Last Updated June 20, 2008

Spring 2004 Commencement

American University President Benjamin Ladner's Remarks to graduates:

One of the rewards of your hard work, sacrifice,and genuine accomplishment is the simple delight of having so many people from so many places show up for the sole purpose of celebrating your achievement today.It is a proud momentfor you and for so many family members and special friends who never wavered in their support and encouragement.

Your time at AU has been marked by a startling succession of world and local events: September 11, anthrax, bomb scares, campus evacuations, snipers, the Iraq war, to name a few. The speed and impact of these events—momentous in their import for reshaping the world—could also have the curious effectof distracting you from the immediacy of what I will call “daily truths” about yourself.

To remark on just one of these truths, you are and always will be inescapably and deeply connected to other people. Try as you may to fashion a life apart, a life lived only on your terms, you will miss the richest source of human fulfillment if you fail to exercise a courageous willingness to open yourself to the claims other people have on your life.

In a simple flash of insight, the poet W.H. Auden once wrote:

Loneliness waited
For Reality
To come through the glory hole.

He meant that lives spent craving the spotlight, adulation, and public acclaim will pay the price of self-absorption, which is the pain of being left utterly alone.

By contrast, if you allow it, the gift of yourself will come unbidden, bestowed by someone else. Reality never really drops down through the glory hole; it appears instead in the simple transactions of friendship and love in the course of anordinary day

Though this is an extraordinary day, this celebration is more than a recitation of empty accolades on your behalf. Rather, it is our acknowledgement of the reality of the secret springs of all our lives that flow into and out of one another, and our rejoicing not just in what you know but in who you have become. All our lives are richer and finer because of that.

Congratulations and God-speed.