Thank you, Charles, for your kind remarks. Thank you to Rotary Education Foundation
President Greg Grieco and to the Marketing Committee and the Foundation Board for
Congratulations to Kari Cushing and the Franklin Community Center. Kari, thank you
for your leadership in enormously important work to help the less fortunate members
of the Saratoga region. kidmore College is very happy to support the Community Center
through the annual Skidmore Cares initiative and in other ways throughout the year.
And let me say it is a very special honor – and quite a humbling experience – to share
the stage today with Florence Andreson. Florence is a proud and incredibly supportive
Skidmore alumna; she is an Emerita Trustee; and she has served in a number of volunteer
roles at the College across many years. Throughout her time in Saratoga Springs, she
has provided extraordinary service to our community and to the Rotary Club, in particular.
Congratulations, Florence. You are one of my all-time heroes.
My own resume does not obviously fit the profile of those who are recipients of this
award. When Marie and I came to Skidmore, fourteen years ago, we created a division
of labor in which she concentrated more on the relationship between the College and
the city, and I kept my focus on organizations that support higher education. (Indeed,
Marie received this award several years back, and I'm just now catching up. This is,
in fact, the typical situation in our house: I'm used to being the trailing spouse.)
But each of these areas of endeavor is important to us. We deeply respect and cherish
the Saratoga Springs community, both as a place to live and as a wonderful location
for Skidmore College. Marie has worked – and continues to work – to ensure that Skidmore
is a good and supportive neighbor. And the many opportunities for volunteer activity
that Saratoga Springs affords are important to our students, faculty, and staff.
By contrast, my service has been focused more on supporting the enterprise of higher
education itself – especially in small liberal arts colleges such as Skidmore – through
national higher education associations. hese organizations help to shape the broader
conversation within the higher education community about how best to do our work of
teaching and learning. They also engage legislators and others on topics as diverse
as accreditation, other forms of regulation, and student aid (such as Pell Grants).
And finally, they provide professional development opportunities to college administrators,
helping them better understand the challenges we all must address and enabling them
to perform at higher levels in their positions.
These things are important, because college and university administrators support
the central work of educating our young people, which I believe is some of the most
important work that there is to do. All too often today, our colleges and universities
are tarred with the general cynicism and suspicion that currently attaches to so many
once-venerated institutions. There is an image of college life that is epitomized
in popular culture in images of football, fraternities, frivolity, and their sometimes
more serious consequences. Fun is certainly a legitimate part of the undergraduate
experience (though Skidmore does not have a football team, and I am very glad that
we do not have fraternities or sororities). And some of the internal disputes in higher
education can seem downright silly when caricatured in the press.
But I would be the first to admit that there are indeed things that happen on our
campuses that legitimately prompt hard questions and merited criticism. Colleges and
universities face many difficult vexing issues that reflect deeper troubles in our
society and that we are all working hard to address. So let me just say two things
about why the primary educational work we do is so important, and why so many of us
see what we do not just as a job but as a vocation – a calling:
First, it is not an exaggeration to say that everything we have learned as a species
across nearly four millennia of recorded history – the accumulated knowledge, cognitive
skills, and wisdom of the human race – must be transmitted from generation to generation
if it is to be preserved and, ultimately increased. This process of transmission,
when everything we human beings have learned over time is carried forward from one
generation to another, reaches its peak in the moment of an undergraduate education.
Not that undergraduates can master this enormous body of knowledge by commencement
day, but rather they have to learn to appreciate the breadth and depth of these human
achievements, and even more importantly, they have to learn how to learn – so they
can keep learning, preserving, and adding to human knowledge over their lifetimes.
As a college president, I attach the highest value to this educational project, and
I feel a deep corresponding responsibility to help carry it forward.
Secondly, our society is increasingly prone to evaluating the worth of who we are
and what we do in purely economic terms. David Brooks, for one, has written insightfully
and critically of this tendency. In my world, this concept of value manifests itself
as an unexamined narrative that views a college education entirely as a personal good
measurable purely in economic terms – as a personal investment with a monetary return
that accrues primarily, or perhaps even exclusively, to the individual who earns a
degree. Of course, a college education is and should represent a personal economic
good. It should lead to a good job and a meaningful professional and personal life,
and the actual data demonstrate that, by and large, it does.
But at the same time, we need always to remember that a college education is also
intended to be a SOCIAL good, one that should accrue value to the larger society and
not just to the person earning the degree. This is why Skidmore"s mission statement
includes the aspiration that we prepare our students to be "informed, responsible
citizens." This commitment means that we expect our graduates to contribute – to
give back – to their communities, their nations, and ultimately to the world in ways
that increase the general good.
Every fall at Skidmore's Opening Convocation, when we welcome our new students, I
challenge them to live up to this part of Skidmore"s mission: to find their own cause – their particular way of leaving the world a better place than they found
it. We try to keep this idea alive throughout their four years at the College and
in our graduates" continuing lives as alumni. In my own work with higher education
organizations, I have tried to advance these values as well.
And here the mission of Skidmore College, my own service within higher education,
and the guiding principles of the Rotary organization perfectly align. With the many
community projects the Saratoga Springs Rotary Club sponsors and supports, both in
Saratoga Springs and around the world, and through the scholarships you fund, you
demonstrably increase the overall measure of social good.
Your good work exemplifies Rotary International"s commitment to "encourage and foster
the ideal of service as a basis of a worthy enterprise" – always emphasizing "service
before self." Today more than ever, it is enormously important that each of us actively
support this understanding of service as a primary value, and defend the underlying
concept of social good, because, sadly, it is under attack from all sides – most especially from those who
see the world solely in terms of their own gains and losses and who do not acknowledge
the basic fact that a civil society depends upon mutual good will and the sharing
of common concerns, not just for ourselves alone but for all our fellow citizens together.
"Service before self." What would our nation and, ultimately, our world look like
if this imperative were more broadly celebrated and embraced than it currently is?
Let us continue to work together to find out.
Thank you, again, for this wonderful award.