As a dean, one of the greatest privileges and indeed, the honors, I have is that of welcoming you all here today – graduates, friends, families, supporters, allies, faculty, and staff. What we are doing here today is important.
This is a celebration. It’s a time-honored one in which we hail the achievements of the sons and the daughters we so cherish. You graduates are, in some sense, all our children. But you are most importantly the sons and daughters of the parents here today (no matter how old our graduating students are, you’ll always be the pride and joy of your parents) that were entrusted to us just a few years ago.
You, the students who have reached this triumphant milestone today, are the cherished daughters, the cherished sons, and the cherished, unique, “you” — however you define yourself across the wonderful spectrum of an identity, that we celebrate and embrace. And we are glad for you. But regardless of how you define yourself, you are special to those who consider you all family.
And when we are at our best, we here at the school are like a second family. Our exceptional faculty and our staff work hard to create an environment where students flourish. Caring and engagement are celebrated here. Our faculty are mentors for students. The classroom is an environment of growth through supportive challenge. We know that students are sons, and daughters, and the cherished, precious people we’ve been entrusted with.
Let me tell me a story about a friend that reached out to me. His son, who grew up in the neighborhood with my children in a state 600 miles away from Indiana and who shared more birthday parties, family meals, and holiday events together than I can count, was about to be inducted into the freshman class at Indiana University here at the Jacobs School of Music. Home for them was 600 miles away. I understood what my friend, in that conversation, was sharing with me without expressly asking. He was saying “I’m sending my son IU to get an education. I’m sending my son away from my care – AND I am counting on you. I am trusting you. Nothing is more important to me. Make sure he is OK.” And without him asking, I reassured him. I reassured him because we are in this together.
I know because it’s similar to my own experience. My daughter is a freshman this year at my alma mater, Vassar College. On her recent visit to IU, I had the pleasure of hosting the President of Vassar and shared with her that my daughter is a student there and all that means to me as a father. I’m proud, of course, but my daughter is far from home. She’s far from my watchful eye. Again, just as with my friend, the subtext was understood. My precious daughter is in your care. And President Bradley understood and assured me.
Again, and again the story repeats. A former colleague from nearly 30 years ago mentioned recently that his son was a student at our school. I hadn’t known, but you can rest assured I keep an eye out. New faculty at the school tell how proud they are that that their sons, their daughters, have chosen Indiana University because, even though they will be nearer to them, they know that we all look out for each other.
And this kind of trust is ancient. One of the great epics of any civilization, The Odyssey, attributed to the poet Homer, chronicles Odysseus’ journeys in the years after the Trojan War. Before he departed for the war, Odysseus entrusted his friend and confidant to look after his son, Telemachus. That friend’s name was Mentor. It was not his business or his professional responsibilities that Odysseus was entrusting to Mentor, it was nothing less precious than his 20-year-old son. Through various narratives, Mentor both supported and guided Telemachus – he imparted his wisdom and provided an environment conducive to achievement. This, indeed, is where we get the term “mentor” and why that word has so much meaning. It is infused with not a mechanical interaction but with a meaningful interpersonal relationship.
And I firmly believe that it is this personal and professional guidance, even thousands of years later, that has helped shape the exceptional students you are.
You have worked hard. You’ve studied. You’ve hopefully made some friends. You’ve earned the trust of a few special people along your journey. You’ve engaged with your mentors and your peers both inside and outside of the classroom. I congratulate you and what your journey has led to.
You started off, perhaps a bit naive, leaving the care of your parents – again, a son or a daughter, whom they nurtured and brought to the moment where you were ready. And you came to this complex, big place called Indiana University. Your parents, no doubt, with mixed feelings as they sent you off to make your way, were worried. You were embarking on the unknown. I suppose that in some sense, a stoic might view this day as a celebration of survival. You flew the nest of safety. A fledging son. A fledgling daughter. And you did ok.
But I’m not only a stoic. I am also a son and a father. What I see is parents who trusted us. Whether it was a single mom, a single dad, two dads, two moms, a stepparent, a grandparent who raised you. We were entrusted with you. And we take that responsibility very, very seriously. We made sure that as a student at the IU School of Public Health here in Bloomington, that you were not only nurtured, but you were encouraged. That you were challenged. And that you were infused with the idea that we are all in this together.
You came to us. Full of passion for what came next — possibly very, very nervous. But our faculty, our advisors, our staff, and the friends collected around you, they helped you up. They hopefully reassured you. They hopefully helped take that passion you came with and shaped it and channeled it, and helped you learn and grow, and prepared you to take on a career that will give you joy. A career that will make a difference. You, you sons, you daughters, you special individuals, you made it beyond the nest, and you flew. You have reached a time-honored milestone, a perch, to continue the metaphor, where you can look back and see how far you’ve come.
For centuries, well beyond my generation by a few years, and even before your grandparent’s generation (indeed for many, many generations before), scholars and inquisitive students have met up to share knowledge, to search for truth, to mentor, to entrust, to guide, and to have a better understanding of the world. They’ve discussed, they’ve stretched the boundaries of the knowable – both on an individual and on a societal level. They’ve enlightened the world with knowledge. They’ve propelled us forward.
You are part of that long and revered tradition. There’s something quite comforting in that. You are here, as thousands of your predecessors have been throughout the ages, demonstrating in front of all of us, that you not only survived, but you thrived. You gained knowledge. You contributed. You taught, no doubt — and you learned. You will go out and make a difference. You’ll not only succeed, but you will do the ultimate. You will contribute yourself to the world. You, as sons and daughters and the special “someones” will, in turn, guide others. You will be models for the sons and daughters to come.
You, the son or daughter, the special someone to us all — you will make change happen in the world. Good change. Your generation’s unique perspective will shape the world of the future. That’s really big.
Your ideals, your values, your ethics, and your very strong idea of what’s right, will guide and mentor the sons and the daughters and the very special “someones” for years to come. That’s not trivial. That’s not small. That’s really, really impressive.
You’ve got the tools to do it. Now your charge here today is to take what you’ve learned. Build those relationships, engage in that career, and fly.
You’ve got the roots that have nourished you. The roots that have nurtured you. Now spread your wings. Stretch them far. And fly. Soar. And do great things.
But remember, those parents, those friends, those family members, and special people here today, they helped you. Thank them. Then thank them again. Be grateful. Faculty here today helped you. Your classmates helped you. Thank them, then thank them again.
The wonderful thing about gratitude is its amazing capacity for energizing us. As John Milton said, “Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.”
No doubt you will have challenges and obstacles. And as self-sufficient as we all think we all are, it’s important to remember though, that you are collectively our sons and daughters. You are all our special “someones.” We are here, with the light on. We are waiting when you come back to visit to say hello. You are part of a family of 27,000 plus alumni of the School of Public Health-Bloomington. Come back to visit. Connect with your fellow alumni.
And when and if you can, contribute back. Whether a simple thanks, extra effort, a financial gift, or entrusting us with YOUR son, daughter, and special someone: Remember all of those who came before and sacrificed to get you here. In their honor, and in their name, dedicate yourself to the new thing that comes next in your life:
You, the son, the daughter, the very special someone.