Read the Complete Transcript of Remarks from Commencement 2014
[Processional] Rabbi Daveen Litwin: Please rise. The renowned leader and educator Booker T. Washington taught, “Remember that everyone’s life is measured by the power that individual has to make the world better—that is all life is.” O, Source of Life whom we call by many names and understandings, on this beautiful afternoon, we come together to honor all those whose graduation today will take their place in the chain of tradition of Claremont McKenna College. We have confidence that our graduates have learned, through both great personal achievements and profound losses, the power and responsibility each individual has to use their gifts and skills to transform our world for the better and the importance of this choice. We honor and celebrate our graduates for their talents, their aspirations, and the vitality and the commitment with which they have enhanced CMC, the Claremont Colleges and beyond. We acknowledge with gratitude the people who supported our students on their path, the family and friends who provided the foundations of love and endurance, and the students, faculty, staff, administrators and trustees who inspired, mentored and guided them through challenges and changes. Along with the sweetness of this day, we are keenly aware of the sorrow for those we are missing but who are always present in our hearts and minds, and those who are a part of who we are individually as well as part of the CMC family. We remember especially today Tamar Kaplan, member of the graduating class of 2014, who taught us to make the world better by living up to the best that is in ourselves. As we reflect on all that brings us to this pivotal time, we pause, focus ourselves on this precious moment and offer these words of hope and prayer. May these graduates never underestimate their potential. May they find the strength to strive for better, the courage to be different, the energy to give all they have to offer. May all their knowledge lead to them to kindness. May they live up to the good that resides within them, using the gifts of their intelligence and the best qualities of their own spirit to create a more just, compassionate and peaceful world. Amen.
President Hiram Chodosh:
Thank you, Rabbi, for your inspiring invocation and thank you, Elizabeth, for your beautiful voice. There ain’t a registrar in the country that sings like that. A glorious afternoon to all of you. I’m Hiram Chodosh, I am President of Claremont McKenna College and it is my honor to welcome you to the graduation ceremony for the Class of 2014. Last I looked at the score, our women’s softball team’s up 6-3 in Texas. Today we turn but one page of the inspiring, sustaining story of our College, a great American story that both reflects and guides our deepest commitments to lift the society around us. The story of a great generation who faced death and embraced life, who fought tyranny and defended freedom, who overcame the worst of humanity to generate the best, who confronted obstacles and overcame them, who built a college from the rubble of this valley into an institution uniquely dedicated to higher learning and deeper doing. We remember those who are not here to celebrate with us, those upon whom we relied, those who influenced, inspired and guided us. That includes Bart Evans, one of our trustees and the architect of the College’s presence in the tech sector and Silicon Valley. We lost Bart this week after his long struggle against cancer that he faced with great poise and courage, and I ask that we remember his dedication and support for CMC with a brief moment of silence. Thank you. And we remember our dear Tamar Kaplan, whose spirited and giving nature, whose courage and zest for life continues to inspire us all. Sadly, we cannot bring her back, we can never do enough to honor her memory but we can take Tamar with us in so many ways. In Tamar’s memory, our community, led by our Board of Trustees and our Chair Harry McMahon have established an endowed scholarship. In Tamar’s memory, we dedicate a special tabebuia tree with a plaque that reads, “In cherished memory of her generous heart and courageous spirit.” I will present this to her dear sister Liat, who is here today, to bring back home to her parents. We also seek future ways to honor her commitment to social innovation and service to the world and today, today our graduates create space in their hearts and in their procession to let her cross the stage with them. Just as every turned page opens onto another, every answer raises fresh questions, each arrival leads to new departures, and each of our outstanding graduates today commences, graduates but yet becomes a new student somewhere else—on a fellowship in graduate school, in a first career, a startup, in the community. For these years, we’ve put our graduates in and through CMC, and now they carry CMC with them. So today we celebrate commencement. We tell our CMC story back and forth. We look within and to others. So first, we congratulate you, Class of 2014. Your singular accomplishments, your superior academic work, your award-winning research, your successful private and social ventures, your student leadership, innovation, national and global competitions, your record-breaking athletic achievements. So let’s all of us give our graduates today their very first round of applause. And today we celebrate not only our graduates but all of the selfless commitments, investments and support you’ve received from others—your families who have sacrificed so much to see you cross this stage today, your [families] who were so instrumental in getting and then sustaining you here, the grandparents, siblings, cousins, friends, so many others on whom you lean for support. Let’s all give them a big round of our appreciation. And we celebrate our amazing faculty and staff here at CMC, whose commitment to you and your success is without parallel. You’ve been nurtured, your minds in the classroom and labs, your fitness in Ducey and on the fields, your stomachs in Collins and at the Hub, and both mind and palate at the Ath. And we celebrate our amazing Board of Trustees and alumni of the College who have worked tirelessly, generously, fiercely behind the scenes for your benefit and success. So let’s give everyone else who supported you these last several years a show of our deepest appreciation. This is a sad, sweet moment for me. I’ll never forget the great support you’ve shown this past year and all I’ve learned from you. I have watched you in action, challenging a professor, asking a tough question at the Ath, competing, singing, showing off your photographs in art, organizing Model UN, mentoring students in need, building your enterprises, or just having fun with the first historic ponding of a Claremont President—in what I might add was a very shallow fountain. And your singular combination of smarts, charm and drive inspire and teach me and all of us what it means to be part of this great CMC community. As two exemplars of the CMC identity, your classmates Gavin Landgraf and Carly Goodkin will present the Latin salutation. The Latin salutation is a longstanding tradition here. One of our faculty who has been especially dedicated to this tradition is Professor Ward Elliott, the Burnet C. Wohlford Professor of American Political Institutions. A teacher-scholar in our esteemed Government and PPE program, Ward is retiring this semester after a remarkable 46 years at the College, and I’d like to extend a special thanks to him for his service. Well, if your Latin’s not so great, you can follow the translation. As Ward once famously put it, “Life is like Latin. If it were easy, the teacher would not have assigned it.” Gavin and Carly, thank you.
