Celebrating the Class or 2023!

The following message was sent to Wesleyan students, faculty and staff.

Commencement is over, and mortar boards, it seemed to me, flew even higher than usual. It was such a beautiful day with strong speakers and a celebratory crowd. The graduating seniors seemed especially joyous. They had every reason to be proud of how they had stayed focused through the disruptions caused by the pandemic. Their achievements were not theirs alone, however, and their enthusiastic applause for faculty and staff showed how grateful they were. I hope all our faculty, staff, and students can take a moment to recognize their individual and collective accomplishments of this past year.

Our commencement speakers stressed the importance of how we develop civic engagement on campus, and they urged our graduates to carry those lessons forward—as citizens. At a time when jarring voices across the country question the benefits of higher education, we can be confident that those who receive a Wesleyan education will showcase its benefits to the world.

Here on campus, we must continue to pursue our mission with passion and purpose. That mission does not change, but we pursue it in light of changes in the world. By fall semester, there will likely be a Supreme Court decision on affirmative action. Regardless, we will redouble our efforts to build a diverse community in which all—students, faculty, and staff—can thrive. Work is already underway on the three organizational priorities identified through the WesThrives Campus Survey—diversity, inclusion, and belonging; performance management; and communications—which we will more deeply focus on when our entire community is together again in the fall.

Summer approaches, and I hope these next months bring you the balance of rest, enjoyment, and productivity that you seek. 


Reunion and Commencement Was a Blast!

It was great to see so many alumni back over the Memorial Day Weekend. Trustees had a very productive meeting, and we all cheered Eudice Chong’s ’18 historic victory as NCAA Division III Women’s Tennis Singles Champion. There were great Wesleyan seminars to attend, and many friends with whom to reconnect. This is Why.

Here are some fun video highlights

For me, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Commencement Speech was also historic. He connected with our students, alumni, and the deep reservoirs of his creativity. You can watch the speech here.

And now, students and faculty are getting ready for Summer Session! Go Wes!!

Perfect Start to Reunion & Commencement Weekend

What a glorious morning for R&C Weekend!

R&C 2015

It’s great to see all the Wesleyan families on campus.


After very productive trustee and trustee emeriti meetings on Thursday and Friday, we were treated to an amazing performance of Freestyle Love Supreme on Friday night.

Freestyle Love Supreme

Any moment the alumni parade begins. Here’s a video of the band getting ready.



We also enjoyed some student singers.


We’ll be updating this photo gallery of festivities throughout the weekend. You can also follow all coverage of the weekend on Storify.

This is Why.


2014 Reunion and Commencement

Wonderful conversations yesterday with trustees and trustee emeriti were followed by great encounters with old friends returning to campus for Reunion. Late in the afternoon, we dedicated a plaque in the chapel for John Woodhouse. John was one of Wesleyan’s deepest supporters, and he was an invaluable source of wisdom for me when I began my presidency.

The dinner with the class of 1964 last night was a blast. The alumni had many questions about the changes at Wesleyan, and we discussed how the contemporary Wes was in many ways still working to fulfill the mission that Victor Butterfield set out for liberal education in the 1950s. After dinner we had the enormous pleasure of listening to Randy Newman sing some of his great old songs, and even a few new, unfinished tunes.

I look forward to seeing the thousands of returning alumni, friends and parents today and tomorrow. Reunion and commencement bring out some of Wesleyan’s deep traditions in synergy with the great vitality of today.  It’s a celebration of independence of spirit and practical idealism.

This is Why.

Family with cardinal



Wesleyan University; Reunion & Commencement; rc2014



Commencement 2013 — Tradition, Activism, and Living With Contradiction

Presiding over the Commencement ceremonies is one of my most moving and fulfilling duties. Each year I not only get to congratulate several hundred deserving Wesleyan students and their families, but I also get to soak in speeches from wonderfully interesting honorees. This was a year of many highlights, from Jim Dresser’s reminder of the deep traditions of excellence (and humor) on which we draw still today, to Majora Carter’s reminder that we must continue to struggle against long odds if we are devoted to change that matters. Joss Whedon had me in stitches when he told us gravely that our commonality was based on the fact that we were all going to die. His killer address brought home the importance of living with contradiction, with the energetic ambivalence that we should never try to smother.

