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Dean McBride's 2012 Hooding Ceremony Speech

Modified: May 21, 2014

Good afternoon!

And welcome to the 11th Annual MFA & PhD hooding ceremony! I’m Dwight McBride, Dean of The Graduate School. And on behalf of the graduate faculty and the Northwestern University community, it is my pleasure to extend a very warm welcome to the families, friends, and guests of each of our graduating MFA and doctoral students!

It is also my honor to recognize a few distinguished guests who are with us for today’s ceremony. I’ll ask that each of them please rise to be recognized as I call his name. Representing our partner schools and colleges are the following Associate Deans for Graduate Studies:

Dr. Rex Chisholm from the Feinberg School of Medicine
Dr. David Austen-Smith from the Kellogg School of Management
Dr. Charles Whitney from the School of Communication
Dr. Kelly Mayo from the Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences

The work of The Graduate School would not be possible without the strong collaborations we enjoy with each of our partner schools. So on behalf of our graduates and our faculty, I thank my colleagues for their presence here today and for their good offices on all of our behalf.

Commencement season is the time on the academic calendar that I most look forward to each year. You see, we academics are a rather peculiar lot. On the whole, we don’t go for lots of fanfare and grandeur. But on graduation days, the community of scholars celebrates in all its external splendor the culmination of many full days and long nights along the roads that have brought all of you splendid graduates to this milestone in your learning lives. This is a great moment for all of you, a day of justly deserved celebration. A day to celebrate also all those who’ve supported our graduates on their journey to this stage—the family and cherished friends who’ve helped you walk the long path to this moment. A moment I hope you’ll recall for many years to come, and especially so when those other moments creep in—when the streets of your lives seem to run only uphill, when the paths of your work seem so rarely traveled, and when the roads ahead seem to stop short of the goal. May the strength of your resolve on this day give you courage to face those future challenges when they come.

On this occasion, I am reminded of the words of two great African American writers and intellectuals, Ralph Ellison and W. E. B. Dubois.

Speaking about the importance of education, Ellison once remarked that “education is all a matter of building bridges.”

Having completed this educational journey, having come to the end of this road, what lies ahead depends on the paths you take, and on the bridges you build. And each of you will be building a unique type of bridge, one that even you may not yet be able to imagine. As educators, thought leaders, researchers, and intellectuals you will build bridges between cultures and peoples, you will forge new ways of seeing and saying, and you will build bridges to new ways of thinking and knowing.

Even as it represents the end of one journey, on this occasion we stand at the start of many new paths, roads that are truly less travelled. According to the latest census data, 29% of Americans hold a bachelor’s degree; 6% hold a Master’s degree; 1.4% hold professional degrees (MD, JD, DVM, DDS, PHARMD, etc.); and only 1.1% hold an academic doctorate. I feel very fortunate, indeed, to be able to share this day with you as the Dean of The Graduate School at this incredible university, and to welcome each of you to the community of scholars.

And as you build your bridges, bear in mind the words of W.E.B. Dubois:

The function of the university is not simply to teach breadwinning, or to furnish teachers for the public schools, or to be a center of polite society; it is, above all, to be the organ of that fine adjustment between real life and the growing knowledge of life, an adjustment which forms the secret of civilization.

Today, as you leave behind your journey as Northwestern student, you take up another very important role as Northwestern and TGS alumni. We need the talents that you will use throughout your lives to spread the good word and good work of this university.

We need your time. I hope that each of you will take time to participate in the activities of the alumni association, and answer the call of your programs and of The Graduate School when we invite you back to Northwestern for important events. When you do, remember that seeing you and hearing your stories inspires our current students along their journeys as well.

And we need your commitment to support this institution so that it might continue to provide the incredible educational opportunities it has afforded each of you today.

I have always said that one of the most important functions of graduate education is to prepare students for leadership in a variety of sectors of our ever globalizing world. And whether you stake your claim in the academy, in government service, in the corporate sector, in the non-profit world, in culture and & the arts, I very much look forward to walking those bridges erected by the contributions each of you will make in your time.

In an era where there seem to be fewer and fewer champions for the critical role played by higher education in our democracy, we must not doubt the importance of the bridges we build. When we are called upon as institutions to explain what it is we do in the academy, ready answers are sometimes hard to come by. When reduced to the equations of bread-winning and polite society, bridge-building seems to many an extravagance we may do without, and the contribution of higher education seems uncertain when measured against other professions and businesses. I will not bother you today with overlong explanations or justifications. Instead, let me leave you with a bit of poetry.

Southern American poet, Will Allen Drumgoole’s “The Bridge Builder” tells the story of an old man traveling a journey, lonely and long. He reaches a vast, deep chasm. Crossing this depth in the growing cold of evening, he reaches the other side and begins to build a bridge to span the gap he’s just crossed. He is questioned by a fellow pilgrim, who suggests he’s wasting his time and strength building a bridge upon a path he has already crossed (especially given his advanced years and that he’ll never have to come this way again). The poet offers the following rebuttal:

The builder lifted his old grey head;

‘good friend, in the path I have come,’ he said
‘there followeth after me to-day
A youth whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm that has been as naught to me
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be.
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building the bridge for him.’

As you embark on new journeys, remember to build bridges for those coming behind you— bridges for those who could not continue otherwise, bridges to connect common understanding with new knowledge, bridges to foster greater communication and understanding between disparate groups, and bridges to make previously unimagined journeys possible. With the insights of a world-class graduate education, let not the naysayers and short-sighted pilgrims along your roads keep you from building your bridges as you go.

Once again, my heartiest & warmest congratulations to all of you!

From the Dean