As prepared for delivery on June 1, 2015, in Richardson Auditorium of Alexander Hall
Thank you, Dean Kulkarni. Good afternoon, everyone! I am delighted to be with you today for this special and personal ceremony, which recognizes the extraordinary effort and achievement required to earn a graduate degree from Princeton University. Your presence here today is proof of genuine scholarly excellence. You should be really proud of what you have accomplished.
As graduate alumni of this University, you will become members of a vibrant community with a distinguished pedigree. Most of you probably know already that Princeton’s first graduate student was the fourth president of the United States, James Madison, who in 1771 stayed at Princeton to study Hebrew and philosophy after completing his undergraduate degree. Princeton did not, however, confer its first doctoral degree until 1879, more than a century later. Twenty‑one years later, at the dawn of the 20th century, Princeton formally established its Graduate School. It took some time for the school to hit its stride, partly because the school’s powerful dean, Andrew West, apparently had doubts about whether “intellectual merit” was the right ground for choosing faculty and students. Fortunately, President Woodrow Wilson’s vision of a Graduate School built upon scholarly rigor — one that is “central to university life and work” — eventually prevailed. By the late 1920s, Princeton ranked among the best graduate universities in America, with its trajectory sharply upward.
And since then, the Princeton University Graduate School has had a very good century. The best evidence of that success is the extraordinary quality of Princeton’s graduate alumni, a group that you join this week. Alumni of our master’s and doctoral programs are leaders in all fields, making a difference in professions, communities and lives around the world. As such, our graduate alumni truly embody Princeton’s mission of service to this nation and to all humanity.
As many of you may know, the University is currently engaged in a strategic planning process that is intended to help us make the best choices about how to pursue our teaching and research mission in the years to come. The future of the Graduate School is a key component of this planning process. As evidenced by your life-changing experiences and your marvelous contributions to our scholarly and campus life at Princeton, graduate education is intrinsic to this University’s mission and its vitality is critical to our pursuit of excellence — just as Wilson envisioned. Students and alumni have been playing an important role in our thinking about the future of Princeton’s Graduate School, and will continue to do so. I hope that you, as graduate alumni, remain involved with the life of the University so that we can benefit from your perspectives and talents. I hope that you will remain connected to your mentors and peers from your years here and that you will engage with future generations of students who carry on the tradition of graduate study at Princeton. While those of you assembled here today represent a wide array of areas of intellectual exploration, I know that you all share a deep appreciation for the importance of advanced learning. I hope that, whatever you do and wherever your career takes you, you will find ways to communicate the value of scholarship, research and teaching to the broader public. And, on behalf of everyone at Princeton, I hope that you will return to campus often so that we can celebrate together the many accomplishments and milestones that surely await you!
Please let me extend once again my enthusiastic congratulations and my heartfelt good wishes for the journey that lies ahead. We at Princeton look forward to watching the achievements of the Great Graduate Class of 2015 in the years ahead, and my warmest wishes go to you all!