Dear Arts and Science Friends:
The College of Arts and Science convenes its undergraduate classes twice during our students’ four years on this beautiful campus. The first of these plenary meetings occurs on the Monday of first-year orientation, when a thousand or so nervous Arts and Science freshmen and -women file in and fill Langford Auditorium to the rafters for an informative series of welcome presentations. It is a gathering characterized primarily by jitters and distraction. I have a hunch that a pop quiz on my annual welcome speech would require a steep curve to norm the grades.
The second plenary gathering takes place on Alumni Lawn on the second Friday of May, a full four years later, for Commencement. The emotional tone of this gathering couldn’t be more different. Our students, accompanied now by their faculty mentors and in the presence of the graduating students of all of Vanderbilt’s schools, bring to the lawn on this special day a potent combination of gravity and joy.
Or they bring it to the gym. For in fact, four of my six Commencement ceremonies as Dean of Arts and Science have been diverted to our rain location, Memorial Gym. In the moment, relocation, which we experienced once again in on the second Friday of May in 2014, always feels like a letdown and a disappointment. But every year I realize anew that relocation does not change the tone of the event one bit. Festivity and gravitas. Pride and joy, commingled with sadness. A sense of impending loss. Change is in the air.
Gravitas and joy together express my own perspective today, as I prepare to depart from Arts and Science, Vanderbilt, Langford, Alumni Lawn, and yes, alas, Memorial Gym, having brought six cycles of undergraduate students through the educational and developmental processes that distinguish this remarkable campus. Immense pride and deep personal sadness. A sense of impending loss, combined with a strong sense of forward momentum.
I will carry forward the lessons of my past six years as Dean of Arts and Science for the rest of my life, as Provost of Dartmouth College beginning in June, with my family and friends, and in all the unknowns beyond. I have cherished the great responsibility, pride, and joy of leading the faculty, students, staff, and alumni of the Arts and Science community. And like our 2014 graduates, I will go forward a devoted, though newly far-flung, member of our community. I sure hope they keep me on the subscription list for Ampersand!
Thanks to each and every one of you for all my lessons learned in 15 years on the Vanderbilt faculty, 10 years in the Arts and Science Dean’s Office, and six years as dean. There is nobody in the world prouder than I of the accomplishments and the potential of the Vanderbilt College of Arts and Science. With that in mind, and as we do every May, let us all Commence.
A walk 50 years coming
Katherine Gorham, BA’64, finally participated in Commencement 50 years after she earned her degree. Bonus: Watch the video.
Arts and Science in the news
The New York Times considers economic’s professor Peter Rousseau’s values on red wine; PBS looks ahead at election season with political scientist John Geer; and reporters want to know more about the world’s smallest nanowires created by physics Ph.D. student Junhao Lin (left).