Prime minister urges graduates to fight the good fight—and change the world
With a hearty cry of the Greek word “axioi!”—“you are worthy!”—the prime minister of Greece greeted the Class of 2005 at the university’s 149th commencement exercises on May 22.
“The word means you are worthy,” said Kostas Karamanlis, F82, F84. “Worthy of the degrees you will receive today; worthy of the gifted Tufts teachers who educated you; worthy of the sacrifices your parents have made to send you here and the pride and love they feel for you now; and worthy to face the challenge now before you to go out and change the world for the better.”
Karamanlis, the first Tufts alumnus to be elected a head of state, delivered his address during a blustery morning ceremony on the Medford/Somerville campus. With the threat of rain a likely possibility—so much so that the university distributed rain ponchos for graduates and their guests—the day seemed more suited for late March than late May. But the joy of the day and buoyant mood of the crowd overcame the weather.
The university awarded 2,163 degrees to candidates from its eight schools, including 1,081 undergraduate degrees and 1,082 graduate degrees. President Lawrence S. Bacow presented honorary degrees to Karamanlis; Tadatoshi Akiba, the mayor of Hiroshima and a former Tufts mathematics professor; James O. Freedman, the former president of Dartmouth College; Ann Graybiel, National Medal of Science recipient and a former Woodrow Wilson Fellow at Tufts; and William Hurt, A72, Academy Award-winning actor.
“Shine your light across the world,” Bacow told the new graduates. “We will all be watching from this Hill.”
Bacow also noted a special connection to the Class of 2005. “This class is special to Adele [Fleet Bacow] and me. We came to Tufts together four years ago … we will always treasure these memories, as we hope you will as well.”
‘Fighting those good fights’
“Plato defined education as ‘the particular learning that leads you through life to hate what should be hated and love what should be loved,’ ” he said. “We can all figure out what should be hated: cruelty, exploitation, corruption, abuse of power, abuse of trust, abuse of the environment, poverty and misery.
“When young, as you are now, we have a low threshold of indignation against these injustices. Some people, as they grow older and find it hard to combat such evils, grow weary and become less willing to continue the struggle. But I hope and trust that your years at Tufts have fortified you with the stamina not to lose heart but to continue fighting all those good fights and make progress possible.”
Karamanlis took office in March 2004, as Athens was preparing to host the Summer Olympic Games. “Everyone predicted that we would not be ready and the Games were going to be a disaster,” he told the crowd. “But we proved all the armchair Cassandras wrong by producing the most inspiring, the most creative and the safest Games in history.”
Likewise, he said, “my government intends to use the same determination and our unique position in southeastern Europe as members of both NATO and the European Union to help turn the whole region into an area of stability, cooperation, prosperity and peace. To accomplish this, we will need the strong support of both the European Union and the United States.”
The prime minister also cited his uncle, the Greek leader Konstantinos Karamanlis, who led the reconstruction of Greece after World War II and for whom a chair in Hellenic and Southeastern European Studies at the Fletcher School is named. “It is the task of our generation to bring our country to the forefront of European development, to fully integrate our broader neighborhood to the European institutions and give all young people the opportunity to excel themselves. And furthermore, turn our country into a center of education and culture to benefit not only Greece, but all the peoples of the region,” he said.
“These are difficult challenges, and you will face tasks just as daunting in the fields you have chosen as careers,” Karamanlis said. “How can you do it with confidence and resolve? Your experience here at Tufts should help you, as it did me, because the other part of Plato’s definition of education—‘learning to love what should be loved’—also characterizes this university.”
‘A great art form’
The ceremony for graduates in drama, dance and music featured a talk by William Hurt, who graduated from Tufts in 1972 with a degree in drama before going on to the Juilliard School in New York and a successful stage and film career.
“When I think about Tufts, I think about my teachers,” Hurt said in a heartfelt address in which he reminisced about his college experiences—including several humorous on-stage mishaps—and offered philosophical advice for those seeking a career in the performing arts.
“We all want respect, but not at the expense of our integrity,” he said. “That’s been the most important thing in my life.”
Hurt said he was originally drawn to Tufts because of the reputation of Martson Balch, who established Tufts’ drama department and the innovative theater-in-the-round, which now bears his name. “For [Balch], theater was not a fake thing,” Hurt said. “It was a great art form.”
