2017 Commencement Remarks: President Krislov

2017 Commencement Remarks: President Krislov

Marvin Krislov
President, Oberlin College & Conservatory
May 22, 2017
Tappan Square

The following is the transcript of the Commencement Remarks by Marvin Krislov

Welcome everyone to Commencement 2017, marking the 184th year of Oberlin College and celebrating 151 years of Oberlin Conservatory. For the College of Arts & Sciences, and for the Conservatory of Music, this has been another outstanding year.

Thank you, Class of 2017 for contributing so much to Oberlin’s success.

Class of 2017…..Congratulations!

Graduating from Oberlin College or Conservatory—or both for you double-degrees—is a tremendous achievement. It is a tribute to your abilities, hard work, and determination. But you didn’t get to this day all on your own. Throughout your Oberlin career, you benefited from the teaching, scholarship, and mentoring of our amazing professors. You were housed, fed, advised, coached, and cared for by our dedicated staff. You were aided by the philanthropy of generations of Oberlin alumni. Their contributions provide vital scholarships and pay for so many programs and facilities—including this magnificent square and almost everything around it.

Last but certainly not least, you were supported by your parents and families, and the friends you made here. All these people contributed to your success. They will continue to do so as your journey continues. So please stand and applaud them one more time. Thank you.

Commencement and reunion weekend is an exciting and emotional time. It celebrates your achievements, and the vitality of our distinctive educational mission. It also celebrates the ties that link generations of Oberlinians to each other and to their alma mater.

But today is more emotional than usual for me. Because this is the last time I’ll have the honor of being part of this ceremony. In a way—I feel like I’m graduating, too.
Like you, I’m looking ahead to what’s next but thinking back on all that has happened since I arrived. And like some of you, I’m heading to New York City to start the next phase of my journey.

I’m excited about the challenge of leading an urban university. But I’m also feeling nervous and sad about leaving Oberlin. It’s a cross between hooray, bring it on, and OMG what am I doing?

Some of you may have similar feelings. That’s understandable. Change, even positive change, can be unsettling. And leaving this special place is hard. I’ve loved living, learning and working in this community. I love you, our students. I love this gorgeous campus and town. I love the incredible cultural and intellectual life here. I also love going to Cleveland. That’s where my cousins live and my parents grew up. In the years ahead, I hope Oberlin’s ties to Cleveland and northeast Ohio grow stronger. There is so much need for academic, social and economic partnership in this region. Oberlin should be a leader in tapping that potential.

But what I cherish most about Oberlin is what I think most of you cherish—the incredible people I’ve met here and the dear friends I’ve made. I know we’ll stay in touch and see each other. Still…parting can be tough.

Class of 2017, you may wonder if you’ll see your Oberlin friends in the future. You will if you keep nurturing those friendships by staying in touch. Some of you may also be wondering what you learned here. Beyond your majors, minors, Excos and extracurriculars, I think there are things you’ve all learned at Oberlin. Those lessons may not be apparent today. But they will be as you go through life. And they will serve you well no matter what you do or where you go.

First and foremost, you’ve learned how to learn at a very high level. You’ve learned how to be your own best teacher. You’ve learned how to find help if you need it. You’ve learned how to handle the work load and stress of exams at Oberlin. That will pay off in a big way in your working life or if you go to graduate or professional school. I hope you learned how to appreciate the differences between yourself and others—and to appreciate the beauty that can be found in acknowledging, exploring and seeking to understand those differences.

Appreciating difference is especially important during these difficult, divided times in our country and our world. There are those who, for various reasons, employ difference as a wedge to try and separate us from our shared humanity. All of us must resist that.

At times, the voices of division can seem ubiquitous. As you know, the Internet can be an amazing tool for communicating, sharing, and educating. But it can also devolve into an endless argument between self-selected, self-righteous groups. Groups divided into US and THEM—each—to borrow from W.H. Auden—sequestered in their certainty, and—all too often—their hate.

To overcome that, we have to relentlessly reaffirm our humanity by seeking the truth. That begins by asking questions and listening closely to the answers. I hope you’ve learned that there is no intellectual disgrace in asking simple questions of yourself and others. Questions such as: how? why? Who am I? Who are you? And what if? Those are important questions. Important because answers don’t always come easily—and answers may change over time. And important because the search for knowledge, facts, and truth that drives Oberlin’s educational mission and is also crucial for the health of our democracy.

Living in this precious community has given you a great freedom to ask questions and explore answers. Oberlin is a very open and accepting place compared to the world beyond our confines. And we have so many advantages compared to other liberal arts colleges located in small towns. Advantages we should never take for granted. We have—for example—the Allen Memorial Art Museum. It is an incredible teaching institution with a world-class collection of art, open to the public, and free of charge. Some of you may have hung some of the Allen’s works in your rooms through the fabulous Art Rental Program.

This year, the Allen is celebrating its centennial. Think of the hundreds of thousands of visitors—students from the College and Con, local school kids, art lovers from around the world—who have passed through its doors.

And generations of Oberlin students have benefited from studying great works of art not from slides, but from direct experience with an Oberlin professor as their guide. That direct experience and direct connection with a great professor happens across this institution. It is what makes Oberlin’s liberal arts and conservatory education so unique, and so meaningful. I hope your diploma will always remind you of that. Let this community be a touchstone for you. Draw nourishment from your connections with our faculty, staff, alumni, and your Oberlin friends.

Oberlin really is much like a family. Things can get very intense. But you still love each other. The people here care so deeply about Oberlin. Sometimes that deep caring manifests itself as criticism or disagreement. But it’s rooted in wanting what’s best for Oberlin and its people.

So as you go through life, Class of 2017, remember why you care so deeply. It’s because this is your home. These are your people. And you can return here in your mind as the years go by and that caring will ripen into abiding love. Know that the friends you’ve made here, and the knowledge, skills and experiences you acquired here, will stay with you always.

Thank you, and Godspeed, Class of 2017! I wish you all the best!