SHORB>> Please stand as your are able. Gracious and loving God, we gather on this day to honor these graduates and to celebrate their accomplishments. We are mindful of both their wonderful and complicated journey through their college days. Over the past four years, within a community that emboldened minds and encourages civic engagement, these students evolved into adults with aspirations for their future. While here they developed the skills and courage to pursue those dreams and the resiliency to achieve them. At the same time for some of them trust and hope were challenged by a unique national climate and delusion disillusionment with systems. Feelings of shared global community and optimism about the future were, for some, interrupted by extreme disappointment. And yet these soon-to-be graduates persevered. They kept their focus on the goals they had set through personal stamina and dedication and the support of loved ones, friends near and far, and faculty and staff.
We give thanks, acknowledging that today is mostly about the graduates. And we also note those who supported them in getting here. Today we honor these students and praise them, challenge them one last time, and send them on their way. May this ceremony serve as a blessing as they begin the next step of life’s journey. Amen. Please be seated. MARSHAL>> Ladies and gentleman, it is my privilege to present our 2017 Commencement speaker, Kumail Nanjiani ’01; actor, writer, stand-up comedian, and pod-cast host.
His ability to tell stories about the real and complicated world in a humorous and fearless way serves as an inspiration to our graduates. Please welcome Kumail Nanjiani. KUMAIL>> Hi. Am I at the right podium? Am I? Should I be over there? Oh, you don’t need to translate this. I haven’t started yet. President Kington, Board of Trustees, faculty, parents, siblings, uncles, aunts, cousins, that one random guy from town that always shows up for these things… Thank you for having me. Sixteen years ago, almost to the day, I sat where you are sitting today, desperately trying to stay awake while a very smart man said some very smart things. I think. I cannot be sure they were smart, because I couldn’t focus on anything but the gaping maw of uncertainty facing me in that moment. The same gaping maw of uncertainty that is facing you in this moment. What do you do in the face of this gaping maw of uncertainty? I have no idea. Good luck.
I’m joking. I don’t know what to do, but I’m not done talking yet. Sixteen years ago, the man who stood here was Robert Harris Moses, an American educator and civil rights activist known for his work as a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee on voter education and registration in Mississippi during the Civil Rights movement. Today, you have me. A man who pretends to do stuff on TV that he was supposed to have learned how to do in real life, at this very institution. Today, you join an illustrious group of alums including Robert Noyce, the cofounder of Intel and co-inventor of the integrated circuit, and John Garang, who literally created a country. No pressure. And I haven’t named the two most famous Grinnell alumni in the entertainment industry, Herbie Hancock and Gary Cooper, who both dropped out. Perhaps that was the mistake I made. I graduated. I should have dropped out. It’s the same mistake that you all are making right now.
History is full of stories of extremely successful individuals who dropped out of college. You and I will never be among them. Because today, today you graduate from Grinnell. By the way, you will be shocked at how many people know Grinnell. For a tiny liberal arts school in a tiny town in the middle of Iowa, many, many people know it. You’ll say, “I went to Grinnell,” and they will be impressed. And then they’ll say, “Wow, you went to Cornell!” And then, you will have a decision to make. Your first important post-college decision. And you will make it over and over many, many times.
Many of my friends think I’m in Ithaca, New York right now, giving the commencement to Cornell graduates. But some will hear you properly, and they actually will be impressed. “Oh yeah, my cousin’s ex-fiancée went there!” It’s always your friend’s cousin’s ex-fiancée. But hey, but I’m getting a degree today too! One that I’ll use just as much as I used the last one. I am getting an honorary Ph.D.! I am now Dr. Kumail Nanjiani.
So hold on one second, I have to text my parents. Mom, Dad, you finally have a doctor for a son. I intend to use it. I can’t wait to stand up when someone is like, “Is there a doctor on the plane?” And you go “Guilty! Right here. Honorary Ph.D. from giving the commencement address at Grinnell. No, not Cornell, Grinnell. I’ll sit back down.” Twenty years ago, I got on a plane in Pakistan, got off a plane in Des Moines, and was driven into Grinnell by a nice elderly gentleman in a college van.
I was totally unprepared for my life at Grinnell. I didn’t even know what hacky-sack was. At the time, I only knew America from TV shows and movies, where they generally only show New York and Los Angeles. I landed in Des Moines and thought, this is less cosmopolitan than I was led to believe America would be. That’s okay. They have some buildings. Then I got to Grinnell. And you definitely do not see places like this in the movies. By the way, there is one exception. There’s a movie called Field of Dreams. You may not know this movie. I’ll tell you what it is. Field of Dreams is a movie from 1989 starring Kevin Costner and a bunch of ghost baseball players. That’s how you know Hollywood doesn’t think Iowa is the most exciting. They’re like, “Making a movie in Iowa? Well, we’ve got to add ghost baseball players or something.” But during this movie, there’s an exchange that happens that was frequently quoted when I was at Grinnell. The exchange occurs between Kevin Costner and a ghost baseball player. The ghost baseball player asks him, “Is this heaven?” Kevin Costner responds, “No, it’s Iowa.” Man, we love this quote.
That exact quote was written on the cover of my orientation packet: “Is this heaven?’ No, it’s Iowa.’” What they don’t mention is the rest of the conversation, which goes, “Is this heaven?’ ‘No, it’s Iowa.’ ‘Damnit, I must have made a wrong turn in Wisconsin.’” The first couple weeks for me here were pretty tough. I was a very shy kid, I missed home, and I felt like I didn’t fit in. Back then, nobody had cell phones, so I spent hours in the phone room on my floor. They used to have phone rooms here. A phone room is a room with a landline. A landline is like a cell phone without apps. I would sit in this phone room and have conversations with my parents for hours. A conversation is like a text message with your mouth. You know what, I can’t keep doing this. Just Google the ‘90s, and then we’ll get back into this. But I’d get into bed—and I had the bottom bunk, and I saw the metal bars on the bed on top of me—and they looked like prison bars, and that’s how I felt.
Like I was trapped. Those bars would be the first thing I would see every morning, and the last thing I would see every night. And then, things started changing. I met people from all over the world. I met people who were white, black, queer, gender-fluid, every religion, no religion. And that was exciting. Pakistan ultimately is not that diverse. And I was meeting so many different kinds of people. And people were curious about me! What is Pakistan like? What do you guys eat? Do you guys have breakfast there? They weren’t all great questions. I started experiencing things I hadn’t experienced before. I shook hands with a girl for the first time at a party at the Harris Center. Yeah. Yeah. I remember saying out loud to myself, “This is a great country.” And each time I would go to bed at night, those bars looked less like jail bars. And this little liberal arts college in the middle of Iowa changed the way I saw the entire world.
Before America was my home, Iowa was my home. And before Iowa was my home, Grinnell was my home. When I came to Grinnell, I was a devout Muslim who had never romantically touched a girl, and I was going to get a degree that guaranteed me a job. By the time I graduated, I was basically a Rastafarian with a white American girlfriend and a philosophy degree. College changes you, is my point. I did get a computer science degree also, because while I had changed, my parents had not. I got a phenomenal education, I heard new ideas and understood that there are different ways of looking at the world. But it wasn’t all existential stuff like that. It was fun too! It was big cookies, and chicken patty parmesan, and hanging on the loggia, and watching X-Files on the TV in Read Hall lounge.