President Hiram Chodosh:
Gratias vobis! They make Latin look fun. Graduates, today as you cross this special threshold, your undergraduate years come to a sad yet exciting end, and you’ll join the ranks of our College Alumni community. We have one of the most engaged, devoted groups of alumni in higher education today. They built this college on the rocks and brush of a semiarid desert landscape. They raised it out of nothing into one of the premier private liberal arts colleges in the nation. Their impact on the College and their love for it is evident in every aspect of life here on campus. I know you’ll continue to support this special cycle of engagement and return. It is now my pleasure to introduce to you John McDowell, member of the Class of 1979 and President of our Alumni Association, who will provide to you our alumni greeting and tell you more about your new relationship with the College in the years ahead. John.
That’s going to be a hard act to follow, I have to tell you, that Latin oration. But Chairman McMahon, President Chodosh, Dr. Brainard, trustees, distinguished faculty, staff, parents and especially graduates, let me be the first to welcome the Class of 2014 to the CMC Alumni Association. You are a link in an unbroken chain that stretches back to our College’s founding as President Chodosh just talked about. For some colleges and universities, that change stretches back hundreds of years, but not for us. We’re young and, as President Chodosh likes to say, we’re scrappy. Our swift rise to prominence means that every link in our chain has had to be strong and now you are part of that chain. The alumni chain connects you with our very first students. We are so young that some of our original students are still alive today. Now it’s time for you to be a strong link in the CMC chain. Now it’s time for you to continue the tradition of excellence started by our earliest students and alumni. But what does that mean? It means building on the same experience that you’ve had here as a student. Just because you are graduating does not means that your CMC experience is coming to an end. In some ways, it’s just beginning. It means relying on those around you, on your fellow alumni, the other links in the chain, to be as supportive of you as you have been of each other. It means if you are looking for a career connection to look no further than our alumni database. That’s where you’ll find people across the country and around the world who are willing to help. Looking for a place to live in a new city? Look no further than our local alumni. They can tell you about the neighborhoods and they can offer you a place to sleep while you get on your feet. Do you need a lawyer, an accountant, a doctor or maybe an investor? Look no further than the CMC alumni in your area. Each time that you reach out to a fellow CMCer, you’re forging stronger links in our chain. You’re also connected to generations of students and alumni who will come after you, maybe some in this audience. Your job will be to keep the chain unbroken and help them along their path as they build on the successes that you will enjoy. Part of keeping that chain unbroken is to stay connected with CMC and to help us grow our future success. Involvement in Forum for the Future and supporting the Alumni Fund are two important ways that will keep you connected and help CMC to continue its rise to prominence. So in closing, let me give you a couple of practical tips for connecting with you fellow alumni. So first, when you move—and you’ve maybe heard this before—but update the alumni database. We have nineteen Alumni Chapters around the world and across the United States but if you live in Silicon Valley and the database thinks you live with your parents in Wisconsin, you will not be alerted to all the great activities in your area. Second, keep up with us on social media, Facebook pages, Twitter feed, LinkedIn group—it’s all there for you, and for those of you on your phone right now, just go there and sign up. And third, return for alumni weekends to reconnect with the College and your friends. We just held an alumni weekend. We had a lot of fun. You saw how much fun we had, and you will have that same fun too. We’re excited that you are now a link in the unbroken chain of CMC alumni. Congratulations on a job well done and on a bright and beckoning future. Class of 2014, we can’t wait to see what you’ll do next. Thank you.
