2000 Commencement Remarks

President Scott S. Cowen
Tulane University
May 20, 2000

It is my pleasure to welcome our graduates, their families and friends, my distinguished faculty and staff colleagues, and special guests to this year's commencement celebration. This is the 166th commencement exercise of this university and never has there been a larger audience to witness such a celebration than today.

It is absolutely breathtaking to look over this assemblage and see approximately 2000 graduates accompanied by their closest 25,000 guests and families. We are so delighted to have you with us today to celebrate and recognize the accomplishments of our graduates.

The last time we had a commencement at the turn of a century it was 1900. A trip to the archives gives us an interesting profile of the 1900 graduating class:

  • 189 graduates
  • 19% undergraduate; 81% graduate or professional degrees
  • 17% female; 83% male
  • 85% of graduates were from New Orleans. In fact, there were more graduates from McDonogh #1 High School in N.O. than all the combined high schools of the graduates from outside of La.

In contrast, the class of 2000:

  • Has 2,165 graduates representing every state and 60 countries; 53% are undergraduates
  • The top 5 states after La. are N.Y., Calif., TX, Florida and Illinois: the top five countries are Chile, China, Columbia, India and Mexico; 24% are from La.
  • The oldest graduate is 76 this year, the youngest is 19; 18% of the class is over 30 years old
  • 48.1% are female; 51.9% male
  • Nine graduates are celebrating their birthdays today
  • And, of course, you are the first class to graduate in the new century and at the dawn of a new millennium.

What this profile does not tell us is the talent and potential of these graduates.

Derek Bok, the former President of Harvard University, once described a university President as someone who lives in a big house and begs for money. If you have ever seen the house I live in you would know that there is an element of truth in his description.

I have to admit that there are days when I wonder whether we are making any progress or making a difference.

However, it is on days like today that the answer to that question becomes abundantly clear and I count my blessings for the opportunity to participate in some small way in the preparation and development of an extraordinary group of young men and women. In many ways, those of us in the academy are very fortunate to be able to spend our lives doing what we do--our work is often gratifying and exhilarating, especially on a day like today.

You are among the "best and brightest" students anywhere in the world to graduate this year. I can support this statement by using any measure of academic performance you can imagine. As you sit here today, whatever you dream is within your vision, whatever you strive for is within your grasp.

You graduate at a time of extraordinary prosperity in the U.S. These are, indeed, the best of times and you are more than prepared to participate in and, in fact, lead the continuation of this prosperity.

Also remember that while we are in the "best of times" for many, we are also in the "worst of times" for more than we should be. Illiteracy, infant mortality, chemical dependency, and deteriorating K-12 public school systems are just a few of the pressing social issues still facing our cities and country.

There are no simple solutions to these problems but they must be addressed if we are to continue to live and thrive in a just and civil society. It is incumbent on each and every one of you, as those blessed with the talent to make a difference, to get involved in your communities and make sure you give back more than you receive. Make sure that those less fortunate than you have the opportunities in the future to participate in and contribute to the advancement of our society as you will.

As you go forth from this university remember that you stand on the shoulders of the giants that preceded you at Tulane and Newcomb College. Somewhere in this assemblage is the next David Filo of Yahoo!, Dr. Michael Debakey, world-renowned heart surgeon, Ambassador to the Holy See Lindy Boggs, newscaster Howard K. Smith, or Pulitzer Prize recipient Shirley Ann Grau. They once sat where you are sitting and dreamed of the impossible, and worked to make the impossible a reality. I wish this same success for each and every one of you as you begin today the first day of the rest of your life.

It has been a real pleasure and thrill for me to get to know so many of you in the last two years, and to share moments that will last a lifetime. Your friendship and potential as our future leaders are what makes my job so rewarding. I look forward with great pride to witnessing your accomplishments.

Office of the President Emeritus, 1555 Poydras St, Suite 700, New Orleans, LA 70112 504-274-3638