Becoming ambassadors of higher education and searching for solutions to issues confronting academia today are important missions for University graduates, said legal scholar Randall Kennedy ’77 at the 269th Baccalaureate ceremony on Sunday.
As the ceremony began, University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 welcomed members of the Class of 2016 and remarked on the significance of the event.
“The baccalaureate service is intended to provide moments of reflection for members of Princeton’s graduating senior class, in between the revelry of Reunions and the celebrations of Class Day and Commencement,” Eisgruber said. He recalled the first recorded baccalaureate ceremony in 1760 when President Samuel Davies encouraged the eleven members of the graduating class to live for the public.
By engaging in public service at the Pace Center, participating in an international service project, serving within the University as a student leader, advocating for justice and equality as well as participating in research, the Class of 2016 has fulfilled the mission set forth by Davies, Eisgruber continued.
“At the heart of our community is the desire and the responsibility to make the world a better place,” Eisgruber said.
He subsequently introduced Kennedy, the Michael R. Klein Professor of Law at Harvard University, to deliver the keynote address.
After graduating cum laude with an A.B. in History, as well as a Rhodes scholarship, Kennedy earned a J.D. at Yale University in 1982. Kennedy held several clerking jobs, most notably for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. He also served two separate terms as a University trustee.
Kennedy’s speech encouraged members of the Class of 2016 to acknowledge the importance of and issues surrounding academia.
“I am exhilarated by the prospect of addressing a group that will undoubtedly shape our world significantly in the years ahead, the great Princeton Class of 2016,” Kennedy said.
He took a moment to appreciate the members of the class and their families who have taken
out “second mortgages” in order to pay for their education.
He subsequently asked the crowd to direct their philanthropic ambitions towards academic institutions and to remain civically informed by voting, sharing ideas and contributing to the upkeep and independence of universities.
“In general, being an ambassador for higher education is to embrace opportunities to advance the best versions of collegiate and university life,” Kennedy added.
Kennedy said that universities provide the most far-reaching of settings for scholars to explore recondite subjects, bringing expertise to urgent problems and encourage grappling with timeless questions. The connections and interactions between universities, both public and private, play an important role in this development, he added.
However, Kennedy pointed out, there are several issues and problems facing institutions of higher education these days.
“Inefficiencies in the system of higher education do not stay put. They are infectious, posing dangers to the system as a whole. Colleges and universities face a rising loss in confidence regarding their worthiness,” Kennedy said.
This “worthiness” is typically defined by the marketability of the college’s merits.
Furthermore, he pointed to the increasing burdens of government regulation and mounting costs of tuition.
Kennedy further critiqued the increasing desire among colleges to achieve popularity, as evidenced by the frequent hiring of Hollywood celebrities to provide commencement addresses.
Princeton has been beneficial to its students by avoiding these societal pressures, he said.
Kennedy explained how Princeton’s strength lies in its inclusion of diverse individuals, groups and organizations that represent opposing points of view.
“Princeton invests in all of its students by making available to them scholars and artists of the first rank. It bestows upon students a remarkable and admirable community, one that is more welcoming to more different sorts of people than ever before in its history,” Kennedy concluded.
Following Kennedy’s address, Dean Thames read a prayer of the people and Dean Boden read a prayer for Princeton.
Prior to Kennedy’s address, Avanthika Srinivasan ’16, Kujegi Camara ’16, Maya Wahrman ’16 and Alex Cuadrado ’16 read an excerpt from the Bhagavad Gita, a Qur’an surah, a psalm and a passage from the Bible, respectively. The students leading the service were selected because of their contributions to religious life during their time at Princeton, the program explained.
Audrey Berdahl-Baldwin ’16, Asmod Karki ’16 and Paarth Shah ’16 gave blessings after the keynote address, after which a Hebrew choral response was sung and Dean of Undergraduate Students Thomas Dunne offered a benediction.