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“What I’ve come to appreciate most of all over these past four years is that it is not about just making good decisions; you need to be provided with the opportunities to make those decisions,” valedictorian Norwitz told his classmates. “That’s the real privilege of being at an elite Ivy League school like Dartmouth. It opens up doors you didn't know existed and provides opportunities that you could only dream of.”
Before I begin, I want to say two things directly to Mindy: One, I’m in School House; and two, if you didn't notice, the females of the valedictorians outnumber me three-to-one.
So with that, President Hanlon, Mindy Kaling, distinguished guests, professors, families, and my fellow graduates of the class of 2018, I’d like to begin with a story.
When I was young, every morning before I went to school my father would kiss me on the forehead and say, “Nicholas, make good decisions today.” I distinctly remember when I was 14 years old finally turning to my dad and asking, “Dad, why do you keep saying that, ‘make good decisions today’?”
He replied, “Because life is nothing more than a series of decisions. If you make good decisions, you’ll be happy; if you make bad decisions, you won’t.”
I’ve always remembered that conversation and tried to live by those words: “Make good decisions.”
Coming to Dartmouth was one of the best decisions I ever made. I had visited campus several times and fell in love with the rural setting, the balanced lifestyles, the committed faculty, the inspiring students, and of course … those delicious, soft-baked chocolate chip cookies at FoCo. They’re really good.
But what I’ve come to appreciate most of all over these past four years is that it is not about just making good decisions; you need to be provided with the opportunities to make those decisions. That’s the real privilege of being at an elite Ivy League school like Dartmouth. It opens up doors you didn’t know existed and provides opportunities that you could only dream of.
Members of this class have appeared at international conferences on high-performance computing; consulted on social and ecological issues in Namibia and South Africa; worked directly with inspiring female leaders in Mumbai, India; run workshops at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; and provided HIV education to vulnerable populations in the Dominican Republic. Through all of you, Dartmouth has a grip on the world.
And you don’t even need to leave campus to take advantage of these opportunities. Students can go to Dartmouth Hall and hear a Nobel Laureate in Physics speak about “what we are made of”; or go to the pool and swim in a lane next to Olympic triathlete and World Champion Sarah True; or go to the Hop and hear the famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma speak about “Culture, Understanding, and Survival.” So, whether your interest is STEM, sports, or the humanities, Dartmouth provides a plethora of opportunities from which to choose.
Collectively, we have made some really good decisions over the past four years, and I am proud of all of you. But, admittedly, we have also made our share of bad decisions. Here are a few … appropriately selected … examples of each:
Taking a computer science course when you barely know how to type—or use Word—and everyone around you already knows how to program—BAD DECISION. (I’ll take responsibility for that one).
Taking a professor to lunch at Pine to guarantee an A on your essay—GOOD DECISION.
Eating 24 cookies from FoCo in 30 minutes—BAD DECISION. Yes, that one’s on you, Brandt Slayton. Sorry, buddy.
Doing due diligence to decide whether to expand the student body by 25%—GOOD DECISION.
Ultimately deciding not to expand the student body by 25%—VERY GOOD DECISION. Thank you, President Hanlon.
Stripping down in the dead of a New England winter so you can jump into an ice hole in Occom pond – BAD DECISION, not only for you, but also for any kids you may, or may now not, have in the future.
Agreeing to speak in front of an audience of over 10,000 people following a professional actress, author, and internationally renowned comedian—might have been a BAD DECISION.
But—and here’s the caveat—even a bad decision can be a good decision, so long as you learn from it.
It’s said that “youth is wasted on the young.” I always preferred Luke Bryan’s lyrics—which I’m not going to sing, because that would be a bad decision—but they go something like this: “I believe that youth is spent well on the young, because wisdom in your twenties would be a lot less fun.” And these four years at Dartmouth have certainly been a lot of fun. Do you agree? C’mon guys. This might be one of your last changes of class to make some noise. I said do you agree? That’s better. They've been a lot of fun.
But the wheel of fortune has now come full circle, and we’re back where we started—at a beginning, at a commencement. Time has passed in the blink of an eye. We have laughed, and we have cried. We have loved, and we have lived. We have grown our intellects and our characters. We have embraced the opportunities that Dartmouth has offered and, for the most part, we have made good decisions.
It is now time for us to step forward and take on the challenges the world has to offer. From everything I have seen and everyone I see before me here today, I am confident that we are up those challenges.
So be bold, Dartmouth Class of 2018. Be bold and reach for the stars, but keep your feet on the ground. Remember your green roots, the foundations that were established here at Dartmouth allowing you to reach your full potential.
In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” And, most importantly, Dartmouth graduating Class of 2018, make good decisions … every decision, every day. Thank you.