X-Files is an old show about a time when conspiracy theories were shadowy rumors, and not a string of tweets the President just posted. But while I was figuring out who I was, I still didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. And then my senior year, I performed stand-up comedy for the first time at Bob’s Underground. Yeah! And it went well! And it was so fun. And it was so exciting. And I was like, I could be good at this! After graduation, I moved to Chicago because I knew a lot of great comedians had moved there. A Grinnell alum helped me get a computer science job. I wasn’t good at it, but I was nice, and they liked having me around.
But mostly, it allowed me to do stand-up at night in Chicago. And I did, almost every night. I’d be out late. I’d get up early to go to work. I probably slept about four hours a night for five years straight. And I had the best time of my life. I mean, it wasn’t always easy. I’d get heckled, because back then there weren’t a lot of comedians who looked like me doing standup. “Go back to India!”, they would yell. And I’d say, “I’ve never been to India, you’re just wishing me an awesome vacation right now?” Or, “Go back to Taliban!” I’ve heard that too. And I would say, “You’re right, I am a terrorist. I just do stand-up comedy on the side to keep a low profile.” By the way, I have this fantasy that when someone is racist to me, I want something awful to happen to them, and then I rescue them, just to see the looks on their face.
Like, “Go back to India!” “Haha, good one! Oh no, wolves!” And then I fight off the wolves, and they say, “I was racist to you, and you still helped me,” and I say, “Well, that is the way of my people.” That’s how we cure racism. Then, when I started auditioning for TV shows, I had some tough times, some rejections for some interesting reasons. I’ve been told they were going for a more all-American direction, before they hired a white Australian guy. I’ve been told I wasn’t good-looking enough, or that I was too good-looking. That last one’s not true. That never happened. But that’s what they should say every time! The truth is overrated. They should be like, “Sorry, but you’re too good-looking to play a technician in a weapons lab. It would be so distracting.” But even when it wasn’t easy, I loved it. I just loved doing it. And this is the part where I’m supposed to give you advice on what to do with your life, and I truly do not know what to tell you.
I can tell you what worked for me. What worked for me was finding something that I liked doing, but more than liked, something that satisfied me. Finding something that satisfied me and doing it. Just doing it that day. I never thought big picture, that would have been overwhelming. So what I’m saying is, you can go slow. There is no rush. Allow your dreams and goals to change, but live an intentional life.
Think, am I doing what I want to be doing every day? And, be okay with failing. That’s what I learned getting rejected at all these auditions. Nobody is paying attention to your failure. The world is full of people failing. People are failing all around you. Failure is boring. Your failure will not be so spectacular that people will write articles about your failure. Only you will remember your failure. Unless you’re the person that made the Samsung Galaxy S7. Those are the phones that literally explode. Everyone knows that person’s failure. Because here’s the big secret I’ve learned in the last few years. Nobody knows what they’re doing. Nobody does. Everyone’s winging it out there. Some people are just better at pretending to be confident. Because nobody, nobody’s done. Nobody’s cooked. People are constantly growing and evolving and changing. When I was a kid, I thought of my parents as these superheroes who knew everything, and that they were already the people they would always be.
And as a grown-up, I realize they have the same struggles I do, that everybody does. They uprooted their lives and moved to America in their 50s, started over. In the last ten years, I’ve seen them change in ways I never thought possible. I married a woman from North Carolina named Emily. That is not the wife they had pictured for me, and I never thought that they’d get over that. Emily and I got married at City Hall, we just walked in and got married. Then we flew to New Jersey so she could meet them for the first time. The first time my parents met my wife, she was my wife. And you know what they did? They threw a big Pakistani wedding. My grandfather even wrote a poem welcoming her into the family. He did rhyme Emily with family… It’s not our first language. But seeing her white Southern family and my Pakistani family celebrating together, it was so beautiful, I don’t have words.
So here’s another concrete piece of advice I can give you: Have sex with an immigrant. We’re going through a tough time right now, and it’s really great for morale. And it’s one way to ensure that you will definitely be on the right side of history. They’re like, maybe this was a mistake… Immigration is a big topic of conversation right now—do we take in refugees or not, these people are so different from us… And I will say this. Refugees are people who risked everything and left their homes in search of better lives for them and their families. What could be more American than that? I want to take a moment to give a special shout-out to all the families of international students. To those of you who were able to be here, as nervous as you were to get through customs and immigration, I hope that you are just as proud to watch your children walk across this stage. And I hope that today, you see the America that we love. There is a member of the House of Representatives from a district not too far from here, and I don’t want to say his name. But he said, “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” Somebody else’s babies.
That is not the Iowa I know. The Iowa I know understands that there is no such thing as somebody else’s babies. How can you look at a baby and say, “That is not one of my own”? I am thankful that that is not the Iowa I know. I came here and I felt out of place, I felt like I didn’t belong, and the community here made sure I didn’t feel like that for long. They welcomed me, they engaged with me, they were curious about where I was from. And this was the second place in my life that felt like home. Different, weird, but not strange. So I’ll say, this is another thing you can do. Populate your life with people different from you. Once you leave school, you get to choose the kinds of people you’re going to be around rather than just being forced to be around them. So I encourage you to seek out people, thoughts, and opinions different from yours. It keeps you empathetic, and it gets you out of your own echo chamber.
Don’t disregard opposing viewpoints. Listen to them, absorb them, oppose them if you feel that they are wrong, but allow them to affect you. Understand the pain behind an opinion such as, “Our jobs are being stolen,” and try to empathize with it. Believe me, it is not easy. I wish it was as easy as following a couple of opposing viewpoints on Twitter, and unblocking Uncle Steve from Facebook. But he showed up for your graduation, and he gave you a card with some cash in it, be nice to the guy.
It is not that easy. You really have to listen. We cannot expect others to understand our point of view if we don’t understand theirs. And it’s uncomfortable and awkward and infuriating and it hurts your brain, but with that pain can come growth and real change. Being a fish out of water is tough, but that’s how you evolve. I think that’s scientifically accurate.
I don’t know. I had a liberal arts education. Ultimately, we are all much more similar than we are different. That is what I learned in the Iowa I loved. Our shared humanity. We’re all just looking for food, and love, and meaning. And we find that meaning with each other, with community. So take the lessons you learned in Iowa, and in Grinnell, and get out there. Engage with people. Challenge their beliefs and challenge your own. Whether it is here on this campus in the middle of cornfields, or in a village in Senegal, or in a marble hallway in D.C. Actually, D.C. would be good. Go to D.C. Engage, care, be passionate. Because each other is all we have. This is all we got, this is all we have. And it may not be heaven, but it can be Iowa.
Congratulations class of 2017. Welcome to the real world. We need you out here. MARSHAL>> President Kington, it is my pleasure to present those persons of high accomplishment and distinction to whom the Faculty and Trustees of this College wish to accord honorary degrees. I have the honor to present Kumail Nanjiani for the honorary degree, Doctor of Humane Letters. LATHAM>> In a way, Grinnell can take some credit for Kumail Nanjiani’s enormous success in comedy. When he arrived in Iowa from Karachi, Pakistan, he had never seen a standup comic before. A friend showed him a Jerry Seinfeld comedy special, and he was hooked. After getting his start in comedy in Chicago, which included a one-man show called “Unpronounceable,” Nanjiani headed to New York to pursue work as stand-up comic. He typically performed 25 nights a month to hone his craft. Over time, he became a go-to guest on critically beloved comic shows including the Colbert Report, Veep, Key and Peele, Broad City, and Portlandia.