I can’t reproduce the honorees remarks here, though soon we will have videos to share. Meanwhile, I humbly present some excerpts of my own remarks to the class of 2013.

During your four years here, Wesleyan has been largely isolated from many of the troubles of this world. While you have been students, the United States has been engaged in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and on this Memorial Day Weekend, I begin by asking us all to take a moment to remember that these wars have cost the lives of thousands of American soldiers and tens of thousands of civilians in those countries.

Economic times have been difficult as well. When you first arrived, in the fall of 2009, the global economy was reeling from the most massive disruption since the Great Depression. Unemployment in this country quickly skyrocketed and is only now slowly receding, while the distance between the very wealthy and the average American has increased enormously. 2009-2013 has been a good time to be in a bubble—even a pretty leaky bubble like our own here on campus.

You have spent four years taking advantage of an education that we believe is devoted to boldness, rigor, and practical idealism, and now as I speak to you for your last time as students here, I’d like to underscore three ideals that I hope you will take with you and make practical in your lives going forward: non-violence; diversity; and equality.

Campus culture is something that students, faculty, and staff create together, and for all the glories of the culture we’ve created here, it has not been immune to violence. Whether the subtle aggressions of institutionalized racism or the trauma of sexual assault, we have witnessed how violence disrupts lives—how it infects our heads and hearts. One of the tragedies of university campuses across this country is that, for all their purported liberalism, they often cater to a culture of privilege in which under-represented groups and women are subjected to forms of violence that preserve social hierarchies as they destroy individual lives. I trust we have learned at Wesleyan how important the aversion to violence is for education. The free inquiry at the core of learning certainly depends on vigorous discussion and debate; it depends on our willingness to take risks and to discover that even our deepest convictions may be mistaken. But learning also requires freedom from the senseless wounding of aggression.

In a land all too prone to pointless violence, I trust that in the future you will work to create non-violent communities that promote creative experimentation, and that you will reject cultural tendencies that subordinate patient inquiry to macho projections of force.

A second ideal I hope you will make practical in your lives after graduation is the value of diversity as anti-conformity. At Wesleyan our commitment to diversity is related to our belief that we have a better chance of developing powerful ideas and practices if we work through a multiplicity of perspectives. We know that homogeneity kills creativity and that diversity is a powerful hedge against the “rationalized conformity” of groupthink. Productively connecting things that had not previously been brought together is very much in the Wesleyan spirit. For example, think of your experience with Wescam these last few weeks Of course, not all combinations will be productive—some creative experiments fail. But without divergent thinking we will be more likely to fall into patterns of enforced conformity that undermine our potential for the future.

You are beginning your post-collegiate years at a time when the phrase “potential for the future” points to something extremely fragile for many young people in this country. This brings me to the third ideal: equality. I trust you have experienced a spirit of egalitarianism here at Wesleyan—a spirit that celebrates great performance rather than great privilege. But while you have been in college, the privileged have become more and more powerful across this land. And this may well continue as entrenched elites forge better and better tools to protect their advantages. Access to a real education is the best antidote to the unnatural aristocracy of wealth. Education creates opportunity, allowing for the experience of freedom as one’s capacities are enhanced and brought into use. Access to education has never been more important, and that’s why I pledge to you today that as long as I am president, financial aid will remain my highest fundraising priority.

Wesleyan will remain a place where students from diverse backgrounds come to rely on themselves, their neighbors and teachers in a context of non-violent egalitarianism and community. Having made this education your own, I am confident that you will resist the trends of inequality that are tearing at the fabric of our country.

Non-violence, diversity and equality…these are ideals shared by generations of Wesleyan alumni. As I say each year, we Wesleyans have used our education to mold the course of culture ourselves lest the future be shaped by those for whom creativity and change, freedom and equality, diversity and tolerance, are much too threatening. Now we alumni are counting on you, class of 2013, to join us in helping to shape our culture, so that it will not be shaped by the forces of violence, conformity and elitism.

