Washington and Lee Baccalaureate

May 22, 2013

Bacc_Beckley-800

[Excerpt] President Ruscio; distinguished graduates; parents, family members, and other guests; members of the Board of Trustees; alumni and alumnae of this institution; and colleagues from the administration, faculty, and staff at Washington and Lee, I am deeply honored to speak to you on this occasion. I’ve never delivered the baccalaureate address. I have heard many, admired some, and criticized others. Perhaps that is why when my colleague and friend, Ken Ruscio, invited me to speak, I was initially hesitant to accept. You are, after all, a challenging audience, both knowledgeable and diverse. I asked some colleagues if they thought it was appropriate for me to address such an august assembly. They told me, Harlan when someone has been at Washington and Lee as long as you have, he ought to have something significant to say. I was sufficiently coaxed that I told Ken that I was not only honored by his invitation but would do my best to find something appropriate to contribute.

My students have persistently reinforced my colleagues’ observations about how long I’ve been at Washington and Lee. One of them—I believe she is present today—recently told me, with innocent incredulity, that she had heard from someone that when I came to Washington and Lee, Richard Nixon was still President. She was right! As I was adjusting to this blow to my wistfulness about appearing young, a first-year student emailed to ask if he might interview me. He was writing a paper on the romanticism and radicalism of the 1960s, and needed to talk to someone who had actually lived through them. I tried to veil how ancient he made me feel!

When someone attains my age, you must indulge him in a few self- referential stories, so allow me to continue in that vein for a moment. When I came to Washington and Lee for a job interview, I was a graduate student at Vanderbilt who had grown up in central Illinois. I knew nothing about Washington and Lee except a vague memory of having heard football scores in the fifties. Yes, I remember the fifties too! One of my dear friends, a 1957 graduate of Washington and Lee, called me aside to offer guidance: remember, he advised, the name of the horse is Traveler, not Trigger. The grandparents here today will remember Trigger as Roy Rogers’s horse.

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