In 2014, he landed the role of Dinesh, a witty but hapless software engineer on the HBO hit Silicon Valley. This summer, Nanjiani will add a new role to his already-packed resumé: movie star. Teaming up with comedy superstar and producer Judd Apatow, Nanjiani wrote and starred in the movie The Big Sick. The film is a comedy about culture, illness, and relationships that is based on his relationship with his wife, Emily Gordon. After the movie’s wildly successful premier at Sundance earlier this year—reviews called the movie an “instantly winning heart-stealer”—Amazon landed distribution rights.
The movie will premiere nationwide in July. Beyond his television and film successes, Nanjiani brings his inimitable style to Twitter, where he has attracted more than 1 million followers. Whether politics or pop culture, Nanjiani tweets with unique insight and dark humor. For pursuing comedy that is both incisive and deeply heartfelt, and for succeeding in this work at the very highest levels, we are pleased to recognize Kumail Nanjiani ’01. KINGTON>> Kumail Nanjiani, on recommendation of the faculty of this College and with approval of the Board of Trustees, I admit you to the degree Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa. NANJIANI>> Should I put the hat back on? Thank you.
Thank you so much. MARSHAL>> President Kington, I have the honor to present Emily Pfitsch the honorary degree Doctor of Humane Letters. LATHAM>> For many alumni, Emily Pfitsch is more than just a longtime supporter of Grinnell. “Emily,” says one trustee, “is one of the patron saints of Grinnell.” Arriving in Grinnell in 1948 with her husband, John, Emily Pfitsch began what has become a 70-year relationship with the college. She enrolled in Spanish classes at the college and used that coursework to become a Spanish teacher at Grinnell high school. She taught at the school for 24 years. From her very earliest years at Grinnell, Pfitsch has been one of the college’s most effective advocates.
In the 1950s and 1960s, she played an important role for African-American scholar-athletes attending Grinnell. She provided a consistently warm and welcoming presence, regularly hosting students and their families overnight. She has welcomed hundreds of other newcomers to the town as well, including new faculty and their families. For the past three decades, she has opened her home and backyard for the annual alumni soccer picnic, an event which routinely attracts more than 100 people. And today, at 92, she continues to play a vital role in the life of Grinnell. She often hosts trustees when they come to campus, attends numerous campus events, and serves, says one nominator, as “a beacon of generosity, good sense, and wisdom.” For her seven decades of service to the college, and for the joy she brings to that role, we are proud to honor Emily Pfitsch.
KINGTON> On the recommendation of the faculty of this College and with approval of the Board of Trustees, I hereby admit Emily Pfitsch to the degree Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa. – Oh, you can leave it on. PFITSCH>> Good morning to you all, graduates, parents, family members, faculty, administrators and a multitude of friends. I want to thank those among you who nominated me for this award. I feel very humbled in accepting the honor. But first, I want to emphasize that I represent countless numbers of others who have, as I have in a support position, enjoyed the richness of precious relationships with students, faculty, administrators, and alumni of this distinguished college. In 1948, John, after coaching at the university level, had the good fortune of accepting a teaching and coaching position here at the college. He loved his relationships with his scholar athletes, and after 50 years of coaching, he reluctantly retired but continued to enjoy his remaining years with many returning alumni.
And to you, the class of 2017, congratulations. I have met a few of you, and I hope that after your four years here, you are prepared to take on the awesome task of attacking the problems of this nation and indeed the world. Good luck to you and enjoy this beautiful day. Thank you. MARSHAL>> President Kington, I have the honor to present Barb Van Ersveld, for the honorary degree Doctor of Humanities.
LATHAM>> At Grinnell’s Davis Elementary, Barb Van Ersveld is an inspiring, demanding and life-changing teacher. Mrs. V, as she is known to her students, starts each school year with a homework assignment for herself. Before the first day, she studies the previous yearbooks so she can greet each student by name when they enter her classroom. The high expectations that she sets for herself are the same ones she sets for her students. She expects that they will work hard, take risks, and contribute to their classroom in their own unique ways. For each class’s annual musical, Van Ersveld designs every role with the students’ strengths in mind. They fully inhabit their characters, preparing tirelessly and ultimately achieving far more than they believed was possible. Van Ersveld has brought the same enthusiasm to the third and fourth grade lunchtime language learners program. The program, launched through Grinnell College’s Spark Tank Innovation Challenge, brings students together to learn French and Spanish basics.
Van Ersveld has helped Grinnell’s language specialists and coordinators develop activities that students love, and that drive their interest in languages for a lifetime. The larger goal of Van Ersveld’s work is to inspire students’ love of learning, to develop their sense of persistence in the face of challenges, and to let them know that they are loved and appreciated. For her helping her students become the best versions of themselves, we are pleased to recognize Barb Van Ersveld. KINGTON>> Barb Van Ersveld, on the recommendation of the faculty of this college with approval of the board of trustees, I admit you to the degree Doctor of Humanities, honoris causa.
VAN ERSVELD>> Cheerios, Beethoven, photography. I love that in the field of education, three seemingly unrelated elements can come together to form a powerful learning experience for students. Recently, my fourth grade music students arranged Cheerios on a staff to notate the famous melody from Beethoven’s ninth Symphony. Then they took photos of their work before playing the melody, and, well, eating them. I admit a little concern when I considered my students’ conversations around their dinner tables that evening. I could just picture a parent asking, “What did you learn at school today?” and my student answering, “Beethoven is crunchy.” The dinner table is where so many of my own learning experiences occurred growing up. You might not think that learning Latin over supper sounds like a blast, but here’s how it would work. Bite of meatloaf, forkful of carrots, swallow of milk. Then my father’s voice. “The word muscle comes from the Latin word musculus, which means little mouse.
Have you noticed that when you flex and relax your arm muscles, it almost looks as though a little mouse “is running along inside your arm?” This, followed by lots of arm flexing, oooh-ing and aah-ing, and “That’s disgusting”-ing, in between more bites of meatloaf. As was the case for perhaps most of you, my first teachers were my parents. Now Dad didn’t limit himself to teaching us Latin roots. My sisters and I were delighted when he helped us to master an entire sentence in German. We were convinced of this phrase’s monumental importance as we recited over and over, “Sie finden uns am schnellsten auf den gelben Seiten.” When one of us finally thought to ask Dad what the sentence meant, he replied, “You’ll find us fastest in the Yellow Pages.” He had seen that on a sign on the door of a business and thought it sounded fun. From my mother, I’ve learned different lessons. The art of multi-tasking, for instance, before that term was ever coined.
And mom taught us, our family, about remaining calm under pressure. I remember a time when several of us were working in the kitchen. I became aware of my mother moving from the stove toward the sink, carrying a potholder in flames. As she approached the sink where my dad was standing, in the same tone of voice one might use to comment on the weather, Mom said, “Excuse me, dear, this is on fire.” The lesson, remain calm and polite under pressure. Considering my Latin and German learning experiences as a child, it’s not surprising that the nomination which resulted in my being honored today had a language connection. It has been my privilege during these past two academic years to work with three members of your class of 2017, Liz Nelson, John Gallagher and Christine Hood, on a foreign language program for Grinnell’s third and fourth grade students. 27 Grinnell College students have poured time, effort and boundless enthusiasm into making Spanish and French accessible to our students at Davis Elementary, and I am incredibly grateful, as I am overwhelmingly humbled to stand in front of you as a representative of the teaching profession. I thank you sincerely for this honor.
Now many of you graduates will not enter the field of education professionally, but each of you has so much to teach others. I challenge you, please, share your knowledge, communicate your ideas, show your skills. Go ahead, teach someone, which I think would make a very fine t-shirt. Yes, I thought about tossing the shirt out into the crowd, but as my husband and son can affirm, it would be as likely to land on President Kington’s head as it would be to land in one of your laps. I’ll just keep it here with me. Let me finish by sharing a few examples of what makes teaching a worthy pursuit and an absolute joy in my life.
