Class of 2009 begins its Tufts journey

The university’s 1,367 new undergraduates were treated to a night of performances by student a cappella and dance groups at a welcome celebration for the Class of 2009 at the Gantcher Center. © BRIAN LOEB

On a celebratory day tinged by reminders of the catastrophic hurricane that struck the Gulf Coast, the undergraduates in the Class of 2009 assembled for matriculation ceremonies on August 31.

“As we sit here today under these threatening skies, let us not forget those students and their families at colleges and universities on the Gulf Coast who expected to be also sharing in the joys of the start of college life,” President Lawrence S. Bacow said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with them and others who have suffered as a result of Hurricane Katrina.”

In an abbreviated ceremony that was punctuated by brief bursts of rain, the 1,367 members of the class gathered on the lawn in front of Bendetson Hall to begin their college careers. Bacow greeted them with a reference to the university’s Universalist founders who established Tufts in 1852 with the then-radical idea that the school would be open to all, regardless of religious affiliation. “These principles still guide us,” he said. “We continue to embrace diversity in every possible dimension.”

The members of the Class of 2009—divided almost evenly between women and men—represent 44 states and 45 nations. They come from places as close as Canada and as far as Nepal; they have grown up among the urban neighborhoods of South Central Los Angeles and the quiet cornfields of Iowa. More than 44 languages are spoken in their homes. Two are deaf. Twenty-eight percent are people of color, including a record 184 Asian-Americans.

“We believe that with education comes responsibility—responsibility to make the world a better place,” Bacow said. “At Tufts, we embrace active citizenship as one of our core values. We expect each of you to get involved, to work for the benefit of others—not just here and not just now, but throughout your lives.”


At Tufts, Bacow said, learning extends well beyond the classroom. “Be a sponge,” he advised. “Soak up all there is to be learned at Tufts, from faculty, staff and your fellow students.”

About career planning, Bacow had this to say: “My advice is to keep an open mind. Don’t cling too fiercely to preconceived notions about what the future holds for you. If you do, you may overlook fields and opportunities that you never imagined.” To illustrate, he told the crowd that when he entered college, his goal had been to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a lawyer. “A conversation with a professor after class changed my life. I discovered economics….I have never regretted it.”

Bacow offered a thumbnail history lesson about Tufts’ two host cities, Medford and Somerville, and their significance during the Colonial and Revolutionary eras. He also reminded the audience about the events of April 19, 1775, which took place a few miles from the Tufts campus.

The historical theme was also touched on by Ann Palmieri, J78, president of the Tufts University Alumni Association. Palmieri described herself as “the third child of the third generation, on both sides, to graduate from Tufts.” While there are many families with similarly deep Tufts roots, Palmieri said, it is the efforts of all Tufts students and alumni that make the university what it is. “Tufts is a better place because of all of you,” she said.


At two points during the ceremony, the audience welcomed remarks from speakers with particularly energetic applause. One was when Palmieri said that 2005 marked the 100th anniversary of women studying at Tufts. The other was when Bacow urged the new students to visit the “cultural shrines” of Boston—especially Fenway Park, “home of the World Champion Boston Red Sox.” At that, the crowd erupted into cheers.

Helene Ragovin is a senior writer for Arts and Sciences in Tufts’ Office of Publications. She can be reached at