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Vol. LXII, No. 37
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
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Tilghman Urges Class of 2012 to Vote

Dilshanie Perera

“Listen, learn, deliberate, and then, in an act of engaged and responsible citizenship that embodies the spirit of ancient Athens and revolutionary America, vote,” urged Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman in her address to the Class of 2012 during last Sunday’s Opening Exercises.

African drum music and a display of fish-shaped kites mounted on long poles led the processional into the University Chapel where the service was held. The Opening Exercises comprise the annual academic convocation that welcomes each freshman class with an address by the University President, readings and prayers from various faiths, and a presentation of undergraduate prizes.

In challenging the class to register “every single eligible voter and ensure that he or she votes on Election Day,” Ms. Tilghman told students she issues the challenge “with the full expectation that you will vote deliberately and thoughtfully — avoiding the influences of the 30-second sound bite or the bloviations of the chattering classes, and disregarding the irrelevancies of the color of a candidates tie or his backdrop on TV.”

The speech focused on “education as the path to good citizenship” and how the notion of a liberal arts pedagogy can be traced back to the ancient Greek idea that education “prepares individuals to be active and engaged citizens in a democracy.” Citing John Adams, Ms. Tilghman went on to mention how wisdom and knowledge are crucial to ensuring good governance and the protection of rights and liberties.

“Citizens in the 21st century, just as in 18th-century America and fifth-century B.C. Athens, must contend with enormous challenges, from the nature of democracy itself, and whether its principles are universal and can be exported to other nations; to the potentially devastating impact of global climate change, brought on by a century of indiscriminate burning of fossil fuels; to the growing gap between rich and poor nations and the peoples within them; to the profound impact of religious intolerance and ethnic hatreds on our global security,” Ms. Tilghman declared.

Musing about what university life holds in store for the new students, Ms. Tilghman discussed freshman seminars, the “thrilling and terrifying” experience of crafting a senior thesis, the exchanges of ideas that happen inside and outside classrooms, and belonging to various communities.

Defining empathy as “a capacity to identify with the dreams and aspirations of others” and thus “a critical part of the glue that holds this campus and all societies together,” Ms. Tilghman said, “I hope you will acquire the capacity, as Professor of Religion and African American Studies Cornel West has so eloquently said, ‘To imagine what it is like to inhabit another’s skin.’”

The address was followed by blessings from different faiths. Students, deans, and faculty proceeded out of the chapel toward the main gate in order for the Class of 2012 to officially enter the university. Hundreds of returning students stationed on the lawn outside Nassau Hall broke into cheers and applause to greet the newest members of their ranks.

The afternoon’s events provided moments of both reflection and celebration during what Ms. Tilghman called “the exhilaration and exhaustion of freshman orientation.”

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