President Hiram Chodosh:
Thank you, John. I love how someone from the Class of ’79 is giving you guys advice on social media. It’s now time for this year’s class-elected speaker, Jack Houghteling. Jack, as you know, is a Government History major who hails from Hastings-on-Hudson. Jack has participated in our Washington Semester Program as well as studying abroad at University College London. He has a deep love and interest in the field of history as well as philosophy and literature. His senior thesis wove together the vision of poet Tagore and the great philosopher Dewey. And after graduation, he plans to return to England to study for a master’s degree in History from the London School of Economics. Please join me in welcoming Jack to the podium.
Jack Houghteling ’14:
Everybody, how’s it going? Thank you to President Chodosh. Thank you to all our distinguished guests. Thank you to the administrators. Thank you to the Deans. Thank you to all the great professors. Thank you, close family members, Mom, Dad, Sam. Thank you to the less immediate, impeccably tanned SoCal relatives. I’m happy to see that John Boehner is impacting fashion if not policy. Most importantly, thank you to the students, my friends. I can’t believe we’re graduating and that you’re letting me, the kid who fell into the stingray tank on a second grade field trip to the aquarium, to be your graduation speaker. Well, I’ll try my best. When I was applying to colleges more than four years ago, what struck me at first glance about Claremont McKenna College was its application, and particularly what it asked for in its supplementary essay. Most schools had a similar template, one in which they left it up to the student to explain themselves and why they wanted to attend School X. CMC was different: write about a leader, they told us, and why you think that person is a leader—the second part of the question obviously being more important than the first. It didn’t matter, after all, who you picked as your leader, whether it was Barack Obama or Steve Jobs, whether it was Thomas Pynchon or Groucho Marx or some not-very-famous chemist that no one here has ever heard of, because it wasn’t about the person you chose. It was about you, that by explaining and vouching for someone else’s leadership abilities, you were writing about what you thought the word meant and, in essence, you were seeking to demonstrate your own leadership potential. You know, it wasn’t until we got to campus that we realized that becoming a leader is no easy feat, that just because we were able to write about a leader did not make us one, and that becoming one would involve trials and tribulations more strenuous than any of us could have ever imagined. In my case, it would mean the recreation of a persona that I had spent eighteen years building in my small enclave in Westchester County, New York. This process of recreation would include the trivial of course—I soon learned for instance that delis are provincial rather than universal and that, unlike New York, not every block in Claremont would have one; that the New York accent was actually a funny, novel thing, seemingly the artistic brainchild of the Scorseses, Coppolas and Seinfelds of the world; that as a Red Sox fan who grew up in Yankee territory, hardly anybody west of the Hudson seemed to care that the Yankees suck and that Nomar is so much better than Jeter. Yet my process of reconstruction would reach so much further and deeper. It led me to Washington D.C. and then to London in search of an adventure but, more importantly, in search of freedom from my narrow and in many ways immature ways of thinking. It brought me into deep, sometimes painful, connection with family members and friends, ones that I love fervently and unconditionally. Most importantly, it brought me into deep connection with myself, with the way I process things, how I interacted with people, how I perceived the world to work, how I worked. This process confused me, frustrated me and humiliated me. there were even moments when I felt devastated as I slowly and sometimes sluggishly discovered that my views, in many regards, were superficial, incomplete and even sometimes straight-up wrong. And yet it also saved me. It saved me from my own illusions, my own figurative enclave. For this journey of discovery brought me closer than I had ever been to my own raw self and it’s only once you get a glimpse of it do you realize that this oneness with yourself and that which is around you, with what’s real, is far more beautiful than anything you could have possibly imagined in that previous illusory world. For the first time in your life you feel like you kind of have control; you don’t need that boy or girl you’ve been crushing on or that I-banking job or that acceptance letter from law school to make you feel meaningful or happy or alive. You don’t feel like you need to hide stuff from people. And most important of all you feel, maybe for the first time in your life, like you can truly love people without expecting things from them. I mentioned leadership because while I think there are many versions of being a leader there is, as far as I can tell, only one way to become a leader and it comes through this process of learning to examine yourself and learning to willingly criticize yourself and ultimately learning to lead yourself, that only by learning to lead you, your army of one, can you really begin to spread beauty and light to others. I don’t want to make this process seem lame or boring because it’s not. I’m reminded of what Terry Gilliam, the long-time member of Monty Python said in a documentary about George Harrison of The Beatles. “Far from mere caricatures, the reason why Monty Python and The Beatles were such successful performers and, more importantly, such successful artists,” he said, “Is because they were having fun. They were entertaining themselves and they weren’t really thinking about the audience.” This, it seems to me, is a candid and essential insight when it comes to life and leadership, that what you need to get really good at before anything else is self-entertainment, which although trivial-sounding is really the deepest and holiest form of connection you can have with yourself. If you can’t self-entertain and if you surf through life performing for others instead of yourself, you’re going to be screwed. I address perception as a subject because of how important it is, because I think we oftentimes do a bad job at keeping reality and truth in the fronts of our