Thank you Chancellor DiStefano for that wonderful introduction. I am truly honored to be here to day speaking to the class of winter 2005. This is an especially significant moment for me because though I graduated from this university with a bachelor’s degree more than three decades ago—I can’t believe I just admitted that in public– I did not attend my own graduation. The year I graduated , the war in Viet Nam was still raging across southeast Asia. That spring students at the University of Colorado had joined with other students across the country in a nationwide strike that coincided with the graduation ceremonies of May 1970. As I child of the sixties, I marched with my classmates, I sat in at regent hall—the very same building where you pay your tuition and make your complaints today– and I spoke out against a war that had divided a nation in a bitter and soul searching struggle over questions of morality and national pride.
It is thus with a touch of poignant irony that I am here standing here today, sharing in this rite of passage with all of you. Over the years, I have come to appreciate how important these rituals are, how valuable it is to honor the hard work that all of you have done, the hundreds of exams, late night study sessions and periodic meltdowns that brought you here to the Events Center today. You—the graduating class of winter 2005- deserve to be celebrated and to celebrate yourselves—there are so few moments in life when we can honor our own accomplishments, when we can take pride in our intellectual strivings, and our successful quest for knowledge. Graduation day offers this moment in time. I am so glad that so many of you are here, sharing this moment with your family, friends, and dedicated faculty and staff of the University of Colorado.
This ceremony not only recognizes the achievements of each and everyone of you but reminds us all of the power and value of education in a world that has become increasingly complex and all to often morally confusing. So please give yourselves a huge round of applause. You deserve it.
When I thought about what I would say to all of you today—what advice I could give that would not sounds trite or full of meaningless platitudes, I thought back to my first years of teaching here in the Women’s Studies Program. I began my academic career here at a time when courses on social inequality, social injustice and gender violence were new to the university curriculum. It was not easy asking students to explore the harsh realities of a complicated social world—as I recall students back then would often (and sometimes still do ) refer to my courses as depression 101— Yet, despite the difficulties and dis-ease of these sometimes painful topics, the university classroom provided us with the possibility of engaging in truths of women’s lives, allowing us to study and imagine a world in which each of us—student and teacher alike—had the power to make a real difference and to create a safer and more just and peaceful world for the generations to come. It is now more than two decades later and you are that generation. You have been willing and able to learn and to talk about difficult topics and troubling subject matter. This quality of your generation is reflected not only in your thoughtfulness but in your scholarship and in the many exciting intellectual endeavors you have already undertaken.
As college educated women and men you are entering a world that is way more complex and technologically challenging than it was even twenty five years ago—just keeping up with every new i-pod change is a challenge within itself— you just figure out how to use one i-pod and six seconds later a better and more improved model comes on the market and the learning curve has to start all over again—believe me, I am familiar with this problem. More seriously, however, as all of you know only too well, despite the best efforts of earlier generations, we have not eradicated violence or diseases such as AIDS and malaria; we are still trying to understand how to live globally and with respect for ourselves and the environment. I know from my teaching many of you who are here today, that you truly are the hope for the future—that you care deeply about the world around you, about what happens to hurricane victims in New Orleans, to women in Afghanistan, to the soldiers and civilians in Iraq, and to the men, women and children in Durfur. I know from my experience in the classroom this semester that you care deeply about this campus and that, rightly so, you have demanded changes that will make this a more conducive learning environment for all students, irrespective of their race, gender or nationality.
Contrary to what you may have heard about yourselves, yours is not an indifferent generation—through the power of the media an, in some cases, your own personal experience you have been witness to terrorism, natural catastrophes, and worn torn societies. In responding to these cataclysmic events, many of you have already demonstrated the best of humankind through your generosity, empathy and efforts to help in the aftermath of September 11, the tsunami in Asia, Hurricane Katrina, and the earthquake in Pakistan. Your actions on behalf of those who have suffered are the uncontested evidence of your social awareness and your willingness to take responsibility for the world around you.
In celebrating you today, I and many of my colleagues here at the university remain hopeful and optimistic that each and everyone of you will rise to the challenges of the 21 century—that you will use your education and knowledge to create and sustain a culture that values personal honesty, national integrity and global cooperation—that you will do your part, whether in your own personal relationships or in the public sphere, to find a better way to resolve conflict, to utilize technology, and to develop resources that will improve the quality of life for your generation and for those who will come after you.
In closing, I would like to say that I am so proud to teach at the University of Colorado. Especially today, I can say without hesitation or qualification, that I am proud of my hard working colleagues, of the students who attend this university and, most of all, I am proud of all of you, the graduates of winter 2005. With this achievement, you have already begun to make your mark in the world. I wish you the best of luck in finding your own way and in creating a meaningful and fulfilling life in the years to come.