2006 Commencement Remarks

President Scott S. Cowen
Tulane University
May 13, 2006

Do You Believe in Miracles?

It gives me extraordinary pleasure to welcome Presidents Bush and Clinton,  our graduates, their families and friends, and all of our other distinguished guests to the commencement of Tulane University in our 172nd year. This commencement will no doubt go down as one of the most memorable and cherished events in the history of our great university.

All of our lives changed on August 29, 2005. The fact that we are here today celebrating your accomplishments is nothing less than miraculous.

One of the great moments in Olympic history occurred during the 1980 Winter Games when the U.S. hockey team beat the heavily favored Soviets to win the gold medal. That’s for all the parents out there that can remember that time. You also recall as the final seconds of the game clock ticked down and victory was assured, TV announcer Al Michaels passionately bellowed out the now-famous line, “Do you believe in miracles?” Nine months ago, before watching our beloved city devastated first by wind, then by water, and finally by lawnessness and neglect, I probably would have said no, I did not believe in miracles.

However, Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath changed that. I look out now over this audience, and I see miracle upon miracle. Eight months ago I never thought I would ever see this day. And to think that we are here today with Presidents Bush and Clinton is a dream come true.

I see you Tulane students, who demonstrated such energy, commitment and passion throughout this ordeal. By coming back, by continuing your studies, and by working so hard to help this city, you have shown resiliency, courage and an ability to overcome adversity that will serve you well throughout your life.

You all know that during the darkest days of September, October and November, when we never knew whether we would reopen the university or not, we needed a source of inspiration. You were our source of inspiration. We all kept pictures of students that were sent to us on our desks. And everyday we said, this is why we are here, so these young men and women can have the opportunity to graduate from one of the greatest institutions in America. And once again, that dream is today.

Every one of you has my love and my admiration. And you are my inspiration. And you know what, you are all miracles.

I see our faculty and staff—so many of you have suffered personal hardships and all of you had a significant disruption in your personal lives. Yet you returned to Tulane University, assuming whatever task needed for us to recover. In doing so, you have demonstrated over and over again the professionalism and commitment that surely makes you one of the most distinguished and courageous faculty and staffs anywhere in the world. I often have a hard time expressing my feelings for people, but I wanted to say, I adore you, and I love you and I thank you.

And I see the parents and friends of our students who are graduating today. Despite the misgivings and concerns you must have felt, you allowed your sons or daughters or your sisters or your brothers to return to New Orleans and Tulane University. You have our thanks and gratitude. You are our believers—thank you for your trust and for making our miracle a reality.

We’re in a rare position today. As a rule, when people make history they are unaware of it at the time. They are simply responding to circumstances—caught in the moment, with no greater purpose in mind. But, here today, we know we are making history. You are the first graduates of Tulane University following the greatest natural disaster in the history of the United States, and that is an experience that will forever shape and define who you are.

We are also welcoming to our historic commencement two particularly distinguished speakers, American presidents who have joined together to bring tangible relief and a sense of hope to our university, to our region and to our country. We are blessed today to have Presidents Bush and Clinton. And thank you from the bottom of my heart for being with us and sharing this special day.

And we are signaling today, to all those in this arena, to those watching outside and to all Americans, that we are determined to persevere, to triumph and to see a stronger Tulane University within a stronger New Orleans. And we will not give up until that happens.

I know there are naysayers across this country who believe Tulane and New Orleans will never fully recover to their grandeur of the past. These naysayers are wrong. Tulane University has been in New Orleans for 172 years and I guarantee you we’re going to be here another 172 years.

And we are going to be a stronger and more vibrant university because of this disaster. I can also assure the city of New Orleans, that has been here for hundreds of years, will be here a great and strong city long after we are gone. We love this city and it will recover.

Why am I so certain of this? Because I know what it means to be a New Orleanian and I know what it means to be a Tulanian. And you know it too, because you hear it in the music of Michael White and Irvin Mayfield. You see it in the eyes of people who lived in the Lower Ninth Ward and had their homes destroyed, yet are working everyday to rebuild their lives and their homes in New Orleans.

You see it every time you go down to the French Quarter and enjoy the wonderful food and music, and you see it when you listen to the Mississippi River. New Orleans is not a place; New Orleans is a state of mind and it’s a state of heart. That mind and heart will never be destroyed.

No matter where you go and where you are, the homing pigeon will always say, “New Orleans is where I want to be, and I want to hear the music and I want to eat the food.” And you are always welcome back to our great city and our great university.

Many of you will be leaving New Orleans now, your college careers here completed and your future careers or continuing education planned elsewhere. But you always carry with you, more than any Tulane class that has come before you, the strength of character developed and honed over the past year.

And I want you to remember three things, as you leave today:

Remember, during our darkest days, we always focused on the light.

During our loneliness, we focused on our sense of community.

During our hopelessness, we focused on the possibilities of the future.

May these messages and the strength, resiliency and courage that come with them serve you well throughout your lives.

Office of the President Emeritus, 1555 Poydras St, Suite 700, New Orleans, LA 70112 504-274-3638