minds. The reality of death, for instance. Just 72 hours ago, I was a part of what could have been a fatal car accident coming back from San Diego. Pretty weird. Beach and friends and sun and terrifying car crash all in one past memory. Everyone was and is fine but the incident really did remind me of how we naturally and inevitably tend to mask realities which seem brutal but nonetheless, realities which we need to understand and remind ourselves of in order to find meaning and joy. And maybe this fear of reality goes back to the fear of ourselves and of struggling to come to terms with who we really are and how sometimes, frankly, we shortchange ourselves. I mean if only Blagojevich followed his passion for journalism, right, or if Madoff became a Shakespearian actor or Kenneth Lay a zoologist. I’m joking of course, and I’m not trying to play the pointless role of Captain Hindsight, but I sometimes wonder whether these people who go into lines of work CMCers notably go into would have steered clear of infamy if they had known themselves a little better, if they slowed down and took more time to learn to be kinder and funnier and stronger and happier and greater than in this case the misleading and futile greatness that the title of Governor or CEO or hedge fund manager gave them. And yet I’m convinced that CMC has helped us begin this journey of self-discovery because here at CMC we’ve spent four years studying economics and politics and literature and bio and other socially relevant disciplines. And yet we have also been given time to study our home topography, to borrow a phrase from Thoreau. And let me be clear: this process of learning and discovering is so far from over. I do feel sort of wiser than I did when I first arrived here but I also know that the process has only just begun, as I have so much left to learn and see. And at the end of the day I’ll learn, like many before me, that the world is too big for any of us to wrap our arms around and that, whether I like it or not, I’ll always live in a state of partial ambiguity. And yet “partial” is a key word because it’s going to be up to us how partial we want that ambiguity to be, because if we all dedicate parts of our lives to thinking and seeing and criticizing ourselves and learning to put ideas together then sure, we’re not going to learn everything but we’re going to learn a lot. I know all you guys are going to do great things with your life in law, finance, writing, public interest, teaching, raising vegetables, raising children, in all sorts of other realms. But always be conscious that without this inner feeling that you’re doing and being you, and that you’re hanging around people that touch your hearts in the best and realest way possible, then you’re being less than you can be and you’re not going to be happy, and you’re not going to be a leader. Thurston Moore, the great guitarist of the band Sonic Youth, calls this feeling of life inside all of us the “lighted candle” and while I don’t know what that lighted candle is for you, I know it’s there. So whatever you do from here on out, make sure your candle is lit and that it stays lit. Go out into the world and play your part daringly. Play it humorously. Play it skeptically. Play it lovingly. And most important of all, play it truthfully. And if you do these things, you can be the epitome of the liberal arts in action and you will be a leader. Congratulations to the Class of 2014, and thanks.
President Hiram Chodosh:
Thank you, Jack, for those great remarks. It is now my pleasure to confer an honorary degree from the College, guided by our institutional commitment to recognize a trustee, alum, professor and friend who has demonstrated significant lifetime service to and in support of Claremont McKenna College or the broader community. This year we bestow an honorary degree upon our very own Harry McMahon. Mr. David Hetz, the sponsoring trustee, and Dr. Paul Hurley, the sponsoring faculty member, will you please escort Mr. McMahon to the podium. The following is a resolution adopted by our Board of Trustees. You became the tenth Chair of the Claremont McKenna College Board of Trustees in 2006 and have served with distinction for the last eight years. You led the College during a time of unprecedented success in philanthropic support, including surpassing the $600 million goal for the Campaign for Claremont McKenna, the largest achieved campaign in the history of US liberal arts colleges. You have guided Claremont McKenna College through the implementation of a new campus master plan, the enhancement of the campus’s physician profile, the expansion of the College’s academic landscape including the establishment of the Robert Day School of Economics and Finance, and the Robert Day Scholar and Master of Arts in Finance programs. You have actively worked to enhance the experience of students and faculty members through the establishment of the McMahon Family Professor of Corporate Finance and George R. Roberts Fellow, and through the annual Harry T. McMahon Named [Annual] Fund Scholarship. You served as a member of the Advisory Board for the Kravis Leadership Institute and have been a key advisor to and supporter of the Institute for the past twenty years, during which you chaired the Board from 2001 to 2002 and then from 2005 to 2006. You serve as an inaugural member of the Selection Committee for the Henry R. Kravis Prize in Leadership and have been instrumental in the shaping of this notable award since its establishment in 2006. You are an active member of the Claremont McKenna College alumni community, having served as President of the Chicago Chapter as a young alumnus; in 2010 your service with recognized with the George C. S. Benson Distinguished Achievement Award. You serve as a leader in the finance sector as the Executive Vice Chairman of the Bank of America Merrill Lynch and as a member of the Global Corporate and Investment Banking Leadership Committee. You and your wife Jacqueline are the proud parents of four children, Ryan (Class of 2008), Sarah, Charlie (Class of 2009) and Lydia. In recognition of your many contributions and achievements as a leader in finance and education, Claremont McKenna College hereby confers upon you the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws, with all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto, in token of which we cause you to be vested with the hood of the College appropriate to your degree and present you with this citation and accompanying diploma.
