"Be the author of your own script, the actor of your own lines."

By Robert A. Scott, President, Adelphi University

» Watch a video of the speech

Students, trustees, faculty, parents, family and friends, welcome to the 119th Commencement exercises of Adelphi University.

Today marks a milestone, an ending as well as a beginning. Enjoy it, but join me in reflecting on its meaning.

We never promised to teach you everything, but made a pledge to help you learn almost anything—and I hope we succeeded. We listened to Santanya, who warned against “a mind without scope and without pause.”[1] We wanted you to lengthen and broaden your scope of inquiry and cherish the silence of contemplation necessary for self-reflection, self-knowledge and self-assurance. We know this is not easy, but hope that you have developed the skills and abilities necessary for this hard work.

I hope you will be at least as fortunate as I have been:

I don’t mind being alone;
I talk to myself;
I ask about the questions so often hidden by answers;
I often wonder how they do things in other cultures; and
I have been known to cry when I witness a beautiful creation.

These abilities and sensiblities are as important as the skills of listening and reading critically and with comprehension, and speaking and writing with clarity, interest, and persuasion.

It is these skills of critical analysis and the ability of self-awareness that help us in seeking to know the truth and not being afraid to challenge ideas, whether new or old.

Perhaps this approach can be seen most clearly in talk about the technological revolution. As Leon Wieseltier said, “All revolutions exaggerate and the digital revolution is not different.” [2] It is okay to question the evangelist, whether of eternal salvation or of electronic systems.

Today’s honorees represent such a viewpoint. They have neither accepted the status quo nor followed the latest fashion with blind adherence.

Cora Weiss, who is here instead of joining the WomenCrossDMZ peace walk in Korea, which she helped organize, has had a lifelong commitment to human rights and the peaceful settlement of disputes. She is the embodiment of the maxim ascribed to Margaret Mead:

Never doubt that a small
group of thoughtful, committed
citizens can change the world. Indeed,
it is the only thing that ever has.[3]

In October 2000, the Security Council of the United Nations adopted Resolution (S/RES/1325) on women and peace and security, which reaffirms the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts.[4] Cora Weiss was one of its authors. No one told her she could. She just joined a group of others of like mind and did it.

Or consider Vartan Gregorian. Born in Iran to Armenian parents, his has been a lifelong journey of learning, serving, and using his talents and opportunities to foster advances in society. His most recent contribution is the creation of the Andrew Carnegie Fellows 2015 program to support extraordinary scholars addressing urgent challenges to U.S. democracy and international order. In addition, he was instrumental in creating the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity co-chaired by Elie Wiesel and George Clooney, and dedicated to learning from the past, delivering for the present, and shaping a better future.

In recognition of Dr. Gregorian’s achievements and contributions, Adelphi University alumnus and trustee, Z. Paul Akian, has donated the funds necessary to create an annual scholarship program for financially needy students in Dr. Gregorian’s name.

Mark W. Harris has done more than any other person I know to foster study in the U.S. for students from other lands, and to encourage cross-cultural cooperation and understanding through language acquisition and cultural competence. His creation, “Many Languages-One World,” in which thousands of students from around the world write essays in a language other than their own, brings the winners to Adelphi where they prepare for their presentations at the United Nations. In addition, about 66 of those graduating today came to Adelphi through Mr. Harris’s company, ELS.

By now you may have noticed a common theme reflected in the accomplishments of our honorees. They help advance the potential of others, whether they are known or unknown; they serve others whether of their “tribe” or not, reminding us of the signs around campus that prompt us to think of “others”; they “think globally and act locally and globally,” giving a palpable presence to that famous quote.[5]

Note also how they embody the essentials of leadership: they listen with care; they speak and write with eloquence; they study. They know that understanding the past and imagining a different future are essential qualities, and that leadership requires empathy as well as the ability to express a vision.

Today’s program is not only in recognition of your achievements to date and an observance of University values through the awarding of honorary degrees, but also a celebration of fellowships for graduate study and the start of new careers. For a few, today marks a birthday as well. Ruth S. Harley, of Harley University Center renown and in whose name we honor alumni Mildred Kahane and Lou Flego today, would be 113 on this date.

In addition, graduating students Steven Hesse, Jennifer Lin, Kelsey Nicklaus, Simmi Pandey, Johanna Roa, Anthony Simon, Timothy Simpson, and Kristen Whalen are all a year older today. To them I say, “Happy Birthday.”

On Monday of this week, we held a special commencement ceremony for members of the softball team due to graduate today but now in Oklahoma for the College World Series, and for two student-athletes competing in the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Michigan today through Saturday.

With us are members of the Women’s Lacrosse Team which won its 7th NCAA National Championship in a close game with two overtimes, demonstrating that they not only have talent but also character. Well done student-athletes!

Another graduate worthy of note is Jim Ferguson, MD, already an alumnus offering free clinics in rural areas on this and other continents. Today, he is the first graduate of our Master’s in Public Health program.

And speaking of milestones, this is the last commencement for Music Director Michael Hume and Chaplain Rabbi Schwartz. Let’s give them a big shout-out.

While we are reflecting on today and yesterday, remember this. When I talked with you on campus, I asked what you liked about Adelphi and what you wished we had changed, added or deleted “last week”. Those were not idle questions and your answers were not ignored. SGA President Julianna Claase can attest to that.

With this ceremony, I too will take another step toward my new role as President Emeritus and University Professor, and I will march with you into a new future. With you, I will continue to be part of Adelphi, helping in every way that I can.

As you graduate today, assuming your role as a better-educated citizen, I urge you to consider the foundations of your education. First, there is the study of history, of what came before, such as learning the lessons of World War I, as we did this past year, studying causes and consequences. Second, there is imagination, the importance of asking “why?” and “what if?” in multiple ways and expressing concerns and aspirations in new forms, whether in verse, narrative, or clay.

I care deeply about Adelphi and the experiences we have shared together. We are bound together as students, learning together, and together adding to Adelphi’s influence in the world. I love this institution to which I have given the best years of my life, and hope we have instilled this love in you.

Adelphi is more than a location, more than a moment in time, more than any individual. Adelphi is the embodiment of all its yesterdays, each of which was formed in response to the challenges and opportunities of the day, and informed by each of the days in its past, each of which in turn was guided by a commitment to mission.

And thus it will be in our tomorrows, both individually and institutionally. The future holds uncertainties: the challenges of demographics, economics, technology, philosophy, and politics are certain – but Adelphi graduates have faced such forces before and prevailed because of their preparation and the powerful sense of belonging between this institution and its people. I feel it, and hope that you do too.

When I greeted you at Orientation, I said that Adelphi was a “dream factory,” a place where you could foster bigger aspirations, and that we would help you fulfill them. Well, today you have fulfilled another dream and are prepared for the next.

Therefore, I say, dream on. Ask “why?” Imagine a new way. Think of others. Advance the cause of peace. Have courage. Be the author of your own script, the actor of your own lines.

Congratulations, Class of 2015!


[1] Santayana, George, quoted in Conor Cruise O’Brien, On the Eve of the Millennium: The Future of Democracy, New York: Simon and Schuster 1995, p. 144.

[2] Wieseltier, Leon. “Among the Disrupted,” The New York Times, January 7, 2105.

[3] Mead, Margaret. Author not verified. Source not found.

[4] Office of the Special Advisor on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, (

[5] Dubos, Rene. Ascribed to Dubos, but source unknown.

See other 2015 Commencement Speeches.

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