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Vol. LXII, No. 23
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
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Pres. Tilghman Honors Pres. Goheen at University’s 261st Commencement

Addressing approximately 7,000 Commencement Day guests on the front lawn of Nassau Hall Tuesday, Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman paid tribute to her late predecessor Robert Goheen’s ability to “lead change when it mattered most” while transforming the University at “a critical time in her history.”

Besides citing Mr. Goheen’s recognition that “a 223-year tradition of male-only education had to yield in favor of deepening and enriching the quality of education for all,” she referred to his bringing Carl A. Fields to Princeton as the first African American dean in the Ivy League and to his ability to steer the University “through the rough seas of the late 1960s.”

The University awarded degrees to 1,125 undergraduates and 743 graduate students at the 261st Commencement. In addition, honorary doctoral degrees were conferred upon five individuals for their contributions to the creative and performing arts, political thought, science, literature and higher education: musician and entertainment industry executive Quincy Jones; political theorist and Princeton’s William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Politics Emeritus George Kateb; molecular geneticist Mary-Claire King; author, essayist and translator Haruki Murakami; and John Waterbury, president of the American University of Beirut and Princeton’s William Stewart Tod Professor of Politics and International Affairs Emeritus.

The valedictory oration was delivered by Zachary Squire, a classics major from New York. James Morrison, a chemical engineering major, delivered the salutatory address, which at Princeton is traditionally given in Latin and is the University’s oldest student honor.

The Class of 2008 consisted of 595 men, 526 women. Honors were received by 484 students (43.2 percent of the class).

Four faculty members were recognized for outstanding teaching: Bonnie Bassler, the Squibb Professor in Molecular Biology; Pablo Debenedetti, the Class of 1950 Professor in Engineering and Applied Science; Marie Griffith, professor of religion; and Nicole Shelton, associate professor of psychology.

New Jersey secondary school teachers honored this year are Michelle Di Giovanni, Clinton Township Middle School, Clinton; Elsa Matos, Science Park High School, Newark; Justin Smith, Cherokee High School South, Marlton; and Sara Solberg, McNair Academic High School, Jersey City.

Editor’s Note: What follows are excerpts from Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman’s Commencement Address.

It is a great pleasure for me to continue Princeton’s longstanding tradition of letting the president have the last word at Commencement. First and foremost, congratulations to all our graduates on successfully completing your Princeton education. The class of 2008 has left an indelible mark on this University — your class brought us a bonfire on Cannon Green and a world premiere of Alexander Pushkin’s “Boris Godunov” at the Berlind Theatre; two national championships for women’s squash and an ECAC championship for men’s hockey; as well as a veritable epidemic of dodge ball and broom ball. You reached out to the victims of civil strife in Darfur and to those affected by Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and Mississippi. You showed that green is one of Princeton’s colors by leading the Ivy League in this year’s RecycleMania competition and bringing a farmers’ market to Firestone Plaza. Graduate students who are receiving diplomas today added very much to the greening of Princeton, launched the multidisciplinary Princeton Research Symposium, and provided leadership and mentoring in the new residential college system. You will all be missed.

Yours is a generation that has lived through enormous change, and you are entering a world in which the pace of change, if anything, is accelerating. Born, for the most part, in the early to mid-1980s, you have witnessed the end of the Cold War with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, a seismic event in world politics that altered the carefully crafted post-World War II balance of power. You have been eyewitnesses to the rise of nonstate terrorism around the world, and you have lived through the horrific 9/11 attacks in this country. During your lives the repressive system of apartheid in South Africa, which lasted almost half a century, was overthrown without violence, and Great Britain returned sovereignty over Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China in a peaceful ceremony. On the technology front, the development and commercialization of the Internet has radically transformed the way you connect to family and friends — you were born into an era when telephones were attached to the wall, and you graduate with hand-held wireless devices in your pockets that you have undoubtedly consulted at least once during this ceremony…. In your lives there has been one constant — things will change — and, despite Stephen Colbert’s plea at Class Day yesterday, as Princetonians you will be expected not simply to adapt well to change; you will be expected to lead it.…

This spring Princeton lost one of her greatest sons and leaders — our 16th president, Robert Francis Goheen of the undergraduate class of 1940 and the graduate class of 1948. Bob Goheen is an exemplar of the Princetonian who did not simply adapt well to change, but was able to lead change when it mattered most. And in so doing he transformed this University at a critical time in her history. Bob arrived in Princeton in 1936, having been raised in India as the son of medical missionaries. He went on to win the Pyne Prize, the University’s highest honor bestowed on an undergraduate, and he had begun his graduate studies in classics when World War II intervened. He returned after the war to complete his studies and join the faculty. A short nine years later a remarkable thing happened. The Board of Trustees asked this assistant professor of classics to become the president of the University at the ripe old age of 37, a position he held with great distinction for the next 15 years.