Mr. Harry McMahon:
I’m so sorry you had to sit through that. It’s hot and this is your day. I just want to share that I have been in your shoes, 39 years ago, right over there where the Crown Hall is today is where I was dressed like you and it was a near-perfect day. So I can appreciate how you feel. This is a near-perfect day. I got to tell you, I get to relive that in these fancy threads again today and I’ve had a chance to relive that many days since I got engaged as an alumnus around here. The psychic income I’ve gotten from being engaged in this College, if there was an exchange rate into some monetary equivalent, I’d be on the world’s richest list, there’s no question about it. There is a wonderful philosopher-coach called John Wooden—a little before your time—who said that you can’t enjoy a perfect day without doing something for someone that’s not going to be able to thank you. If you could translate that into Latin, that would give our motto a run for its money. So think about that. You cannot enjoy a perfect day unless you do something for someone that you know can’t repay you. This place repays you in spades. So my message is get engaged as alums and you will have plenty of perfect days in your future. Thanks very much, you all.
President Hiram Chodosh:
Thank you, Harry. What Harry didn’t tell you but I’m sure you know from your accounting professors is that psychic income is non-taxable. Well, there is no higher calling than service on behalf of the greater good. Many speakers in many different settings have imparted this lesson about public service to students. Our commencement keynote speaker today Dr. Lael Brainard vividly exemplifies this principle as our graduates seek to make a difference in the world. Dr. Brainard has been very busy. She is former Under Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs and is currently a presidential nominee to sit on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. As the former top economic diplomat at the Treasury Department and in her service to two U.S. Presidents—Bill Clinton and Barack Obama—Dr. Brainard has played central roles in many events and issues of wide-ranging global significance: the Euro crisis, the G20’s work to ensure a stable global recovery, negotiations over reforms to the Chinese economy and many more. For these and her many other efforts, Dr. Brainard was awarded the Alexander Hamilton Award, the Treasury’s highest honor. In the Obama Administration, she was also regarded as a tireless diplomat and forceful negotiator. Dr. Brainard has been equally tireless in many other roles as well—Vice President and Founding Director of the Brooking Institution’s Global Economy and Development Program, as Associate Professor of Applied Economics at MIT Sloan School of Management, and as an editor and author whose books include The Other War: Global Poverty and the Millennium Challenge Corporation, as well as Offshoring White Collar Work. Dr. Brainard holds a bachelor’s degree from the College of Social Studies at Wesleyan University and received her Economics master’s and doctorate from Harvard University where she was a National Science Foundation Fellow. The range of her career from the public to the private, from government to higher education is inspiring to us and something to which we aspire at Claremont McKenna. We want our students to do as Dr. Brainard has, to put the liberal arts into action, to find creative, innovative approaches across disciplines, to confront the world’s most challenging problems. We are so pleased to have her speak here today. Please join me in welcoming Dr. Lael Brainard.