When a third-grader raises his hand to exclaim, “Hey, both of those measures have four beats because two half-notes add up to the same as four quarter notes,” it’s a good day. When I hear seven consecutive correct notes on a soprano recorder … It’s a good day. When a fourth-grader who has seen me model kind behavior stops on her way to recess to help a boy whose pencil box has just exploded all over the floor, it’s a good day.
When a student interrupts my class to offer me a birthday cupcake, it’s a good day. And that’s not about the cupcake, it’s about the positive connection I’ve made with that student that makes them think of celebrating with me even though I’m “just a music teacher.” Okay, if it’s chocolate, it’s sort of about the cupcake, too. In your chosen field, the measure of a good day might be significantly different from those I’ve just described. Whatever your measures, it is my hope that you will indeed have a good day.
MARSHAL>> President Kington, I have the honor to present Daniel Werner for the honorary degree Doctor of Laws. LATHAM>> When the voiceless need a voice, they can depend on Daniel Werner. When seasonal and migrant farm workers needed help with employment and wage issues, Werner represented them in federal court as an attorney for Farmworker Legal Services. When low-wage workers in New York needed support with employment and civil rights claims, he took on their cases as cofounder of the Workers’ Rights Law Center of New York. And when immigrant labor trafficking survivors needed his help to fight the illegal practices of a large construction firm, he was there. Werner and a team of lawyers at the Southern Poverty Law Center fought—and won—the biggest case of its kind. With Werner’s guidance, the legal team in the case brought devastating details to light.
Pipefitters and welders from India had paid up to $25,000 to be considered for positions rebuilding the Gulf Coast after hurricanes Katrina and Rita, relying on false promises about earning permanent U.S. residency. They rented out overcrowded trailers that packed two dozen workers into a trailer with a single bathroom. The legal fight turned into a seven-year battle. Werner and his colleagues helped immigrants with little or no knowledge of English tell their stories, and SPLC helped the workers win an unprecedented 14 million dollar award. To date, it is the largest of its kind.
Werner continues to work for justice in many ways. He has co-authored a book for lawyers who work on cases linked to human trafficking. He has also lectured internationally on these issues. Now, Werner is directing SPLC’s Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative, an ambitious project to provide representation to every immigrant detained in the Southeastern states as a result of Trump-era enforcement. For his unflagging efforts to call powerful organizations to account when they mistreat vulnerable workers and to protect immigrants’ civil rights, we are pleased to recognize Daniel Werner ’91.
KINGTON>> Daniel Werner, on recommendation of the faculty of this college and with approval of the board of trustees, I admit you to the degree Doctor of Law, honoris causa. WERNER>> In 1991, I left this place. As a December graduate, I gathered with a few others at Grinnell House to receive our BAs and move on. Now at the age of 47, I’m finally receiving a degree at a Grinnell commencement. What an honor it is to share this moment with all of you and with my wife Nan, and my children, Abe, Zeke, and Carmella. And what a journey it’s been, and how lucky I am.
To paraphrase the Schuyler Sisters in the musical Hamilton, and to play ultimate frisbee with my hat, “Look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now.” The current political and social upheaval and chaos will beget creative responses and world-changing ideas will emerge. Your minds, based on your life experience and your learning here at Grinnell, are conduits for those ideas. The process you’ve learned here of arguing, honing, narrowing, expanding, editing, arguing more, and then honing again, will generate these ideas. Grinnell has nurtured this, and now you have the tools to nurture creativity in others. And as you embark in your journey, find partners who are certain change is coming and who view Dr. King’s faith in the moral universe bending towards justice not as an excuse to stand by and assume the bend will happen without engaging in the difficult work, but as a call to action to force that bend.
Because in justice work, real change-makers are optimistic activists. People who look at their day to day, hard, uncomfortable, often mundane and usually chaotic work as means for progress rather than a sign of defeat. People who set aside ego and self-righteousness and empower positive partners and successors to generate the great ideas and make change happen. The alternative to optimistic activism, cynicism, makes the discomfort of justice work intolerable. Without trusting in the effectiveness of intentional and intelligence justice work, despair and burnout lurk around every corner. Granted, there’s a lot to be cynical about. Just look around. But try looking around without resting your eyes on the causes for cynicism. Look around at how lucky we are. When we march, we see people who have never marched before. When arriving Muslims and refugees were facing a cruel and unconstitutional ban, and as immigrant families are getting ripped apart by enforcement dragnets, thousands of lawyers have volunteered days and sometimes weeks of their time to protect fundamental due process rights.
This is a time when a dreamer who is undocumented and has known no place other than the United States has the anger, strength and inspiration to stand up in front of a crowd and say who she is with pride, “I am an immigrant and this country is my home.” This is a time when federal government whistleblowers risk their livelihoods to preserve democracy and the rule of law, and fearless journalists amplify whistleblowers’ voices. This is a time when I can stand in front of this graduating class and say with confidence that you are the change-makers. You have spent your last four years at Grinnell preparing for now. As you embark into the chaos and conflict of your post-college lives and work, during this particular historic pivot point of mobilization, outrage, and creativity, there will be rare moments when the clicks and the cracks and the static sink into a rhythm. Those are the revolutionary moments. How lucky you are to be emerging from this place, where the past four years have provided you with tools of intentionality, intellect, and empowerment. How lucky you are. Thank you for this great honor.
To the class of 2017, congratulations. I look forward to seeing you in the streets, at the airport, in the courtrooms, and empowering new leaders in the laboratories of creativity and change. KINGTON>> It is now my privilege as President to recognize members of the faculty who, after long and devoted tenure at the College, are entering upon emeritus status. I now ask Sig Barber, Professor of German, to rise. As a professor, Sig Barber’s nominal role was to teach his students the intricacies of German grammar and the complex ideas of German authors. But what students remember, often decades after their Grinnell graduation, is Barber’s warmth and wisdom. They remember the classes that culminated with home-cooked meals, often served in his backyard. They remember the thoughtfulness with which he considered their questions, whether it was about a class assignment or a decision about their future.
He always took his students seriously. He took his work as a scholar seriously, too. Highlights include three books: a grammar of German, Amadis de Gaule and the German Enlightenment, and a translation of a seminal work on German philosopher Martin Heidegger. While Barber was committed to serving the College and spent multiple terms on the Executive Council, he also thought beyond it. He wanted his work in the community to reflect well on the College. He was an enthusiastic supporter of Grinnell’s Liberal Arts in Prison Program, and taught multiple courses at the Newton Correctional Facility. He served on Grinnell Regional Medical Center’s Hospital Board and performed and directed in local theater productions. As part of the popular faculty-founded Too Many String Band, he plays guitar, dobro, and banjo in on- and off-campus gigs. For these and other activities, the Grinnell Chamber of Commerce honored him with an Outstanding Educator and Citizen Award.
For his unwavering commitment to serving his students, Grinnell College, and the community, we are pleased to honor Sig Barber. I now ask Bob Cadmus, Professor of Physics, to rise. Bob Cadmus knows that not everyone grows up loving science. But he also knows that the right nudges can make even reluctant learners see the excitement and possibility that science offers. Perhaps his greatest success at Grinnell has come through his work with the Grant O. Gale Observatory, a facility he transformed from idea to reality during his first six years on campus. Cadmus used the observatory as a starting point for some of his most important work as a scientist. His research interests include stars that change brightness, known as variable stars, and lunar occultations, events in which the moon passes between a star and the observer. The observatory also has been a busy hub of activity over the years.
