1999 Commencement Remarks

Scott S. Cowen
Saturday, May 14, 1999

It is my distinct pleasure to welcome our graduates, their families and friends, our honored guests and my faculty colleagues to Tulane University’s first unified commencement since 1969. What an amazing sight it is to look around and see all of our Tulane community together!

All year long, I have been asked to explain why it is important for us to gather in this type of ceremony. For you students, as well as your parents, all the pomp and circumstance help make what is already a special occasion even more special. It acknowledges and allows us to recognize what you have accomplished in your time of study here at Tulane.

It also helps us all remember that we are part of a larger Tulane University community. It is a community bound together with an uncompromising commitment to the creation and advancement of knowledge and the preparation of individuals with the capacity to think and act--and learn and lead--with wisdom and integrity.

The single most important time in the life of a university community is when it grants degrees to the students who have invested their futures here, believing in the value of the education they have received. It is a privilege to grant their degrees and rejoice with them as they move on to take their places in the world, and it is only fitting that all of us--students, parents, friends, faculty--join in one place to celebrate that passage.

As a point of interest and history, the university’s first unified commencement ceremony was held in 1908 at the French Opera House in the French Quarter, starting a tradition that would last 61 years. The last unified commencement before today was held on June 2, 1969, when 1,384 degrees were awarded at the Municipal Auditorium. We see that tradition renewed today, as we gather to recognize and confer degrees on more than 2,100 graduates.

Most of you graduating today were not alive when Tulane held its last unified commencement in 1969. But as a reminder to those of us who were--and how things can change so rapidly in just a matter of decades--these were some of the highlights from that year:

  • Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first human beings to walk on the moon.
  • Big Bird and Sesame Street made their debut and, as a result, revolutionized children’s TV programming.
  • College activism was at full force as students took active roles in desegregation and in protesting the Vietnam War.
  • The seminal youth-movement event of the Sixties took place in Woodstock, NY, an event representative of the decade itself: defiant, innocent, optimistic and indulgent.
  • And, last but not least, a young unknown named Bill Gates offered to test a new company’s software for bugs in exchange for free time using those newfangled computers.

What gives me great comfort on this trip down memory lane is knowing that somewhere in this assemblage of talent here today could be the next Bill Gates, Joan Baez, Neil Armstrong or Muppets creator Jim Henson. It is this knowledge that gives me such excitement about the future in the next millennium. Individually and collectively, you have the talent--and even more important, the values and strength of character--to lead us with distinction well into the 21st century.

Use your time and resources to advance yourself personally and professionally and to enhance the communities in which you live and work. You not only have a responsibility to yourself but also to the wider community to ensure that those less fortunate have opportunities for advancement, and that we always maintain a civil and just society.

It has been such a pleasure and thrill for me to get to know so many of you this year, and share some special moments that will last a lifetime. Your friendship and potential as our future leaders are what make my job so worthwhile and satisfying. I look forward with great pride to witnessing your accomplishments.

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