Dr. Lael Brainard:
Good afternoon. President Chodosh, distinguished guests, families, members of the faculty, members of the Board of Trustees, students and especially Class of 2014, it is an honor to be with you here today. Class of 2014, this is your day; this is your commencement, the commencement of your journey as adults and, yes, as leaders who will inherit responsibility for our great nation and our precious planet. So let me offer a few thoughts to shape that journey. First, find your focus. This day of celebration no doubt has already been memorialized in thousands of pictures and countless selfies. That is as it should be. But then will come the time to transition your sights from the immediate moment to the longer journey, from ourselves to the community, the country and the broader world. In the months and years ahead, your challenge will be to resist the temptation of the instantaneous snapshot and instead focus on a sustained and thoughtful endeavor in the world. Sustained focus is genuinely difficult when you are relentlessly bombarded with images and emails and random comments from random people in cyberspace, but your time here has given you the framework and the drive to find and sustain that focus. In late September 1789, the first Secretary of the U.S. Treasury Alexander Hamilton was asked by Congress to write a report on public credit, a seemingly mundane task. Three months later, Hamilton delivered a 40,000-word proposal that was breathtaking in scope and ambition. It foresaw the creation of public debt markets for U.S. Government bonds. It proposed a radical way to bind the embryonic political union together permanently in the spirit of shared sacrifice, through federal assumption of state debts incurred for the Revolutionary War. Love it or hate it, no one disputes the brilliance of that work. Even today, it is relevant and controversial, as our European friends wrestle with some of the same questions. Hamilton’s 40,000-word masterpiece was the product of what one biographer describes as a “sustained bout of solitary, Herculean labor” with Hamilton closeted in his study day after day. Imagine how history might have differed had he instead been responding to texts and emails every few minutes, Tweeting, surfing the web, posting selfies and Snapchatting. So every once in a while, just every once in a while, don’t take the selfie, put down the iPhone and focus on what you are doing and can do to connect to how you want to make your mark in the world. A few years ago, as our country was just getting back on its feet after the collapse of Lehman, the world started lurching toward a second massive financial crisis. By this point, our ammunition had been exhausted and we were tapped out. For me, working at the U.S. Treasury at the time, the most maddening part was that the critical decisions sat on the other side of the Atlantic and the necessary authority was dispersed among numerous political leaders. So we invited those leaders at the epicenter of the crisis to a late-night meeting with the President of the United States and it was an epic meeting. Several of the leaders tried to persuade one of their peers to step down. Most of the leaders were trying to persuade somebody else to write a check, knowing it was a deeply unpopular as it was vital. There was pounding on the table. There was posturing. There were tears. And there was a moment of leadership when participants were reminded of their historic shared responsibility and the catastrophic consequences of not taking action. So here’s the thing. I did not post one selfie from that meeting, not one Tweet. By putting down my smartphone and even my pen, I had an experience that will always shape my view of what is possible and how to do it. That meeting, and several others like it, helped eventually to galvanize the grant bargain that restored stability and let our recovery continue. And the insight from observing those leaders was timeless: their rhetoric, their tactics and watching some of the world’s most powerful leaders feel powerless in the face of perceived constraints. So find your focus and make it worthy. Secondly, take some risks. Travel. Live richly by living shabbily. Expose yourself to new experiences, new ideas and new people. In the years following my own commencement, I did not acquire a stick of furniture. I shared living spaces with dubious characters in shabby neighborhoods. I was pretty handy with a can opener and I slept in a rented car more often than I’d like to admit. I roamed the country and the globe incessantly and I acquired a treasure trove of experiences that continue to inform me today. I tried in Detroit to help one of the big three figure out how to compete with cheaper imports while continuing to manufacture here in the United States. I observed the death of the textile industry in the middle of the miners’ strikes in Thatcher’s England. I bore witness in Mexico City to the devastation wrought by the 1980s financial crisis on lives that were barely connected to the banking system. I witnessed the birth of microfinance in rural Senegal which for the first time enabled small business owners to get credit and grow their businesses and lift up their families. Since that time, whenever I have found myself wrestling with questions about how to help communities wrestling with dislocation or what kinds of solutions actually work, it helps me to remember those people I met during my adventures on the frontiers of the global economy. I don’t any longer have the luxury of interacting firsthand with those communities for months at a time but you do. Indeed, many of you have already started to venture forth and have those kinds of experiences. I can guarantee you, you will be amazed how much those experiences enrich your imagination, inform your judgment and hone your instincts for years to come. Of course, taking risks means you might fail. You might even fall. I was in my first job, the first time I was invited to present at a key meeting with the head honcho of an important client. It was a huge meeting for my boss and for myself. I was dressed in my thrift shop best that day, along with my only pair of heels. I had a tall stack of meticulously prepared killer slides as I strode across the very polished floor of corporate headquarters. The next thing I knew, I was on the floor, my feet splayed out underneath me, slides strewn all over, with my dress split from hem to waist. Luckily, I was too young to let that stop me. Moments later I was standing in front of the hot lights, stapled from hem to waist, winging it without benefits of slides. I like to think of course that’s why they invented PowerPoint and flash drives. But this is the best time in your life for taking risks and for failing sometimes, so embrace it. Third, make sure you know who has your back. In fact, if you take a good long look around you right now, you will see your home team. so take a moment while you’re still sitting here