2013 Commencement Remarks

President Scott S. Cowen
Tulane University
May 18, 2013

Good morning. I am so honored and pleased to welcome everyone to Tulane University’s 179th Commencement. This is my 15th Commencement as president of Tulane and I can honestly say that I still get a thrill coming down that aisle and standing here to recognize and honor all of you.

You know the hard work and sacrifice it took to get you here.

But, here are a few things you might not know about yourselves.

  • More than 2,800 of you are graduating.

  • The youngest graduate is 19 years old; while the most seasoned member of the class is 69 years young.

  • Three graduates are celebrating their birthdays today. I hope you enjoy the party we have prepared for you.

  • One graduate is the great, great, great, great, great, great niece of Paul Tulane, for whom Tulane University is named.

  • The states with the most graduates today are: Louisiana, New York, Texas, California and Florida.

  • Today’s graduates represent all 50 states and 63 different countries.

Though your origins are diverse you gather here today as Tulanians, New Orleanians and proud members of the Class of 2013.

But by most accounts 2013 has not been the best of years.  Our leaders in Washington, from both parties, often seem so divided that we wonder whether our country can move forward to address the pressing issues it faces.  We continue to witness increasing economic pressure on the poor and the middle class as well as senseless, horrific and far too common violence - from Sandy Hook, to Boston, to right here in New Orleans. All of this can sometimes shake the faith and hope we hold for our country and its future.

However, I am an optimist by nature and always see the glass as half full. In these challenging times, people often ask me to explain why I can be so hopeful.

The answer is you because you are my hope. 

My hope in you rests on the knowledge that you entered Tulane as one of the country’s most academically qualified classes and are leaving it as one of the most accomplished group of graduates in the university’s history.

You are also my hope because I have seen the utter commitment and passion you have to use the skills and knowledge acquired at Tulane to make life better for yourself and for those in your community and world.

The one thing we learned from the Sandy Hook shooting, the Boston bombings and other acts of violence and tragedy is that hope can always be found even in the midst of unspeakable horror. This hope can be found in those who run toward the disaster in order to come to the aid of others. That is what hope does. It finds its way to wherever it is needed most.

In a sense, this is what a Tulane education is all about, whether you are an undergraduate, graduate or professional student.  When you arrived at Tulane just a few years after Hurricane Katrina had left our campus, our city and this very building in tatters, you were striving toward something greater than yourself and bringing hope with you. This hope manifested itself in a desire to help others that is embedded in Tulane’s ethos and curriculum. You jumped at the chance to prepare for your career while living out your passion for service. And what a difference you made.

During your time at Tulane you not only read Aristotle, you taught students in public schools how to debate using rhetorical methods; you didn’t just learn engineering in the classroom, you met people with special needs and designed devices that gave them more independence; you didn’t just study public health issues, you created an innovative way to provide sanitation and electricity to those in extreme poverty; you didn’t just study architecture in books and studio, you helped to design and rebuild the neighborhoods of New Orleans ; you not only studied copyright law cases, you helped New Orleans famous Mardi Gras Indians protect their one-of-a-kind creations; you didn’t just get good grades in medical school, you partnered with a local homeless shelter to provide health care to an under-served community.

I could give countless examples of other ways in which each of you, representing every school in this university made an enormous difference in the lives of the people in our community, as well as communities across the globe, but let me just add one more noteworthy instance: You not only studied social work, you worked with Tibetan refugees and forged a relationship that has brought our wonderful keynote speaker here today. In a few minutes we will listen to the words of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, a man universally recognized and beloved for his message of compassion and hope.

Your Holiness, I want you to know that as of today, you will have at least 2,800 more partners in your mission of hope, non-violence, universal responsibility and compassion.

Along with the many achievements that brought you here today, remember that you, together with your fellow students, contributed an incredible 485,000 hours of service in community outreach projects last year alone. You did this not as charity but as a mutual exchange of empowerment in which you transformed knowledge into action and gave others the power to make a better world. In return you most likely received more real-life skills and experience than at any other university in this country. 

Best of all, you kept hope alive. Hope did not die in Boston, at Newtown or during Super storm Sandy or Hurricane Katrina or on Frenchmen Street. I know it will continue to flourish as you take your rightful place as tomorrow’s engaged citizens and leaders in whatever path you follow. 

As I stand before you my heart is filled with deep affection and respect for all of you.  I want to thank you for what you have done for New Orleans and other communities around the world, and for the lives you have changed. I want to thank you for who you are and who you will become.

I also want to thank those of you in attendance who helped these graduates achieve this milestone.  You should be proud of what you have done.

Finally, I now ask all of you in the audience to stand and join me in a thunderous round of applause for what this class has accomplished and for being our hope for the future.

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