LEWISBURG, Pa. — Anna Quindlen offered no apologies.
"You are probably expecting me to say I am sorry," the award-winning author told the Class of 2012 said during a Commencement ceremony at Bucknell University Sunday morning. "The economy has tanked, the job market looks lean, and the housing market is uncertain. But I'm not going to apologize, because I'm not sorry."
Instead, Quindlen encouraged the University's newest graduates to face the challenges before them, to rethink the past and embrace revolutionary change.
"Perhaps more than any graduates in memory, this class has the opportunity to remake this country," she said. "It would be such a tragedy, such a missed opportunity, if you tried to build what was there before...You have received an engraved invitation to transformation. Take it. Use it. Bring it."
Quindlen addressed thousands of family members, friends, faculty and staff assembled on the Academic Quad on the warm, sunny day. In all, 880 undergraduate and 20 graduate degrees were conferred at the ceremony. Among the undergraduates, 745 were awarded degrees in the arts and sciences, while another 135 received degrees in engineering. The class represents 36 states and the District of Columbia and 19 nations.
Following Bucknell tradition, the newest graduates processed in cap and gown to the Academic Quad from the Christy Mathewson Memorial Gateway, the same gate through which they passed as first-year students when they were welcomed into the Bucknell community.
In opening the ceremony, John E. Bachman '78, vice chair of the Board of Trustees, thanked the families, friends, faculty and staff for helping the Class of 2012 to develop their inquisitive minds. Bachman's son, William, was among the graduates.
"It is part of Bucknell's mission to educate men and women for a lifetime of critical thinking," Bachman said. "Revel in the knowledge that these graduates are prepared for the world that awaits."
President John Bravman commended the class for its gift to the University: a brick and bronze seal installed in the center of the Academic Quad. The seal, Bravman said, would be an enduring reminder to all who visit campus of the significant contributions the class has made and will make to the University and to the world.
"Our graduates in making this gift have said, 'We believe. We believe in the future of Bucknell,'" Bravman said. "We are proud of you. The future is yours to make. You can always know this quad, this campus, this University will always give you a home."
During her address, Quindlen urged the class to build on the "bedrock" of a free society and to consider doing better. She asked the new graduates to take on the financial system, the political system and work to destroy racial, sexist and homophobic stereotypes.
"You have grown up in a culture that sends so many conflicting messages," she said. "Because of that, you have to figure out what really matters."
The graduates must face their fears and challenge what they know to be wrong, she said.
"You are going from this safe pond at Bucknell. You will pass through an estuary to the ocean. Don't fear it," she said. "The voices of conformity speak so loudly. Don't listen to them. No one does the right thing out of fear. If you ever utter the words, 'We've always done it that way,' I urge you to wash out your mouth with soap and start fresh."
Creating such change may be daunting, Quindlen conceded, but it also will be exciting.
"How will this audacious and authentic world you're going to create work? I don't know. But 'I don't know' is one of the most exciting sentences. 'I don't know' is the start of so many great questions. You are now people who must have the ability, audacity, the fearlessness to make America exceptional."
After the conferral of degrees, management graduate Odeke Ekirapa reflected on the question: Why Bucknell? He recalled his own recognition of the "Bucknell spirit" that binds alumni, students, faculty and staff in their common quest to make a difference in the world.
"It is like a badge of honor that we all wear that declares that we are all connected in some intrinsic way and all strive to make Bucknell a better place," Ekirapa said. "It's that Bucknell spirit at work that never changes and is with you from the first time you set foot on this campus until today, when we all walked through the Christy Mathewson Gates, and into the rest of our lives."
This year, for the first time, the Commencement ceremony was displayed on two large projection screens. It was also broadcast online via live streaming video. Five hundred fifty-eight people from around the world tuned in.
Other graduation weekend events included an inter-religious baccalaureate service, a candle lighting ceremony in the Academic Quad and the inaugural Commencement Concert featuring Cherish the Ladies, held Friday night at the Weis Center for the Performing Arts. The production was filmed by WVIA Public Media Studios in high definition for later distribution to public television stations nationwide.
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