We are counting on you because we have already seen what you are capable of when you have the freedom and the tools, the mentors and the friendship, the insight and the affection to go beyond what others have defined as your limits. What you can do fills me with hope, fills me with confidence in the potential of education. I know that you will find new ways to build community, to experience the arts, to join personal authenticity with compassionate solidarity. When this happens, you will feel the power and promise of your education. And we, your Wesleyan family, we will be proud of how you keep your education alive by making it effective in the world.

My dear friends and colleagues, four years ago we met while unloading cars together here on Andrus field. Later that day, many of your family members sat teary-eyed in the chapel as we spoke about how they would be leaving you “on your own” at Wesleyan. It seems like such a short time ago. Now it’s you who are leaving, but do remember that no matter how “on your own” you feel yourselves to be, you will always be members of the Wesleyan family. Wherever your exciting pursuits take you, please come home to alma mater often to share your news, your memories and your dreams. Thank you and good luck!



It’s Reunion Time

The alumni are coming! The alumni are coming! Starting today, many Wesleyan grads will be coming home to connect with one another and with that special campus vibe. The fiftieth reunion class of 1963 is connecting with the about-to-graduate class of 2013, and alumni from across the decades will be connecting with old friends and making new ones. There are many special events (like the super cool concert with Amanda Palmer Friday night), culminating in Commencement on Sunday.

Wonder why you should make the trip to Middletown? Check out the program. THIS IS WHY.


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Reunion, Departures and… RETURN for Summer Sessions

Reunion/Commencement weekend is already becoming a blur in my memory as I think about all the alumni we welcomed back to campus, and the members of the class of 2011 that we sent off. So many people told me that the campus looked great, and I want to thank the Physical Plant staff for having worked tirelessly to keep things looking sharp. The University Relations crew managed the logistics with spirited grace, and I am so thankful for their efforts! From Faculty Marshalls to student workers, everybody pulled together.

Each year I take special pleasure in meeting with members of the class celebrating its 50th reunion, and 2011 was no exception. Bob Patricelli (who along with his wife, Margaret, received a Baldwin Medal for outstanding service) was the master of ceremonies at the reunion dinner, at which the class of 1961 made resounding clear why Wes has been known as “the singing college of New England.”

I had a little too much fun at the 25th Reunion dinner joining some of the musicians for a Class of ’86 blues.

I was really getting carried away — but then I realized there were real singers in the room, like Tierney Sutton and Dar Williams’89. Oy!

Spending time with our doctoral honorees was deeply gratifying. Biff and Jean Shaw shared words of wisdom about the power of community and the importance of service. Alberto Ibarguen added immeasurably to the weekend with his comments on the changing role of communication, and on how our grads might make their way through these revolutionary times. Paul Farmer was smart (expected) and really funny (an added treat) in his address to the class of 2011. I’ve admired Paul’s work for years, and it was delightful to see him engage with our students and faculty. Finally, I got to spend time with Barbara Cook, a singer who has brought joy, tears and passion to audiences for decades. It’s a little dangerous to finally get the chance to meet someone you idolize, but in this case it was pure pleasure.

I was impressed with all those who crossed the podium. As luck would have it, a good part of my commencement address was published on CNN.com over the weekend. Families came from far and wide to celebrate with their new graduates, and it is always bittersweet to say goodbye at the end of the festivities. But we will be start up again May 31 with summer session classes starting next week. If you want a dose of Wes magic in June, there is still room in some of the classes.

Liberty, Equality and Solidarity

When I first spoke (mp3 audio file) at Wesleyan after being appointed president-elect in the spring of 2007, I talked about education in terms of freedom, equality and solidarity. As an old French historian, I said then, this trinity of values had made a great impression on my thinking. Of course, I’d replaced “fraternity” with “solidarity” in my speech, looking for a gender-neutral way of talking about the bonds of community.

A liberal education, I have said many times since my introductory speech in 2007, is about overcoming your self-imposed immaturity (as Kant said), or learning to obey laws that you give yourself (Rousseau). I had felt liberated by my own Wesleyan education. The sense of freedom that came from discovering what I loved to do, getting better at it, and sharing it with others, is a gift that Wesleyan has given to generations of its graduates.

