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Dean McBride's 2013 Hooding Ceremony Remarks

Modified: June 19, 2014

Good Afternoon!

Now we begin the 12th Annual MFA and PhD Hooding Ceremony! I am Dwight McBride, Dean of The Graduate School, and on behalf of the faculty of The Graduate School at Northwestern University, 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.

I am privileged today also to introduce the Provost of Northwestern—the chief academic officer for the university—who has been a great friend to graduate education, and who will bring words of welcome on behalf of the University—Provost Dan Linzer.

(Provost Linzer remarks)

Now it is 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 or her name. Representing our partner schools and colleges are the following:

Kelly Mayo, Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences

Jane Rankin, Associate Dean for Research, School of Communication

David Austen-Smith, Senior Associate Dean for Faculty and Research, Kellogg School of Management

Rex L. Chisholm, Vice Dean for Scientific Affairs and Graduate Education, Feinberg School of Medicine

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

Commencement season is the time on the academic calendar that I most look forward to each year. Academics on the whole don’t very often go in for lots of fanfare and grandeur, but on graduation day, the community of scholars celebrates—in all its external splendor—the monumental personal and educational achievements represented by the variety of somewhat peculiar costumes you see before you.

The American writer, James Baldwin, once wrote:

It is very nearly impossible, after all, to become an educated person in a country so distrustful of the independent mind.

Writing of educational disparities during the era of segregation, Baldwin’s words remain surprisingly and lamentably resonant today. Though we no longer suffer from de jure segregation of our educational facilities, the system of higher education continues to be regarded with a Janus-faced mixture of aspiration and suspicion in this country. On the one hand, our colleges and universities are revered as bastions of our collective aspirations of economic and social mobility. On the other, our higher education institutions are all to easily and often lambasted and castigated—forced to bear the brunt of intellectual, economic, and social grievances that have much larger causes and far longer histories than the talking heads would have us believe.

In the face of such a mixture of hope and rebuke, each of you here today has truly achieved something extraordinary. 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; and only 1.1% hold an academic doctorate. I feel very fortunate, indeed, to be able to share with you this day as the Dean of The graduate School at this incredible university, and to honor your extraordinary accomplishment.

This commencement is a great moment for all of you, a day of justly deserved celebration. This is also a moment for reflection, a time to pause and ponder the nature and value of the educational attainments we are celebrating.

Speaking with customary humility, Albert Einstein famously disclaimed his genius, remarking that

it is not that I’m so smart, but I stay with the questions longer.

To my mind, Einstein’s affirmation of the virtue of sustained thought is precisely what graduate education at an institution like Northwestern is all about. The MFAs and the PhDs bestowed upon you today distinguish you as members of the community of scholars: the fellowship of those who rush not to easy answers, but who rather value sustained reflection; the coalition of those who push not for quick affirmations, but instead probe in the shadow of the doubts that trouble science; the union of seekers who skip over the easy succor of sound bytes that fuel a 24-hour news cycle and pause instead over the problems that plague our planet; the alliance of those who resist the basic binary of enemies and allies, and foster instead empathy and compassion amongst all humankind.

Having completed this educational achievement, what lies ahead depends on not only the questions that have been with you in your journey thus far, but also on the questions each of you will ponder in the years to come. And each of you will seek answers to different questions, ones you may not even be able to imagine today. As educators, culture producers, thought leaders and intellectuals you will reflect upon the differences that both unite and divide cultures and peoples, you will forge new ways of seeing and saying, and you will build bridges to new ways of thinking and knowing.

I often say that one of the most important functions of graduate education is to prepare its students for thought leadership in a variety of sectors of our ever-globalizing world. As graduates of this institution, your talents are needed for the pressing questions of today: how do we provide sustainable, renewable energy to a growing global population? How may we best address health care disparities and provide access to healthcare? How can we ensure quality public educations as a common good, a right equitable available to all? How can we innovate therapies cures and treatments for illnesses? How do we foster the arts and humanities as modalities of critical reflection, empathy and inspiration attainable for everyone?

Whether you stake your claim in the academy, in public service, in the corporate sector, in the non-profit world, or in culture and the arts, I very much look forward to a world made better by the answers you will pose to these and other questions.

But as you bring to bear your talents to new arenas and challenges, I hope you’ll also remember Desmond Tutu’s warning about silence in the face of injustice:

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. In an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.

Keep in mind your responsibility to provide courageous leadership—to use your gifts and skills for the greater good. Let not the illusions of impartiality or neutrality still your pen. Let not material gain harden your heart and let not the droning of an irrational majority silence your tongue.

Today, as you end your role as Northwestern student, you take up another very important role as Northwestern and TGS alumni. In this new role, remember your time of sustained reflection here and remember also the challenges erected every day to the challenge of the mind.

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 Northwestern when we invite you back to campus for important events. When you do, remember that seeing you and hearing your stories inspires our current students.

And we need your commitment to support this institution so that it might continue to provide the incredible educational opportunities it has afforded to each of you today. As your ongoing intellectual work represents your time her at Northwestern, let you pursuits embody the responsibility to justice and truth captured in the University’s own motto: “Whatsoever Is True.” Culled from St. Paul’s advice on sustained reflection, the full passage provides a fitting conclusion to these brief opening remarks:

Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

Once again, my warmest and heartiest congratulations to each and every one of you on your magnificent achievement!

From the Dean