I spent part of last week in San Francisco, meeting with alumni and donors and listening to their stories about their days as students in our programs. All of them expressed a real sense of gratitude for the education they received here, and for the friendships with fellow students and faculty members that they developed here.
One of the hard parts about graduation (such as the ceremony about to happen again, on May 16, 2009 at 3 p.m. in Northrop Auditorium), is that the bonds formed with and among students get stretched as people scatter to pursue their careers. But as I saw in San Francisco last week, those bonds remain, sometimes after many decades of being away. It made me appreciate the personal as well as the professional transformation that occurs in the course of an education in our college.
Those California conversations also made me appreciate how influential a particular experience or an isolated insight can have on a person's career. So many of the alumni I talked to mentioned one event that happened in school or one comment made by a professor that has stayed with them all these years, a touchstone that provided a fulcrum for their subsequent vocation. I don't know if the faculty members who taught the courses or gave the explanations that remained with our alumni knew of their impact at the time, but it serves to remind us of the importance to our students of everything we say or do in the classroom or corridor, in a studio, or on study abroad. And it isn't just the content of our comments, but the content of our character -- how we say things as much as what we say -- that matters and that stays with students long after they walk across the stage at commencement.