I would like to reflect on three occasions when Bob Goheen’s openness to other viewpoints and willingness to change his mind were instrumental in his effectiveness as a leader. The first was his championing of coeducation. In his recent eulogy, President Emeritus Bill Bowen of the graduate class of 1958 pointed out that as late as 1965 Bob believed that “Princeton has no problems that coeducation can solve.” Yet only four years later he was recommending to the Board of Trustees that Princeton do exactly the opposite and admit women to her undergraduate classes. What accounted for this remarkable transition in his thinking? To be sure, Princeton was not immune to powerful external forces in the country that were calling for equal opportunity for women and rejecting the notion that “separate but equal” would suffice for women’s education any more than it did for the education of African Americans.

Bob Goheen recognized that a 223-year tradition of male-only education had to yield in favor of deepening and enriching the quality of education for all. He also understood that as women began to assume more prominent positions in the nation’s life, it was critical that men and women prepare for leadership roles together. This decision was not uniformly welcomed, and Bob had to withstand fierce opposition from many alumni, some of whom banded together to challenge his decision. Yet he remained resolute in his conviction that the University would embrace coeducation gracefully, and be the stronger for it. As we look out on the graduating class today, time has clearly vindicated his decision.

If Bob’s leadership on coeducation is an example of changing his mind, his leadership on issues related to race is an example of opening his mind.… What powerfully changed his mind were the reports of undergraduate and graduate students who had begun to work to desegregate the South, and his recognition that Princeton’s record of admitting students of color was downright dismal. He responded to evidence of discrimination both at home and elsewhere in the country, and by 1962 he was moved to include these words in his Commencement address:

“The denial of human dignity and equal rights on the blind basis of color or creed is an abomination of our time and cancer in our society.”

As he did in the case of coeducation, he believed that by diversifying the student body, a far more intellectually vibrant university, and one with a much more interesting cultural milieu, would arise. He also understood that he needed help in attracting and supporting black students at an institution that had not been welcoming in the past, and he therefore brought Carl A. Fields to Princeton as the first African American dean in the Ivy League. In a few short years, the two men transformed the landscape for students of color at Princeton, created the forerunner of the Carl Fields Center, and changed the University, as we see today, very much for the better.

The third example of Bob’s leadership came in response to the Vietnam War…. While his personal views were evolving, Bob faced the enormous challenge of steering Princeton through the rough seas of the late 1960s. Indeed, a number of our peer institutions veered badly off course during this era of student unrest, an era characterized not only by antiwar protest and a continuing battle for civil rights, but by broader societal upheaval and dissent. Princeton weathered the storms with its dignity and its civility intact, largely because of Bob Goheen… He provided inspired leadership at a point when it was desperately needed. His calm willingness to listen at large University gatherings where students and faculty vented their fury and frustration at events outside their control; his defense of their right to dissent but his opposition to all forms of coercion defused what could have been incendiary moments. He focused attention on what was in Princeton’s control, and he encouraged students and others to channel their passions in constructive ways. Not only did Princeton survive this era, the University was actually strengthened by it. The ferment of those years led to the opening of the FitzRandolph Gates as a symbol that the University was of the world and not apart from it; the creation of a University-wide deliberative body, the CPUC, and the Priorities Committee; and the inclusion of young alumni on our Board of Trustees.

I don’t believe that you, the members of the graduating classes of 2008, could find a more compelling model than Bob Goheen for how to live in a world that is changing rapidly and how to change the world into a better place. His strengths as a leader were embedded in the qualities we hope to have instilled in each of you — an open-mindedness to new evidence that allows for the possibility that your original impressions were wrong, coupled with the courage to say so out loud; the habit of listening to and learning from the views of others, particularly those with whom you deeply disagree; the capacity to speak the truth as you understand it; a willingness to hold your ground against fierce opposition; a deep respect for learning as opposed to uninformed opinion; and the strength that grows out of humility and compassion for human shortcomings.

And so, as you walk, skip or run through the FitzRandolph Gates today, as educated citizens of this and many other nations, I hope you will carry forward the spirit of Bob Goheen and his beloved Princeton. And I expect you to continue to do as you have done at Princeton — to aim high and be bold.

My warmest wishes go forward to all of you!

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