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Dean McBride's 2011 Hooding Ceremony Speech

Modified: May 21, 2014

Good afternoon!

And welcome to the 10th Annual MFA & PhD hooding ceremony! I’m Dwight McBride, Dean of The Graduate School. And on behalf of the faculty of The Graduate School 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!

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 very often go in for lots of fanfare and grandeur. In fact, many of our colleagues believe that the life of the mind should be externally spartan, but internally rich and vivid. But on graduation days, the community of scholars celebrates in all its external splendor the culmination of research, teaching, learning, the full days and long nights of study that have brought all of you splendid graduates to this milestone in your learning lives—a milestone that places you in very exclusive company, indeed. According to the latest census data, 29% of Americans hold a bachelor’s degrees; 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. This is great moment for all of you—a moment I hope you’ll recall for many years to come, especially when the work you choose gets hard, the days get long, and the peaks in your lives turn into those challenging valleys.

On this occasion, I am reminded of the words of the great African American author, theologian, and educator Howard Thurman who once intoned:

Keep fresh before me the moments of my high resolve.

Despite the dullness and barrenness of the days that pass, if I search with due diligence, I can always find a deposit left by some former radiance. But I had forgotten. At the time it was full-orbed, glorious, and resplendent. I was sure that I would never forget. In the moment of its fullness, I was sure that it would illumine my path for all the rest of my journey. I had forgotten how easy it is to forget.

There was no intent to betray what seemed so sure at the time. My response was whole, clean, authentic. But little by little, there crept into my life the dust and grit of the journey. Details, lower-level demands, all kinds of cross currents -- nothing momentous, nothing overwhelming, nothing flagrant -- just wear and tear. If there had been some direct challenge--a clear-cut issue -- I would have fought it to the end, and beyond.

In the quietness of this place… my heart whispers: keep fresh before me the moments of my high resolve, that in fair weather or in foul, in good times or in tempests, in the days when the darkness and the foe are nameless or familiar, I may not forget that to which my life is committed.

I hope that the ritual of this special occasion will bring a measure of closure to one phase of your life, even as it represents the beginning of an important new phase in your journey—full of promise and possibility. I feel very fortunate, indeed, to be able to share this day with each one of as the Dean of The Graduate School at this incredible university.

Sometime before I came to my current role at Northwestern, I had the privilege of chairing the department of African American Studies here. During my time as chair, we established the nation’s 7th PhD program in that discipline. Five years ago we welcomed the first cohort of students into that small and highly selective program. I am especially gratified that—at my first hooding ceremony as TGS Dean—the very first graduate of the African American Studies doctoral program is seated among you today. It’s a historic moment for him, for the program, and for Northwestern.


Today, as you leave behind your role as Northwestern student, you take up another very important role as Northwestern and TGS alumni. And in an era where there seem to be fewer and fewer champions for the critical role played by higher education in our democracy, we need you as alumni now more than ever.

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 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 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 to each of you today.

I have always said that one of the most important functions of graduate education is to prepare its students for leadership in a variety of sectors of our ever globalizing world. As graduates of this institution, you are ready to take your place as smart, critical, and contributing thought leaders. 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 bearing witness to the greatness of the contributions each of you will make in our time.

Let me leave you today with a quote that has always meant a great deal to me and which I think is most appropriate to this occasion:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure…we ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?...

Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine, as children do…it’s not just in some of us, it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

I urge you to continue to be your own specific brand of “brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous.” It is not just good for you; but it is essential to innovation and to the very progress of our world.

Once again, my heartiest congratulations to all of you!

From the Dean