Cadmus has hosted hundreds of events over the years, and many alumni say they still think of Cadmus every time they look up at the night sky. Students have been similarly transformed by Cadmus’s physics teaching. By linking daily class sessions to the disciplines larger concepts, Cadmus helped students see the big picture, even as they burrowed into the details. Through his “Physics in the Arts” course, he brought science and non-science students together to see how different disciplines could inform one another.
Even students who rarely set foot in a science classroom likely know Cadmus from the longstanding and much-loved Too Many String Band, which performs regularly on and off campus. For helping thousands of people find the very human joy in in science and astronomy, we are pleased to recognize Bob Cadmus. I now recognize Professor of Art History Tim Chasson, who cannot be here with us today. For art history professor Tim Chasson, the joy he felt teaching others about great art and architecture was rivaled only by his delight in working with students from many disciplines. He appreciated both their enthusiasm and the perspectives of the various fields that they brought to his classroom. Chasson’s primary responsibility was to teach the history of art and architecture of Western Europe, focusing on the period from late antiquity through the Renaissance.
He served as adviser for students preparing for graduate school in architecture. During his career at Grinnell, Chasson developed a course on architecture and urbanism in Papal and Fascist Rome, and another on the architecture and sculpture of Gothic cathedrals. He worked in concert with the French Department to teach a course in French on architecture and urbanism in Paris from the Middle Ages to modernity. In addition, the College’s extensive collection of architectural prints by the famous 18th century artist Giovanni Battista Piranesi made it possible for students to explore many aspects of Roman history in the Art Departments’ recurring Exhibition Seminars. Chasson was particularly involved in study abroad options for students, working both with the Grinnell-in-London program and the Associated Colleges of the Midwest program in Florence.
Teaching in Florence furthered work in his primary research area, “giant” Latin Bibles produced in medieval Italy for monasteries and cathedrals. For his passionate teaching and research on some of the world’s most remarkable art and architecture, we are pleased to recognize Tim Chasson. I now ask Jan Gross, Seth Richards Professor in Modern Languages, to rise. In her four decades at Grinnell, Jan Gross has helped the College live up to some of its most important promises. She’s built strong and lasting relationships with her students, helped bring diverse and international voices to campus, and strengthened the programs that give Grinnellians the tools to succeed in the wider world.
In the course of her work as a scholar of French literature and culture of the French-speaking world, she has produced translations and publications on contemporary Algerian authors and playwrights. This includes Slimane Benaïssa’s 9/11 novel, The Last Night of a Damned Soul. During this process, Gross has developed strong working relationships with many of the artists themselves. She’s taught their work in her classes on contemporary Francophone cultures and theater. And whenever she’s able, she finds ways to bring them to campus to share their perspectives both in class and with the entire campus. She brings the same care and attention to maintaining relationships with former students, many of whom go on to pursue international careers across disciplines. She frequently finds ways to bring them back to campus as Alumni Scholars, sharing their experiences and advice with a new generation of students.
Gross has developed and nurtured some of Grinnell’s most cherished programs. She chaired a faculty development program for Oral Communication Across the Curriculum, a program that still thrives. She also led the International Studies Planning Committee, a precursor to Grinnell’s Institute for Global Engagement. For her efforts to strengthen Grinnell by developing lasting relationships and programs, we are pleased to recognize Jan Gross.
I now recognize Professor of German Jenny Michaels, who cannot be here with us today. Jenny Michaels believes in the power of second drafts. She makes every student who writes a paper in her class come and talk to her and get feedback. And then she makes them rewrite the paper. These second drafts are where much of the learning happens. These second drafts are what make students better. And this philosophy that students should test ideas, learn from their mistakes, and grow beyond them, is more important to Michaels than any single topic she’s teaching in class. Writing, like so much else in life, is a process worth practicing and improving. This lesson benefits students not just in their coursework, but in the rest of their lives. Michaels’ belief in the necessity of testing and tinkering is one that she has brought to her own coursework as well. Over the course of her career, she has developed dozens of new courses. She has frequently adjusted the reading lists even in her most time-tested classes, from introductory German language courses to a course on the German novella. Her scholarly works focuses primarily on 20th and 21st century German and Austrian literature and culture.
In her field, she has made significant contributions. She served as president of the German Studies Association, now one of the premier German studies associations worldwide. She was also president of the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association. For her consistent efforts to help students do their very best work, and for applying these same philosophies to her teaching and professional life, we are pleased to recognize Jenny Michaels. I now ask Mark Schneider, Professor of Physics, to rise. From his work as an instructor in a single classroom to his policy advice for college administrators across the country, Mark Schneider has spent his career finding ways to help a wider range of students thrive in the sciences and in higher education. As a professor, Schneider developed the Discovery-Based Physics curriculum. This hands-on course is designed to build student enthusiasm for the discipline through cooperative activities and real-world lessons. He was instrumental in developing what is now the Grinnell Science Program, which offers holistic support for a diverse group of students in the sciences. Through early orientation programs, academic support, and research opportunities, students in the program are far more likely to stay in the sciences.
Since the program launched in 1992, the number of students of color at Grinnell graduating with science degrees has increased by more than 300 percent. The program has received recognition from the White House for its approach and success. Later, as Chair of the Faculty and then Associate Dean, Schneider took the best elements of the Grinnell Science Program to develop new initiatives. As a co-organizer of a new faculty mentoring program, he has worked to provide more robust support to faculty making the transition to Grinnell. He also developed the Partners in Education Program, which helps students who have difficulty during their first semester at Grinnell.
Schneider has shared some of the most important lessons from this work in publications including The Chronicle of Higher Education. For his career-long efforts to help create an inclusive and supportive environment in the sciences and in higher education, we are pleased to recognize Mark Schneider. I now recognize Professor of Music Roger Vetter, who cannot be here with us today. To open students’ eyes to the vast and varied world of music, ethnomusicologist Roger Vetter traveled to far-flung locations around the globe. He recorded music and collected examples of common instruments in Ghana, Sri Lanka, and Zimbabwe. But most important, he took everything he learned and shared it with the Grinnell community and the world.
He gave generations of students a new musical passion while sharing significant scholarly work with anyone who has an internet connection. Over the course of his career, Vetter taught hundreds of students gamelan, the traditional ensemble music of the Indonesian island of Java. Through one-on-one lessons and group rehearsals, students learned not just to appreciate these percussion instruments, but to love them. After gamelan performances, he often invited the entire ensemble to his home for dinner, an event that alumni recall fondly. Many returned to campus years later requesting to revisit the music they remembered from their student days. To better share his best work, Vetter built websites dedicated to some of his scholarly passions.
These include Grinnell’s musical instrument collection, field recordings of music in Ghana, and the use of traditional music in tourism encounters. Vetter brought the same tireless dedication to his professional activities at Grinnell. He served four times as Chair of the Music Department and twice as Chair of the Humanities Division. For his dedication to bringing the vastness of the musical world to Grinnell’s doorstep, we are pleased to recognize Roger Vetter. I now ask Professors Dennis Hughes and Martin Minelli to please stand. It is my honor to recognize those faculty members moving to Senior Faculty Status. Senior Faculty Status recognizes those members of the faculty who wish to be released from their regular full-time teaching obligations to pursue scholarly and professional activities associated with the College. And we today acknowledge those two professors for transitioning to senior faculty status. MARSHAL>> President Kington and ladies and gentlemen: The Dean of the College will now present the candidates for the degree of Bachelor of Arts. LATHAM>> Would the candidates for the Bachelor of Arts degree please rise? President Kington, on recommendation of the faculty of Grinnell College, I present to you these candidates for the degree of Bachelor of Arts.