Equality remains such an important value at Wesleyan, which opens its doors to talented students regardless of their ability to pay. At Wes, our commitment to equality makes our economic diversity possible. Which is why financial aid is such a key part of our budget, allowing us to support students whose families could not otherwise afford to send them to our university. During the last several years, we have seen an unparalleled growth in economic inequality in this country, and wealth increasingly is the primary mechanism for accessing cultural, political and economic opportunity. When access to higher education is based on wealth, even strong universities just reinforce inequality. At Wesleyan, our embrace of equality and diversity is a commitment to fight this trend, and many alumni help in this endeavor by contributing to financial aid.

In my introductory remarks to the Wesleyan community in 2007, I stressed a third theme of “solidarity.” I spoke about how at Wesleyan we were a strong community that valued freedom and equality combined with diversity. I have since written about the affectionate solidarity that runs through our campus culture, and about the exuberance that creates individual excellence and deep social connectivity. Wes students continue to produce work at the highest level while remaining tied to one another in community.

Now, I look out on a peaceful, rainy, Andrus Field, the calm before the outburst of activities around Reunion Weekend and Commencement. As the weather brightens at the end of the week and alumni begin streaming in, I know they will be eager to re-connect with old friends, former teachers and the powerful memories that still reside for them on this beautiful campus. I trust they will be stirred anew by   the excitement of discovery that was part of their transformational Wesleyan experience. Freedom of inquiry combined with an ethos of equality and solidarity remain hallmarks of our campus culture, the culture that returning alumni have helped build over the years.

On Sunday a new group of Wesleyan students will join the alumni ranks. The class of 2011 began their college education with me four years ago, and I am grateful to them for their patience with a new prez, their spirited sense of play and work – their devotion to our traditions and their spirit of creativity.

It will be bittersweet for Kari and me as we say goodbye on Sunday — it seems like such a short time ago that we were all attending pre-frosh summer send-offs together. We wish our new alums only the best, and we look forward to welcoming them back to campus whenever they need to plug into the power of the liberty, equality and solidarity that are hallmarks of the Wesleyan tradition now and forever their own.

What a Year! Hello Summer!!

We just concluded the 2009-2010 academic year by saying good-bye to the class of 2010, and it was a wonderful Commencement. Our student speaker, Latasha Alcindor ’10, delivered a stirring and poetic oration, and John W. Hickenlooper ’74, MA ’80 gave us a funny, thoughtful and moving address. I was particularly delighted to participate in the conferring of honorary doctorates on President Ruth Simmons of Brown University, composer Richard K. Winslow ’40, philosopher Stanley Cavell of Harvard University, and Mayor Hickenlooper.

One of the benefits of combining Reunion Weekend with Commencement is that we do have the opportunity to welcome back to Middletown old friends. I said to many a senior yesterday: “Your 5th Year Reunion isn’t that far off!” But still, Commencement always fills me with mixed emotions. It is a very happy occasion for our graduates, but at the same time I know I will miss seeing many of our students in classes or during my walks around campus.

This year we will have more students on campus for our Summer Session. There is still room in many of the classes, so if you are still making plans, check out: http://www.wesleyan.edu/summer/courses.html

[tags]2010 Commencement, John Hickenlooper ’74, Summer Session[/tags]

The Old Normal

The crowds are gone, the tents are coming down in front of College Row, but there isn’t anyone dancing on the lawns. After a productive Board of Trustee Meeting, a boisterous series of Reunions, and a grand Commencement (sandwiched between thunderstorms), the campus is settling into its summer calm. This is, I hope, the last summer for which I can say that. Next year we hope to have at least a few hundred students here taking classes, but now it’s time to catch our breath and plan for the future.

I was sorry to be only able to catch glimpses from time to time of old friends from my student years at Wes. I was busy in the early part of the weekend listening to tales of Wesleyan traditions, meeting recent alumni and giving my share of toasts and speeches. Happily, there was plenty of great music to be heard, as is usually the case on our campus. Commencement was lovely, and I was especially moved by the speeches from our honorary doctorate recipients. You can hear them all at:


At our board meeting, some trustees spoke about finding the “new normal” in the wake of the financial crisis. That’s something we are already working on, but looking out the window now I see the “old normal” of Foss Hill partially eclipsed by the remaining party tent. Late spring at alma mater.