawrence College in the world.

“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... Even as—crucially—it also signals a way of proceeding—with 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.

Graduates: as writers, dancers, theatre makers, performers, activists, scholars, therapists, advocates, teachers, and counselors, this is precisely what you have prepared to do; this is what you will practice in the world.  The fortitude you have shown in balancing the hard work required to earn your degree with the demands of every day life; the creativity you have brought to every aspect of your work; and your Sarah Lawrence education as global citizens have you well prepared to not only thrive yourself, but to lead the way so that all can thrive in this complex and rapidly evolving world. A world that needs, more than ever, everything you are so uniquely prepared to bring to it.

And as you set forth to make your way in the world, I ask you to stay connected to this, your, College. Very (very!) shortly, you will officially be alumni of Sarah Lawrence College. And we can’t wait to see what you are going to do and to welcome you back to campus as the newest members of the Sarah Lawrence alumni community.

Graduates, I congratulate you on your achievement today!

Be safe. Stay Strong. Be well. We are #SarahLawrenceTogether.

Remarks as prepared for delivery