Arthur Brooks to Class of 2019: ‘Celebrate your graduation by taking a risk with your heart’

Arthur Brooks, the keynote speaker at CMC’s 72nd commencement, had one last assignment for Claremont McKenna College graduates before they accepted their diplomas at Pritzlaff Field on Saturday. Two, actually—and he didn’t sugarcoat the difficulty.

The scary assignment: “Celebrate your graduation by taking a risk with your heart,” said Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute. He noted how, statistically, today’s college-aged generation was less open to romantic risk. Be open and courageous with your feelings, Brooks implored. Even rejection can lead to happiness by being true to oneself.


Commencement 2019

Bachelor of Arts degrees were conferred on 307 CMC graduates (21 members of the class of ’19 received their degrees in August and December), with nine BA graduates also receiving MA degrees. Three graduated with MA degrees.

Arthur Brooks was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. Timothy Wright ’77, a lawyer and adviser to both Democratic and Republican elected officials, delivered the invocation and also received the Distinguished Public Service Award.

More photos: Flickr photo gallery from the ceremony will be updated in the coming days.

The hard assignment? Brooks called upon CMC graduates to distinguish between people and their political views—and to love them. Doing so is now rare in a nation “ripped apart by hatred” and fueled by a news and social media “outrage industrial complex.”

Civility, Brooks said, is “a hopelessly low standard.” Brooks noted that if he claimed he and his wife were “civil” to each other, “you’d say we need counseling.” The revolution America needs, he said, “is to love your enemies"—also the message at the heart of Brooks’ recently released book, Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt.

“I talk to the far left. I talk to the far right. I love ideas,” said Brooks, who will teach at Harvard University and Bowdoin College later this year. However, he also admitted to having judged others, only to treat them with the same contempt he decries in today’s polarized society. How did he work on himself? One profound lesson, Brooks said, can be found in CMC’s history and the guiding wisdom of its first president, George Benson.

“Look to 1957, when Benson wrote that the common purpose of the CMC community is ‘a commitment to a free society.’ We may go about achieving it in different ways, but we all want it, and we all recognize that it means listening respectfully to each other,” Brooks said.

Love and the courage to love were a consistent theme among the day’s speakers. Sharon Basso, CMC Vice President for Student Affairs, opened the ceremony by telling graduates “the Dean of Students staff carries each of you in our hearts as you walk out into the world. We do so knowing that you have internal compasses that will always show you your true north—for you have found your internal direction here.”

Trustee Laura Grisolano ’86, in presenting the Distinguished Public Service Award to Timothy Wright ’77, told of Wright getting suspended as a student for his role in a sit-in. Wright had been protesting to bring philosopher-activist Angela Davis to teach at the 5Cs. He did so, Grisolano said, in “the spirit of seeking understanding through different perspectives [which] remains a pillar of CMC.”

Student-elected speaker Bruno Youn '19, who was profiled in the Los Angeles Times on Friday, spoke with honesty and humor about his autism. His freshman self would have “cowered on stage and probably run off after an awkward sentence or two,” Youn confessed to start. “He wouldn’t have consented to speak because he would have been afraid of humiliating himself.” Youn charted his growth at CMC, and how he pushed himself to socialize and say “yes” to engaging even when his brain told him not to—most notably by becoming a Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum fellow during his senior year. The job pushed him to embrace public speaking and the management of people, “even though stereotypes say I should be in a back office somewhere, in my own little world managing things.”

“The truth is that, to get this far, I have suppressed some of my autistic traits. Even though I would consider many of them a fundamental part of my personality,” Youn said. “But changing as an individual doesn’t have to mean losing your individuality.”

CMC President Hiram E. Chodosh concluded the ceremony with a similar charge of open-mindedness and fearlessness to the Class of 2019. He cited how most superheroes in popular culture resonate with the public because of how they’ve turned adversity into opportunity. His ask of CMC’s newest graduates: Remember your personal story and what you have overcome so far—and how it has made you stronger.

“The power behind what we achieve in life is not just derived from our talents. Yes, some of us run faster, calculate and read more quickly, are more intuitive than others,” Chodosh said. “But what drives leadership is the confidence that we can overcome our inabilities, face our limitations, supersede our insecurities, and especially when most tired, do the hard work it takes to make a difference.

“You know this. You teach it through your example.”

—Thomas Rozwadowski