Cristle Collins Judd: President of the College

Good morning. Please be seated.

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 90th Commencement of Sarah Lawrence College—a college justifiably proud of our history of innovation and our commitment to educating the whole student in an environment that is intellectually rigorous, self-directed, creative, passionate, and bold.

President Cristle Collins JuddAs we prepare to honor these graduating students, I would like us first to pause and recognize those have helped to bring these students to this day. In what I hope will become a tradition, I would like to ask the graduating Class of 2018 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 over this year and today we mark a rite of passage not only for our students, but for you, the wonderful families who accompany them here today. Please know that we consider you, too, to be a part of the Sarah Lawrence family 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 a challenge to our graduating seniors as you prepare to leave Sarah Lawrence.

President Cristle Collins JuddOnly a few short months ago I stood here, with many of you, as we celebrated my inauguration as the 11th president of your college…as your president. Then, like now, I stood before you, representing our College, sporting Sarah Lawrence green, and wearing this very cool (and very heavy) 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.” That seal is on the diplomas you will shortly receive (that I personally signed last week). The point is: I quite literally “put on” Sarah Lawrence College every time I don this special regalia. But you, Class of 2018, as you go forth from this place today, you will now be Sarah Lawrence. You are Sarah Lawrence in the world and to everyone you will encounter in the future.

So what do I mean by that? Well first I want to return to that motto “Wisdom with understanding,” and offer a suggestion of how you go out and live into it. I hear this not merely as a quaint reminder of Sarah Lawrence’s past, but as 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 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. For only then can we learn to speak to one other across deep ideological divides.

President Cristle Collins JuddYou’ve heard the phrase Democracy and Education a lot this year as we undertook a series of talks and events to understand not only what that phrase meant for John Dewey a century ago and how it shaped the foundations of this College, but what it means for us now. 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 been easy. As the College’s commitment to diversity has emerged over the last several decades, it has done so often painfully, partially, and in tension with our history and our surrounding community. In this, we confront not only Sarah Lawrence’s challenges, but some of the most difficult issues facing higher education and our nation. Our commitment to diversity—to bringing together students, staff, and faculty from different backgrounds, identities, experiences, values, and perspectives—must go further: to a commitment to ensuring that all of the members of our community genuinely believe that they belong here. To do so requires intentionally building a community that fosters respect for difference through critical and compassionate engagement across all parts of the College. Only then can we realize our collective potential to not only live and work in, but to shape, a culturally diverse and global society. We have begun this work, and we have more work to do, and we are committed to doing it. You graduates must and will continue that work beyond Westlands Gate in a world that is even more challenging than Sarah Lawrence. As I’ve mentioned in various gatherings, here you live in a community where you applied, but where we picked your neighbors and told you where to live. 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.

Very (very!) shortly, you will officially be alumni of Sarah Lawrence College. I will look forward to welcoming you back to campus when we celebrate the opening of the Barbara Walters Campus Center and for many other events in years to come. You, the Class of 2018, are the first class that I have the privilege of graduating. You have helped me understand Sarah Lawrence through our passing “hellos” around the campus (some of you might say my relentless “hellos”!), through your work, your performances, your art, your writing, your science posters, your activism, your sports events…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 for your education. So the Class of 2018 will always be a “special” class for me. You have warmly welcomed me into this community (and also welcomed me in the Sarah Lawrence way, by sometimes asking hard and pointed questions, with relentlessness and passion and the occasional petition). And you as classmates 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 and that you may at this juncture take for granted.

President Cristle Collins JuddBut you will discover, I suspect, what I have. You will encounter Sarah Lawrence people in all sorts of unusual and unexpected ways in the world. It will happen gradually and sometimes catch you by surprise as you meet someone who asks penetrating questions, who thinks about problems from many angles and in new ways, who puts together disparate interests and a passion for knowledge, who has a way of seeing, and who is just interesting. And at some point along the way as you get to know them, you’ll discover that they, too, are a Sarah Lawrence person. To me, this is what it actually means to use Sarah Lawrence as a verb, as in “to be sarah lawrenced.” To “sarah lawrence” someone is to step forward to engage another with intentionality and with the quintessential deep inquisitiveness, openness, and knowledge-seeking that personifies a Sarah Lawrence education and that permeates absolutely every interaction I have ever had with Sarah Lawrence graduates.

Let me repeat that to be sure you got it: to me, this is what it actually means to use Sarah Lawrence as a verb, as in “to be sarah lawrenced.” To “sarah lawrence” someone is to step forward to engage another with intentionality and with the quintessential deep inquisitiveness, openness, and knowledge-seeking that personifies a Sarah Lawrence education and that permeates absolutely every interaction I have ever had with Sarah Lawrence graduates.

So now…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. So, to the Class of 2018: my hope, my challenge, and my charge to you is to go out and Sarah Lawrence the world.

Remarks as prepared for delivery