Having fulfilled all of the academic requirements, they are deemed worthy of and entitled to this degree. KINGTON>> As President of Grinnell College, I now recommend to the Board of Trustees, through you as one of its members, that each of these students be graduated to the degree of Bachelor of Arts. MUSSER>> My Name is Bob Musser. I’m the class of 1962. For you non-math majors, that’s 55 years ago. And my only reaction when I think of it is “Oh, my God.” But anyway, back to the subject at hand. President Kington, the charter of this institution states that the College’s object shall be “to promote the general interests of education and to qualify young people for the different professions and for the honorable discharge of the various duties of life.” Which you’ll find are many.
It is a pleasure for me to acknowledge that these students have not only completed a course of formal study at this institution, but have also come to know the demands and the rewards of a shared experience in learning. Grinnell is tough. As such, they have indeed furthered “the general interests of education” and qualified themselves for “the honorable discharge of the various duties of life.” The Board of Trustees is therefore pleased to accept your recommendation and authorizes you, as President, to grant all of these degrees. KINGTON>> By the authority vested in me by the Trustees of Grinnell College, I now officially declare that, having met all the requirements, you are today granted the degree of Bachelor of Arts and are admitted to all of the rights, privileges, and responsibilities it confers. Congratulations! You may be seated. COLLEGE MARSHAL>> President Kington, Professor Johanna Meehan will call the graduates in The Division of Humanities. Will the graduates to the Bachelor of Arts degree from the Division of Humanities please come to the platform as instructed by the Marshal? MEEHANL>> Joshua Joel Anthony Frank Anthony Barca Alexandra Margaret Barnard Holly Cassandra Barton Hazel Batrezchavez Grace Mallet Bell Lainie-Ruth Marie Benedict Jenkin Downey Benson Mollie Jo Blahunka Kimberly Linn Bougher, in absentia Annalisa J Brandt Kristin Michelle Brantley Benjamin M.
Brosseau Samuel Michael Burt, in absentia Olivia Delia Caro Sheng Chen Nora Lynn Coghlan Amal Omar Dadi Daniel James DeLay Timothy Flower Dooley Julia Rachel Dornbusch Louis Anthony Engleman Melissa Louise Fandos Lauren Jesse McRitchie Fenton Xena Ferne Plaut Fitzgerald Teresa Margaret Fleming Halley Nicole Freger Olivia Therese Fromm John Cantrell Gallagher Gavin Gardon Stella Jean Gatzke Charlotte Harris Gbomina Phillip Calin Oropesa Gentle Angelica Gil Rojas Elijah Raab Giuliano, in absentia Julia Caroline Hart Emily Diane Hines Serena Hocharoen Noah Allen Holt Sarah Marie Hubbard Aaron Israel Levin Yanyan Liu Eve Beverly Lyons-Berg Amanda Magyar Ian Patrick McConnaughay Jacob Regan Miller Sophiyaa Nayar Alexandra Christine Neckopulos Patrick James Neiss Murielle Anne O’Brien Jensen M.
Oness, in absentia Rowan Oliver Eckhart Queathem Rebekah Rose Rennick Shannon Alexandra Riley Alejandra Maria Rodriguez Wheelock Caleigh Keleher Ryan Nora Rita Sahel Sarojini Sapru Nadiri Morgan Saunders Eliana Bea Schechter Austin Woodman Schilling Mark Andrew Schwabacher Lydia Marie Scott Justin Gabriel Hull Singer Scout Maria Slava-Ross Emma Katherine Soberano Alosha Llewellyn Southern Matthew Allen Steege Zachary Wyatt Stewart Ian Josef Schueling Stout Tang Tang Emma Katherine Tilden Lauren Hughes Toppeta Han Gia Trinh Benjamin Joseph Tuggle Alexandra Delia Ullberg Hameedullah Saajid Weaver Alexus Annette Williams Aaron Douglas Weerasinghe Sophie Shuhui Wright Fenyi Wu Adriana Zenteno Hopp Harriet Ponder Zucker, in absentia President Kington, these are the graduates from the Division of the Humanities.
MARSHAL>> President Kington, Professor Karen Shuman will call the graduates in The Division of Science. SHUMAN>> Will the graduates to the Bachelor of Arts degree from the Division of Science please come to the platform as instructed by the Marshal? The President’s Medal is awarded annually at each Commencement to the senior who exemplifies an ideal Grinnell student. Superior scholarship, demonstrated leadership that credits both the students and the college, compassionate and sensitive behavior, and individual responsibility are among the qualities that must be demonstrated. It is my pleasure to present the President’s Medalist for 2017, Rachel Aaronson. Jonathan Andrew Ackmann Emily Elizabeth Adam Christopher Kennedy Alt Andrew Terrance Baldrige Toby Elizabeth Baratta Sasha Glass Baumann Jacob Anthony Bernholtz Ashlin Eliene Berthelsen Larry Boateng Asante Amanda Carol Bressoud Chloe Ann Briney Nicholas Robert Brule Donna Karina Brunnquell Dung Quang Bui Ashleigh Carol Marjorie Bull Robin Jaelesa Walton Enrique Castaño Sean David Cates Marcel Claude Champagne Miranda Chen, in absentia Yang Chen Zhi Chen Alfredo Sebastian Colina Rachel Marie Cusick John Obediah Dancewicz Helmers The Andrew W.
Archibald Prize for highest scholarship is awarded at each commencement to that student or students who have attained the best record of academic achievement over the four-year period of collegiate work. Established in 1927, the award is named for its donor, the Rev. Andrew W. Archibald who served as a distinguished member of the College’s Board of Trustees. It is my pleasure to present one of the Archibald medalists for 2017, Shanaz Daneshdoost Anita Lynn DeWitt Zhiwei Ding Ian Scott Dixon-Anderson Linnea Sygna Dolph Jennifer Myanh Dong Glorianne Patricia Dorce Patrick John Dowd The Andrew W.
Archibald Prize for highest scholarship is awarded at each commencement to that student or students who have attained the best record of academic achievement over the four-year period of collegiate work. Established in 1927, the award is named for its donor, the Rev. Andrew W. Archibald who served as a distinguished member of the College’s Board of Trustees. It is my pleasure to present … I’m sorry … one of the Archibald medalists for 2017, Elizabeth Grace Eason. Henry Drew Ehrhard Thomas Gunther Estabrook Madison Danell Fellows Samantha Rose Fitzsimmons Schoenberger Laura Joanne Flannery Alexander Gene French Fraol Makonnen Galan, in absentia Joseph William Galaske Charlie Alexander Gao Gregory Erickson Garcia Erin Corinne Gaschott Philipp Michael Gemmel Megan Coral Gibson Leah Morgan Greenberg Emily JoAnn Griffith Lucyanna Elyse Gross Matthew James Hammond Seth David Hadas Hanson Madeleine Mitchell Hardt Audrey Katie Hart Aidan Michael Healey Amanda Sharon Hinchman-Dominguez Kent Wayne Hoover II Stephanie Hou Adam Bradley Hudson Zina Eman Ibrahim Higinio Jasso Carsen Jean Jenkins Chae Kyung Jeon Terrel Jerome Jones Sage Alexandra Juveland Charlotte Rose Kanzler Yazan Alexander Kittaneh Monica Margaret Weightman Knaack Rachel Elizabeth Knak Nicolas Stephen Knoebber Tristan Joseph Knoth Marie Kolarik Christopher Michael Kottke Ana Karin Kozjek David Nathaniel Kraemer Kathryn Krainc Oleksandr Dmytrovich Kuzura Ajuna Sharon Kyaruzi Ethan David Lahn Noah Zachary Laird Aalton Meyer Lande Andrew James Paul Larson, in absentia Joshua Tyler Lavin Benjamin Keith Law Maile Elizabeth Leathem Rietz Brandon C.