“I don’t think of anybody as highly as I think of teachers,” he said. The teachers at Tufts “lit my fire, and it has never gone out. I don’t think it will ever go out.”
Hurt reminded those graduates looking forward to a life on the stage that “I’m here because I’ve succeeded, due to so many factors … but it’s really not all glory. It’s magnificent, but it’s not easy. You don’t get here the way you think you will.
“To me, the theater isn’t about getting attention, it’s about paying attention,” he said. “Broaden your base. If you want your heights to be high, if you want a pinnacle, you also have to have width. Don’t concentrate on the heights.”
‘A moral compass’
The Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy held its ceremony at the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square, and the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine held exercises on the Grafton campus.
At the medical/Sackler ceremony, news headlines that grabbed attention over the past year underscored messages both sobering and winsome. Medical Dean Michael Rosenblatt began his address by giving what he called “one more assignment” to the Class of 2005, asking them to be ever mindful of ethical considerations as they pursue their careers.
Rosenblatt cited the prison abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib, the public debate over whether to disconnect Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube and the ongoing controversy about the regulation of stem cell research as recent examples of medical issues with moral dimensions.
“To be prepared for the future, you will need your moral compass,” he told the students. “Think about these questions: What is human life? When does it end?” In finding their way through the thorny challenges ahead, Rosenblatt suggested that today’s graduates should never fail to listen to their patients. That habit is fundamental to good medicine. “At some point,” he added, “we all become patients.”
Medical Class President Druce I-Shing Fu, who received an M.D. and an MBA in health management, used the occasion as a chance to reflect on the distance that he and his classmates had come in their medical training. He jokingly recalled that as soon as he entered medical school, he began fielding “doctor questions” from his friends and relatives. “They would say to me, ‘Druce, every time I do this it hurts.’ I would say, ‘Well, don’t do that,’ ” Fu related, to general laughter.
“The transformation that each of us has undergone is amazing,” he also noted, more seriously. “We are physicians at last!” Fu likened the class’ next big career challenge to the uncertainties they had felt on the first days of medical school some four years ago. “It is time to step across the threshold into residency, where we will continue to learn and grow.”
Naomi Rosenberg, dean of the Sackler School, echoed Rosenblatt’s concern for well-grounded professional behavior in a time of overwhelming flux, challenge and renewal in science and medicine. After reviewing a raft of key discoveries since the Sackler School’s founding 25 years ago, she urged the graduates never to shy from public debate.
“You cannot be silent while issues are raised, hoping for the best,” she said. “You must agitate for ethical and responsible conduct.”
Dirk M. Pegtel, who gave the Sackler student address, managed to work baseball into his talk. He described his experience of having come to Seattle with his family from Holland at age five, and then returning to the United States two decades later.
When he arrived in Boston to enroll at Sackler, he was adamant about his goals: “I wanted to do two things—make huge discoveries and watch the Red Sox win the World Series.” After a round of laughter and applause, Pegtel remarked, “So I guess one out of two is not that bad.”
‘It takes a smile’
Dean Lonnie H. Norris commended the graduates for their high morale and their dedication to excellence, not only to themselves but also to each other and to the school.
“You are all very special,” he told the new dentists. Norris also made sure to thank the proud parents, grandparents, spouses and friends who “sacrificed to make this day possible for the graduates.”
Norris also encouraged the graduates to consider academic careers in dental medicine and reminded them that they are uniquely positioned to be leaders of their generation. “This is not an end point, but the beginning of a great career,” he said. “You are our future.”
Dental Class President R. Kristopher Watts, who graduated magna cum laude, recapped the events that bonded them together. He fondly remembered the sound of gagging echoing around the clinics as the class in its third year attempted to create dental impressions with grossly overloaded plates that faithfully recorded the upper third of the esophagus, but not the front teeth.
Finally, he noted the enormous accomplishments of his classmates, not just academically but in their talents for music, art, athletics and community service.
Amit Punj, president of the dental school’s international class, also took the podium, noting that though this was his second time graduating from dental school, it was still exhilarating. (Foreign-trained dentists have to receive additional training at a U.S. dental school to practice in this country.) Punj, who also has a dental degree from the Institute of Dental Sciences in Bangalore, India, noted that the international students’ time at Tufts would have been incredibly “arduous without the support of D05, who have been terrific and who welcomed us from the beginning.”
Staff writers Bruce Morgan and Jacqueline Mitchell contributed to this report.