The Indiana University Class of 2013: Poised to Enliven and Strengthen Our World

Graduate Commencement Ceremony
Assembly Hall
Bloomington, Indiana
May 3, 2013


Trustees, Provost Robel, honored guests, colleagues, and members of the Class of 2013:

More than two decades before he won the Nobel Peace Prize for his sponsorship of the League of Nations, and years before he became the 28th President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson’s fame as a scholar began to grow during the time he served as a member of the faculty of Princeton University. Much like our Commencement speaker, David Brooks, Wilson contributed to the leading magazines of the day and wrote a number of best-selling books. But one of his greatest triumphs was an eloquent and influential address entitled “Princeton in the Nation’s Service,” which he delivered on the occasion of the university’s 150th anniversary.

“The object of education,” Wilson said, “is not merely to draw out the powers of the individual mind: it is …to draw all minds to a proper adjustment to the physical and social world in which they are to have their life and their development: to enlighten, strengthen and make fit.”1

Today, as we gather to observe the time-honored ceremony of commencement, we celebrate not only your accomplishments in earning advanced degrees, but also the fact that the education you have received at Indiana University has given you the knowledge, values, and habits of mind that will enable you to contribute and thrive in the world you will inherit; to, in Wilson's words, “enliven, strengthen, and make fit” the world in which we live.

Not only did Woodrow Wilson believe that one of the most important functions of a university was to train its graduates to help improve the physical and social world, he also firmly believed in the importance of graduate and professional education. In his inaugural address as president of Princeton, he noted that another function of universities is “to take some (students), a little more mature, a little more studious, (students) self-selected by aptitude and industry into the quiet libraries and laboratories where the close contacts of study are learned which yield the world new insight into the processes of nature, of reason, and of the human spirit.”2

As graduate students at Indiana University, you have learned the “close contacts of study” and you have already contributed to advancing knowledge of “the processes of nature, of reason, and of the human spirit.” The education you have earned here will allow you to continue to contribute in transformative and innovative ways to the prosperity and progress of this nation and the world. 

Educating Students for What Lies Beyond The Horizon

But we cannot stand still and we must continue to change, though with thought and care. In just the last few years, while you have been at IU, we have established new schools in public health, philanthropy, and soon in informatics and computing, as well as a wide-ranging new initiative in on-line education. 

In just the last week alone, we celebrated two events at Indiana University that will allow us to continue to educate students for what lies beyond the horizon. 

Earlier this week, we inaugurated Indiana University’s major new School of Global and International Studies and began the construction of the building that will be its home. Indiana University has a long and rich history of research and scholarship on the global forces and developments that affect all of our lives—we teach more foreign languages, over 70, than any other university in the country and have outstanding research centers focused on nearly every area of the world. The school will educate future generations of IU students for what lies beyond the global horizon. The work it does will deepen and expand our understanding of the social, economic, and political forces that are transforming the world. Even in Woodrow Wilson’s time, America’s interests had, in his words, begun “to reach the ends of the earth.”3 Today, more than ever before, events that unfold half a world away affect us all.

And one week ago today, we dedicated the world’s fastest university supercomputer, which will ensure that IU remains in a commanding position in research based on the analysis of massive amounts of data, so called “big data.” As the most recent issue of the respected journal Foreign Affairs puts it, “ultimately, big data marks the moment when the ‘information society’ finally fulfills the promise implied by the name."4 

I hope that even those of you who are graduating with degrees in fields that may seem far removed from the worlds of international studies and supercomputing will take great pride in the knowledge that you are graduating from an institution that continues to enthusiastically and energetically embrace some of the most complex and difficult problems of science and society.

Extending Yourselves to Ever-higher Limits

Regardless of your discipline, you have all experienced the deep sense of satisfaction, accomplishment, and achievement—that sense of exhilaration—that comes from extending yourselves to ever-higher limits in new areas and making new contributions to human knowledge.

Some of you have been partners in the research enterprise at Indiana University, and many of you, I am certain, will continue to make lasting and memorable contributions through research and scholarship.

Others of you have focused with great intellectual intensity and rigor on mastering the advanced training in your professional field with an education of the highest quality—one that will enable you to make contributions of lasting value to the prosperity and well-being of society.

All of you are now part of a select group whose members have made the serious and considerable investment of personal and financial resources required to earn an advanced degree. You now stand ready to use the knowledge and skills you have acquired to become the leaders of tomorrow.

Yours will be the classrooms, the clinics, and the laboratories of the future. And yours, the arts, ideas, and industries of a new emerging world where success is measured in how well you transform knowledge and ideas into helping people.

Conclusion: “A World that We Would be Proud to Have Built”

In his renowned Day of Affirmation speech, delivered at the University of Capetown in 1966, even as the horrors of apartheid raged in South Africa, then United States Senator Robert Kennedy suggested that all might agree on the kind of world we would want to build.

“It would be a world of independent nations, moving toward international community, each of which protected and respected the basic human freedoms. It would be a world,” Kennedy continued, “which demanded of each government that it accept its responsibility to insure social justice. It would be a world of constantly accelerating economic progress—not material welfare as an end in itself, but as a means to liberate the capacity of every human being to pursue his (or her) talents and to pursue his (or her) hopes. It would, in short, be a world that we would be proud to have built.”5

Nearly half a century later, we have made progress toward the world Kennedy described, but, of course, there is still much more work to be done. There always will be.

As graduates of Indiana University, you have been preparing for years to become the next generation to discover, to understand, and to apply all that you have learned.

Keep what is good; change what needs to be changed, with wisdom; take pride in your work and the world you will make. Indiana University takes great pride in you and your accomplishments.

Thank you very much.

Source Notes

  1. Woodrow Wilson, “Princeton in the Nation’s Service,” Address delivered on October 21, 1896.
  2. Woodrow Wilson, Princeton for the Nation's Service: An Address Delivered on the Occasion of His Inauguration as President of Princeton University on October Twenty-fifth, MCMII, Volume 191, (The Gilliss Press, 1903), 7. Original quote reads “men” in place of “students.”
  3. Ibid., 6.
  4. Kenneth Cukler and Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger, “The Rise of Big Data, Foreign Affairs, May/June 2013.
  5. Robert F. Kennedy, “Day of Affirmation Address,” Remarks delivered at the University of Capetown, South Africa, June 6, 1966.