Lederhouse, in absentia Joseph Ducayne Lederman Kevin Lee Shalaika LaNette Lewis Fengyuan Li, in absentia Richard Li Nele Löecher Ying Long Haley Marie Lopez Katherine Ann Lottermoser Caroline Joan Macdonald Karolina Ysabel Márquez-Gil Thomas Michael Marsho Major Colton May Samantha Ann McConnell Samuel Alward McDonnell Valerie Susan McGraw Zachary Bryant McGriff Anthony Richard McLean Christopher Joseph Merchant Abraham Hani Mhaidli Meng Min Alexander Christopher Mitchell Androniki Mitrou Noah Wild Mozell Deborah James Msekela Connor Patrick Mulligan Ashley Edin Murphy Lacy Amara Murray Ariel Karline Nelson Henry Jacob Nelson Giang Hiề n Nguyễn Trang Minh Nguyen Kara Michele Nielsen Kaitlyn Victoria Norton Uzodinma Chiagozie Nwike Sefonobong Martilda Obot Ibuki Ogasawara Bridget Rose O’Malley Takahiro Omura Michael Kofi Owusu Linda Ngozi Oyolu James Thomas Page Spencer Phillip Pajk Carolyn R Peckham Cassidy Lynch Peterson Krit Petrachaianan Hanh Pham Thomas Kwanchanok Pitcher Evan Michael Porter Destini Marie Powell Aniqa Jobeda Rahman Anne McNaught Ramey William Lloyd Rebelsky Blake Jonathan Riffle Jarren Lorenz Santos Jamie Lynn Schafroth Alexandra Collins Schmiechen Zoe Collins Schmiechen Zican Shen Carolyn Lawrence Silverman Colton Thomas Silvia Corey Anthony Simmonds Mikala Diane Skelton Samuel Ezra Sokolsky Lydia Martha Stariha Nikolas Yoshinao Takayesu Sydney Sterling Tardrew Miranda Elizabeth Thomas Megan Elizabeth Treichel Sarah Campney Trop Marios Tsekitsidis, in absentia Beth Tsuha Ryan Utke Seth Everett Van Helten Lucas Dollard Verrastro Teresa Rosa Villarreal Zixi Wang Lillian Mae Stierholz Webster Chanyce Lashy’a Williams Washington Andrew Keith Wills Davian Djbril Wilson Rebecca Polum Wong Ruth Wu Yimin Wu Dianna Lan Xing Yiran Xu Xiaoxuan Yang Ryan James Yellott Shannon Young Yue Yu Yufei Yuan Samee Zahid Jisheng Zhang Kaiqian Zhang Peiyun Zhang Ying Zhang President Kington, these are the graduates from the Division of Science.
MARSHAL>> President Kington, Professor Monty Roper will call the graduates in the Division of Social Studies. ROPER>> Will the graduates to the Bachelor of Arts degree from the Division of Social Studies please come to the platform as instructed by the Marshal? Isaac S. Andino Dhruv Bakshi Maggie Jo Bell Benjamin Rablin Binversie Bence Borosi Jonathan Itela Braun Julia Lee Broeker Maxandra Cadet Teodora Cakarmis Nathan Zachary Calvin Louise Townsend Carhart Jane Teeling Link Carlson Megan Elizabeth Caulfield Yaoyang Chen Jenny Chi Emma Simone Cibula Kieran Joseph Connolly Natalie Kristine Cooke Paula-Kay Shanieka Cousins Robin Amy Crotteau Nicholas Fletcher Curta Bailey Jean Dann Kyren J DiMarzio Desirée dos Santos da Mota Hangyul Lee Drennan Riley Drexler Jose De Jesus Esquivel Eileen Frances Fordham Lily Diane Galloway Anesu Gamanya Sophia Noelle Gatton Lillian T.
Ge Gabriella Shea Gensheimer Jack Siever Graen Nadia Isabelle Hamann Graese Geneva Fatima Guadalupe Dhruv Gupta William Parrish Hamilton Samuel Sung Soo Han Bryan Misrray Hernandez Grisel Hernández Stuart Thomas Hoegh Christine Elizabeth Hood Ruth W. Kim Grant S. Koch Nirabh Koirala Molly Kraus-Steinmetz Cecilia Agnes Kwakye Anthony Lam Ariel Elizabeth Lepito Eva Helen Lilienfeld Gargi Vivek Magar Toran Jermaine Marks Jr Julian Alexander Marx Fintan Rowan Mason Strahinja Matejić Noah Phillips Mathews Matthew Regis McCarthy Matthew Dalton Medrano Jacob P.
Metz-Lerman Cole Harrington Miller Luc Edouard Brieuc Moisan Kevin Emmanuel Molina Conor James Monigal Darya Moskalenko Nigel Wolfe Murphy Aditya Nag Elizabeth Jamie Nelson Jack Devitt O’Malley Madeline Ann O’Meara Jacob John O’Polka Alejandro Orozco Lisa Ndidi Oyolu Annika Julia Peterson Jean Margaret Higgs Pharo Michael J. Porter Samuel Michael Poulos, in absentia Melissa Ann Rogers Dixon Everett Ayinde Romeo, in absentia Mara L. Rosenberg Muhammad Sami Sarah Megan Schlax Ellen Drew Schneider Linnea Marie Schurig Noah Richard Sebek Rebecca Lee Siglin Charles Wallace Sprague Hannah Louise Stadler Jonathan Mark Sundby Mineta Suzuki Jack Raymond Thornton Teague Jamerson Towner Sadie Anna Tristam Hannah Elaine Truesdale Channel Turbides Oliver Carter Vande Stouwe Vitor Vasconcelos De Souza Franca Sara Elizabeth Watson Evelyn Marie Weidman Steve Zhang Yang Karin Meland Yndestad Yifei Zhang, in absentia Milliana Rose Zonarich President Kington, these are the graduates from the Division of Social Studies. MARSHAL>> President Kington, Dean Michael Latham to will call the graduates to the Bachelor of Arts degree with Independent and Interdivisional Majors. LATHAM>> Will the graduates to the Bachelor of Arts degree with Independent and Interdivisional Majors please come to the platform as instructed by the Marshal? Jaclyn Marie Abing Brigid M.
Carmichael Mona Choo Bradie Rose Connor Julia Simone Astacio Downs Nathan Moses Ford Merlin Grant Mari Sabil Holmes Jennifer Augusta Hoops Marisa Leib-Neri Julia Marquez-Uppman Gabrielle Kierra Matthews Ayesha Mirzakhail Nola Novak Armando Perez Denisha Alliyah Renovales Michelle Risacher Hankyeol Song Roselle Reva Tenorio Meghna Usharani Ravishankar Jesus Omar Villalobos Holly Bronwyn Walter The Andrew W. Archibald Prize for highest scholarship is awarded at each commencement to that student or students who have attained the best record of academic achievement over the four-year period of collegiate work. Established in 1927, the award is named for its donor, the Rev. Andrew W. Archibald who served as a distinguished member of the College’s Board of Trustees.