to appreciate your professors, especially—and you know who they are—that one or two who took the time and interest to connect with you intellectually, who took you seriously as a scientist, as a historian, a writer, an actor, an athlete, and helped you take yourself seriously enough to produce a work of creativity or analysis that you might not have known was in you. Thirty years from now, you will still remember something they said to you that shaped your path. I know I still do. Appreciate your parents. Until you stand in their shoes, it’s very difficult to fully appreciate just how hard they have worked to get you to where you are today or to comprehend that split-screen image that they see of you today as a college graduate and still as a toddler, once again catching their breaths as you take your first steps—this time out into the world of jobs and travel, mortgages and marriages and parenthood. And appreciate of course the friends that you made here, starting with your very first days. These are the friends who partied with you, who pulled overnighters with you, who won games with you, lost games with you and counted down together with you to senior week. Over the next many years, these are the same friends who will know you best, who will be your greatest supporters and collaborators and who will always have your back. Fourth, take action. When you have that opportunity, act. There is always a temptation to hold back, to keep your options open but there are times when you must act. In my line of work, financial crises happen with depressing regularity. Perhaps someone some time will figure out how to break that timeless cycle of greed followed by fear, the belief in the sure bet followed by the stampede to the exits. But until that time, we can only hope those with the capacity to act will do so, even when there’s no guarantee of success. In our case it fell to a very unlikely duo, the President of the United States and the head of the Federal Reserve, to take the profoundly unpopular but necessary actions that helped to build back confidence, credit and jobs. With skyrocketing unemployment, collapsing trade and confidence shaken, the United States took initiative and led our partners to mobilize a massive rescue of the global economy, and this was one of history’s rare moments when a soft-spoken central banker drew on his academic expertise to don to the cloak of a superhero and rescue the economy. You can only contrast it with the Great Depression to know how critical it is not to reject that mantle of responsibility. Today of course, we confront different challenges, your challenges, seemingly less urgent but no less important. Our economy is growing and incomes at the top are rising but incomes at the middle are stagnating. The promise of economic mobility which is at the very heart of our system is receding. That’s one of the many challenges you will face, together with disease, with climate change. There are so many ways for you to make a difference, from teaching in at-risk schools to raising awareness through blog post to running for state office where some of the most innovative policies are pioneered. The choices we confront in our lives will likely not be as clear-cut, as visible, as monumental as Adam Silver faced earlier in his tenure at the helm of the NBA but let’s all pray that when we do confront those consequential choices, big and small, we do the right thing. We make a difference. We act. And finally, make your contribution meaningful by making it your narrative, your soundtrack, your screenplay. If you want to make your mark in the world, you have to figure out what animates you. For me, growing up in Cold War Germany and Communist Poland, I was fascinated by how two countries so close in geography and resources could diverge so sharply simply by being separated by the Iron Curtain. Germany built a vibrant market democracy oriented to the West while Poland suffocated under a heavy state apparatus oriented to the Soviet Union. Life in Poland was grim and individual initiative stifled. So it was only natural for me at that time that I was interested in why some societies provide opportunities and initiatives to their citizens while others are unwilling or unable; why some communities are successful at lifting up the lives of the poor and the disadvantages; and of course how America can be a catalyst for opportunity and for democracy through the ideas and the ideals it represents. But you have your own story, and in the years ahead you will choose your mission. You already have a strong sense of what animates you, honed by your time here at CMC. And for those moments when the path you’ve chosen looks daunting, it is helpful to have a narrative, a hero, a soundtrack that motivates you to be dauntless. So let me give you an example. Every day, high-level officials from across the U.S. Government gather in what is called the Sit Room to debate the great questions facing our nation. Sometimes they really are big questions: should we arm the opposition in Syria? Sometimes a bit more mundane: should a certain pot of assistance be spent on scholarships or community development projects? You may have an image of this Sit Room from the television show The West Wing but now picture a room that’s much more cramped, shabby, overcrowded and under-ventilated, and imagine sitting around the table not with chiseled, noble television actors but with normal people sort of like the folks that are sitting here with you today. Some are belatedly cramming, skimming their thick binders, trying to look prepared. Some are deftly maneuvering for advantage, think House of Cards, having prepared for days to make sure their boss gets to lead the delegation or have their pet project rolled out on the South Lawn of the White House. And some are just trying to sound Hermione Granger-smart. In short, sometimes it’s more sitcom than Sit Room. But I have a friend who gets a little misty-eyed every time he sits in that room. He thinks about George Marshall and George Kennan and how they used such meetings to shape a lasting peace from a world of chaos. While everyone else is sharp-elbowing and maneuvering and trying to sound smart, this friend of mine is hearing the music from the movie Glory where the first African American army regiment is leading the charge up the beach to the Confederate fort. He’s picturing himself reaching over just like Denzel Washington to grab the Union flag before his commanding officer falls. So wherever you find yourself in the next few years, however mundane the daily routine, hold on to that cinematic image, that soaring film score which lifts you and connects your actions to a greater purpose. Let yourself be guided by that purpose and make sure it is grounded in what matters most to you. Claremont Class of 2014, this is your moment. This is your time. Take some action—not just selfies. Don’t do it for the Vine; do it for the country. Make it count. Congratulations.
