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A time of endings and beginnings

Summer 2014

Graduation marks the end of an undergraduate’s career, but the term “commencement” refers to the start of something new—a message repeated often during the ceremony held in honor of CMC’s 67th graduating class on May 17 on Pritzlaff Field.
More than 400 candidates for bachelor’s and master’s degrees received advice and insights from various members of the college’s community, including President Hiram Chodosh, Board of Trustees Chair Harry T. McMahon ’75 P’08 P’09, graduating seniors Jack Houghteling ’14 and Laura Epstein ’14, and Lael Brainard, former U.S. under secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs and presidential nominee (now confirmed) to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors.

President Chodosh implored graduates to strive for a positive effect in small and large deeds; McMahon received an honorary doctor of laws degree for his service to the College as he prepared to step down as chair at the end of June; and Tamar Kaplan ’14, who tragically died in 2013, was honored throughout the ceremony with blue wristbands worn by graduates. She was remembered during the invocation prayer; a moment of silence took place at the moment when Kaplan would have received her diploma during the degree conferral ceremony.

For more photos, video and news about Commencement 2014, click here.

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An excerpt from the remarks of Dr. Lael Brainard

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Class of 2014, this is your day; this is your commencement, the commencement of your journey as adults and, yes, as leaders who will inherit responsibility for our great nation and our precious planet. So let me offer a few thoughts to shape that journey.

First, find your focus. This day of celebration no doubt has already been memorialized in thousands of pictures and countless selfies. That is as it should be. But then will come the time to transition your sights from the immediate moment to the longer journey, from ourselves to the community, the country and the broader world. In the months and years ahead, your challenge will be to resist the temptation of the instantaneous snapshot and instead focus on a sustained and thoughtful endeavor in the world. Sustained focus is genuinely difficult when you are relentlessly bombarded with images and emails and random comments from random people in cyberspace, but your time here has given you the framework and the drive to find and sustain that focus.

…A few years ago, as our country was just getting back on its feet after the collapse of Lehman, the world started lurching toward a second massive financial crisis. By this point, our ammunition had been exhausted and we were tapped out. For me, working at the U.S. Treasury at the time, the most maddening part was that the critical decisions sat on the other side of the Atlantic and the necessary authority was dispersed among numerous political leaders. So we invited those leaders at the epicenter of the crisis to a late-night meeting with the President of the United States and it was an epic meeting. Several of the leaders tried to persuade one of their peers to step down. Most of the leaders were trying to persuade somebody else to write a check, knowing it was as deeply unpopular as it was vital. There was pounding on the table. There was posturing. There were tears. And there was a moment of leadership when participants were reminded of their historic shared responsibility and the catastrophic consequences of not taking action.

So here’s the thing. I did not post one selfie from that meeting, not one tweet. By putting down my smartphone and even my pen, I had an experience that will always shape my view of what is possible and how to do it. That meeting, and several others like it, helped eventually to galvanize the grant bargain that restored stability and let our recovery continue. And the insight from observing those leaders was timeless: their rhetoric, their tactics and watching some of the world’s most powerful leaders feel powerless in the face of perceived constraints. So find your focus and make it worthy.

… Of course, taking risks means you might fail. You might even fall. I was in my first job, the first time I was invited to present at a key meeting with the head honcho of an important client. It was a huge meeting for my boss and for myself. I was dressed in my thrift shop best that day, along with my only pair of heels. I had a tall stack of meticulously prepared killer slides as I strode across the very polished floor of corporate headquarters. The next thing I knew, I was on the floor, my feet splayed out underneath me, slides strewn all over, with my dress split from hem to waist. Luckily, I was too young to let that stop me. Moments later I was standing in front of the hot lights, stapled from hem to waist, winging it without the benefits of slides. I like to think of course that’s why they invented PowerPoint and flash drives. But this is the best time in your life for taking risks and for failing sometimes, so embrace it.

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An excerpt from President Chodosh’s charge to the Class of 2014

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Much of life is in the details. Forceful thoughts require punctuation. Scaling Everest requires one steady step after another. Powerful strategies depend on momentary actions. Great religions call for daily ritual. Humanity moves through social graces. And yet, details without purpose cramp our minds, pull us down, render life less meaningful. It is details with purpose that become grand. Even if you’re not sure how a gesture, question, offer of help fits into the broader picture, if you do small good things for others with a sense of purpose, you will live a more meaningful, profoundly successful, life. So with these observations in mind, may I now ask our graduates to stand so that you may receive your charge? Graduates, please stand.

Today, we ask that you think how you got here. Your parents and what they did for you, every diaper, every Band-Aid, every mac and cheese, every drive to school, the field, pool or court. Your teachers, every red mark to correct your mistakes, the small encouragements to give you the confidence that you now have. The people like our staff, who worked so hard to help you, cleaning your rooms, preparing your meals, resolving your logistical challenges. These were all each small deeds with a purpose, to grow in you the qualities you have so that you can, in turn, contribute those qualities to others. This means calling your parents frequently. Calling them frequently to see how they are doing. Telling your old professors at CMC what they meant to you. Picking up a piece of trash in the street. Giving directions to someone who appears lost. Apologizing to someone you’ve upset. Or volunteering to take responsibility for a tough task at home or work. So when you’re with another person in a group or an organization, you have one simple question to ask. How can I help you? How can I contribute? How can I add value? No matter how small the deed or task, if you do this and do it with purpose to serve others, you will do great things for yourself and you will lift those around you as a result. In the grander scheme, the only answer to the banality of evil is the banality of good, and we create good by doing generous, small things for others.