It is my pleasure to present one of the Archibald medalists for 2017, Brianna Lynn Wilson President Kington, these are the graduates with Independent and Interdivisional Majors. President Kington, I wish at this time to recognize the members of the Class of 2017 who have been accepted into the Ninth Semester Program leading to Iowa Teaching Certification. Would these students please stand as I call their names and remain standing until I have completed the list? Mollie Jo Blahunka John Cantrell Gallagher Charlotte Harris Gbomina Emily Diane Hines Ellen Drew Schneider Beth Mai Sanae Tsuha Please be seated. MARSHAL>> Will the graduates to the degree of Bachelor of Arts please rise? KINGTON>> Dear Members of the Grinnell College Class of 2017: I am here to today to tell you that you are ready.
That is my job today, because it is customary at this time of year for college presidents to stand on stages just like this and close commencement ceremonies by telling you, confidently and enthusiastically, that our institutions have prepared you to face a future that is both harrowing and magnificent in its complexity. But how can I know that? Can I predict the specific complexities the world will face next year, or in the next decade, or fifty years from ~ow? Or even next week, for that matter? Can I unequivocally state that I am confident that your Grinnell College education has prepared you well, (pause here) for, well, for what? That I cannot say. That I don’t know. While thinking of this year’s charge to graduates, I re-read a fairly famous essay by the great Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe entitled “The Education of a British-Protected Child.” Achebe was educated in the colonial system, where British educators dictated how Nigerian children could and would be taught.
I was intrigued by the title because my father was largely educated as a black boy around the same time as Achebe in a different part of that same colonial system, and I grew up hearing daily the echoes of that educational system. Towards the end of this essay, Achebe recalls a moment from his final year of college at a Nigerian university that was still largely run in the colonial manner, with heavy influence from London. One day, Achebe complained about his disagreements with the college administration to James Welch, a white, British professor of religious studies whom he admired. Welch replied: “We may not be able to teach you what you want or even what you need. We can only teach you what we know.” Of this reply, Achebe writes: “Even in exasperation, James Welch stayed calm and wise. What else can an honest and conscientious teacher teach but what he knows? The real teachers I have had in my life have been people who did not necessarily know what my needs would ultimately be but went ahead anyhow in good faith and with passion to tell me what they knew, leaving it to me to sort out whatever I could use in the search for the things that belonged to my peace.” This is what I know your teachers and mentors and your various communities have done for you at Grinnell.
We’ve not always been a perfect institution, but we’ve been an evolving one, growing and adapting to new challenges, sometimes in real time, as they’re happening. Sometimes we’ve found innovative solutions, and sometimes we’ve hit walls. Through it all, our faculty and staff do their very best to offer up what they know, to model a spirit of critical reflection and challenging inquiry, while sharing what they’ve experienced, but even that sometimes falls short. Achebe’s meditation on the imperfections and injustices of his colonial education leads him to this insight: “The great thing about being human is our ability to face adversity down by refusing to be defined by it.” Here on this campus, you’ve likely experienced both joy and frustration, both success and adversity, both togetherness and conflict. These dualities are at the core of a residential liberal arts education, especially an education that challenges you to become open minded and open hearted, to be defined not only by your academic and extracurricular triumphs, but also by the dignity and might you bring to your struggles.
Once, during a particularly busy commencement season, famous university chaplain, the late Rev. Peter Gomes, told students that he worried commencement speakers (himself included) were “selling you, you only too willing buyers, a bill of goods. Instead of preparing you for success, we should be preparing you to cope with failure when things don’t turn out right-whether it is your marriage, your job, your children, or your nation.” Instead of training you to be “soaring eagles,” Gomes writes, we should be training you to be “camels” with “capacities for endurance” when you find that your life has come to the desert.
And that is one thing you can be certain of: you will eventually find yourself, your family, your community, and even your nation in a desert, your fortitude tested, progress infinitesimal, and certainty impossible. Then what? Then you must remind yourself that infinitesimal progress is progress, and that working towards what is right, even without certainty, is honoring humankind’s greatest possibilities. One of the historical figures I find most inspiring is probably somebody many of you have never heard of, an educator and activist named Septima Clark. In the late 1950s, as the civil rights movement gained momentum across the American South, Septima Clark began a training program for African-Americans known as Citizenship Schools. Hundreds of these schools bloomed across the south in that decade and the next, teaching African-Americans not only the literacy skills they needed to register to vote, but also an understanding of their obligations and rights as citizens, and yes, ultimately, as protestors.
Through these schools, tens of thousands of African-Americans not only insured their right to vote, but also understood how they might establish local voting leagues, lobby for better municipal services, and build the confidence and knowledge necessary to go out and campaign for the basic rights of American citizenship. Remembering the beginnings of the Citizenship Schools in the late 1950s, Clark said, “Don’t ever think that everything went right, it didn’t. Many times there were failures. But we had to mull over those failures and work until we could get them ironed out.” “Mulling over our failures” doesn’t seem like a very inspiring activity. But both Achebe and Clark knew that lasting change and revolutionary thinking could come from imperfect educations and failed experiments, could come from having one’s mind expanded and one’s endurance tested in less than optimal conditions. They knew, in short, that possessing what Gomes calls capacity for endurance, meant a constant striving towards what they believed was right, even when that is not popular or convenient or easy. Out of a British colonial education that stemmed from a system Achebe knew was “essentially a denial of human worth and dignity,” Achebe opened his mind and heart, enduring many trials, to become what many have called the father of modern African writing and Africa’s greatest storyteller.
Out of the depths of the Jim Crow South, Septima Clark established a new, quiet, and ultimately revolutionary way of educating and empowering African-Americans in the years leading up to the more visible, headline-grabbing moments of the Civil Rights movement. And so, the truth is this: We, your Grinnell College professors, mentors, staffers, and leaders, have done our very best to give you everything we know, to teach you and inspire you to the very best of our abilities.
In the true liberal arts tradition, we’ve taught you critical thinking skills, research methods, and creative practices that will serve you well no matter where your career path takes you. But even that likely won’t be enough to protect you from failures, and from long treks across deserts. But there is the good news. All around the world, Grinnell alumni, like yourself, have learned not to just soar like eagles, but also be steadfast like camels. While we’ve had our share of technological revolutionaries, political leaders, and great artists graduate from this college, we’ve had far more graduates who’ve led quieter, but equally meaningful and even beautiful lives, and have done so day-by-day, year-by-year, making lasting social and cultural impacts on our world because of steady, behind-the-scenes work. Their lives have been defined by often unglamorous but transformative work, work that will never find its way to a video on YouTube. Because of their open minds, their generous hearts, and their willingness to endure the imperfect systems while striving towards perfection, they have shaped the world in remarkable ways, as I know you will. In closing, I leave you with my warmest wishes and greatest hopes. May you continue to grow, bringing with you on your journey your visions of excellence, action, and the possibility of a better world.
I now ask that everyone stand as you are able to receive the benediction. As this ceremony ends, Oh God, we are grateful for this time of honoring these graduates. As they go forth from Grinnell, guide them as they grow and change and as they make important contributions to their communities throughout our world. As bright young leaders, help them to have the resources and the courage to engage in work where their knowledge and their gifts are most needed. Give them the opportunity to do what feeds their body as well as their soul.
May they always remember these years, draw on this community when necessary, mentor future Grinnellians when possible, and return to visit their college home as often as they are able. May they find happiness in their days and love in their hearts. But above all, may they live in hope and in health. With these, so much is possible. We look to the future with great expectations. Peace be upon us all on this day and always. Amen. .