2010 Commencement Remarks

President Scott S. Cowen
Tulane University
May 15, 2010


When we planned today’s graduation I was given 7 minutes to address this historic class, as well as your families and friends.  At first, I felt this time was too short, but then I remembered that the most important thing about time is what happens when it is used.

The great physicist Albert Einstein once noted that “time is nature’s way of keeping everything from happening at once.” Accordingly, time allows us to keep track of what we do and what is happening in the world around us. 

For example, almost five years ago it took breeched levees only a few hours to bring New Orleans and Tulane University to the brink of despair.

It took 160 million years for oil to form within the Earth.  As we are currently witnessing, it takes a much shorter time for it to change our way of life.

Despite what we have encountered in the last four and a half years, my optimism for the future of our city and for Tulane has never been higher.  This optimism is grounded in the remarkable will of people to achieve whatever they set their minds to do.  I have seen this determination in the citizens of New Orleans and in all of you since your arrival at Tulane.  

The Class of 2010 has set an extraordinary standard of community engagement that will be the model for all future Tulane students.

When you enrolled in this university, our future hung in the balance. I had great faith that you would arrive in significant numbers to populate the class of 2010.

I had a strong belief that you would have the character to embrace Tulane’s commitment to community engagement to enhance your educational experience while also rebuilding this city.

I had the faith and belief that you would arrive, but not the certainty. After all, you had worked hard to achieve the kind of academic credentials that made you among the most select college prospects in the country. You had options.

Yet amid all the uncertainty, you chose Tulane. And for that we will always be grateful.

Today is your day.  It is your time to bask in the sunlight and it is our time to recognize and applaud your accomplishments.

Right now I’d like you to think back to your first days on the Tulane campus. Can you recall your excitement, anticipation, nervousness? Can you recall the very distinct feeling of knowing that a brave, new world was waiting for you?

When I look at the faces I’ve become familiar with during your Tulane years, I can’t help but wonder about the mix of emotions that each of you were experiencing.

Because you were—are—no ordinary class, regardless of when you arrived on campus.

No one knows this better than I do.

Four years ago, New Orleans was a very different place than it is today. So many of our citizens had not yet returned, so many neighborhoods had not yet been resettled.  However, this reality did not deter you!

When I was growing up, adults would sometimes refer to education as “the Three R’s.” You probably know what I’m talking about: reading, ‘riting and ’rithmetic.

Well, for this occasion, I’ve come up with a few additional R’s that I think apply specifically to the class of 2010: Risk, Resilience, Responsibility and Resurgence.

You took a risk in coming to Tulane. You stared into the face of the unknown and did not flinch.

During your time here you demonstrated resilience, coping at times with the ambiguities and inconveniences that have always assailed those on the forefront of new adventures.

In your years at Tulane you have been given responsibility. Through your public service you have learned that every individual is responsible to and can make a difference in his or her community.

And in doing so, you have been part of the great resurgence of a major American city. You have both witnessed and experienced how good choices and hard work lead to real results. You have applied your minds, your hearts, your hands to this endeavor, and because of it Tulane is stronger, New Orleans is stronger and you are stronger.

Your Tulane years will forever be tied to the renewal of this university and the rebuilding of New Orleans. Your hearts will forever beat to the rhythm of this city.

I guarantee you that in the years to come, you will be asked about these four years, because they are historic. And in coming here, you chose to be part of history.

I do have one more “R”-word to share with you: Recognition. That is what this ceremony is about. Look around you: this amazing event is for you. The speeches, the music, special guests, your wonderful families and friends who are with us today—all these are in recognition of your achievements.

I conclude with two suggestions for you to consider. The first is to hold onto this moment and savor it. It marks an important, defining time of your life. The second piece of advice is this: when you’re ready, let the moment go.

There will be many moments and milestones ahead in the years to come. Embrace each fully but do not live in the past. As you are already beginning to learn, our lives are both a mad dash and a slowly unfolding story.

You are the sole author of that story.  Every word of it is yours. Choose each of them wisely.

It is with great affection and respect that I congratulate the remarkable class of 2010 and thank them for their contributions to Tulane and New Orleans. You will always be in our hearts.


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