President Hiram Chodosh:
Thank you, Dr. Brainard. Well, we’ve talked the talk and now you guys get to walk the walk. All right.
[Conferring of degrees]
President Hiram Chodosh:
Congratulations. You may be seated. Chairman McMahon, Dr. Brainard, Dean Warner, faculty, trustees, alumni, families, friends and especially this outstanding Class of 2014, it is a privilege to stand here before all of you today to look out and see the faces of so many who belong to our CMC family. Now one of the many conditions of graduation is receiving tons of advice, always wise and sometimes even actionable. From career advice about promising industries—plastics for Dustin Hoffman’s generation of graduates—to motivational salvoes about dreaming big or changing the world. I know this class well enough to be confident of your capabilities in market analysis and your sense of drive and ambition, so I’d like to focus my charge today on something far more pedestrian: the simple act of doing the small good things for others and doing them with purpose. Much of life is in the details. Forceful thoughts require punctuation. Scaling Everest requires one steady step after another. Powerful strategies depend on momentary actions. Great religions call for daily ritual. Humanity moves through social graces. And yet, details without purpose cramp our minds, pull us down, render life less meaningful. It is details with purpose that become grand. Even if you’re not sure how a gesture, question, offer of help fits into the broader picture, if you do small good things for others with a sense of purpose, you will live a more meaningful, profoundly successful, life. So with these observations in mind, may I now ask our graduates to stand so that you may receive your charge? Graduates, please stand. Today, we ask that you think how you got here. Your parents and what they did for you, every diaper, every Band-Aid, every mac and cheese, every drive to school, the field, pool or court. Your teachers, every red mark to correct your mistakes, the small encouragements to give you the confidence that you now have. The people like our staff, who worked so hard to help you, cleaning your rooms, preparing your meals, resolving your logistical challenges. These were all each small deeds with a purpose, to grow in you the qualities you have so that you can, in turn, contribute those qualities to others. This means calling your parents frequently. Calling them frequently to see how they are doing. Telling your old professors at CMC what they meant to you. Picking up a piece of trash in the street. Giving directions to someone who appears lost. Apologizing to someone you’ve upset. Or volunteering to take responsibility for a tough task at home or work. So when you’re with another person in a group or an organization, you have one simple question to ask. How can I help you? How can I contribute? How can I add value? No matter how small the deed or task, if you do this and do it with purpose to serve others, you will do great things for yourself and you will lift those around you as a result. In the grander scheme, the only answer to the banality of evil is the banality of good, and we create good by doing generous, small things for others. Now here’s the easy part for you; you already know it. I observe it every day in the way you engage, ask questions, pull others out into our community, grow these great institutions that you’ve grown, solve tough problems through your research and seek to really make a difference. That’s the CMC way. And my modest charge is today: take it with you. Don’t leave it on the stage today. Make it your signature. And you will lead yourselves, as Jack says, and you will lead by example, as Tamar and Bart did, by doing the small good things for others, gifting your value, making your contributions, sharing your best ideas with others are your commercio. Helping others, building your new community and leading by example are your civitas. That’s your charge. That’s your story. That’s the story of Claremont McKenna College. Thank you for your support this year and beyond, and many, many congratulations to each of you.
Laura Epstein ’14:
Wow, I can’t believe that we just graduated. It seems like these last four years have gone by so quickly but they sure have been incredible. We have all learned so much from each other, from our professors and from our experiences here, whether it was while we were abroad, at TNC or just in a computer lab. The experiences that we’ve had here are just the start of our lives. We all have the knowledge, skills and friends that we need to succeed as we move on from here. There certainly will be bumps along the way and in fact, there should be. now and the next few years are the time for us to take risks and try new things, but we will have the support of our community here for the rest of our lives as we do that. We are now officially alumni of Claremont McKenna College for ever. I hope that we all stay connected to our Claremont community and that, years from now, whether we’re traveling or at home, we attend alumni events and reach out to other people under this tent today to catch up, no matter how long it’s been since last talking. The bonds that we have created here seem like they are unbreakable but it’s up to us to keep that up. And I hope we’ll continue the CMC spirit in our workplaces and in our communities in the open and supportive way that we have done here. We have all made such wonderful memories here and there’s no reason that that needs to today with graduation. Thank you all for an amazing four years and a huge thank you to the parents and families who got us here. Good luck with everything and congratulations to our Class of 2014. We did it.