Comings and Goings
Sarah Lawrence students have come and gone, but never without words of wisdom from presidents, deans and distinguished guests.
I was relieved to hear it said that you weren’t expected to go on thinking that learning was all— piling up knowledge is as bad as piling up money indefinitely. You are expected, at some point, to begin kicking around what you know.
Robert Frost, Poet
The real decision for the people of the United States is whether they do intend to have a democratic world—a world in which democracy can live and be itself and flourish. If they want it, they can have it. And unless they want it—want it with their will as with their words—they will not only fail to have it, they will have, as certainly as night comes out of dusk, its opposite.
Archibald MacLeish, Man of letters, early member of UNESCO
Don’t be too certain about anything, but with this exception: Love is the only thing in life which seems to be an unmixed blessing.
Morris B. Abram, Civil Rights lawyer, educator and statesman
It seems to me that what one believes about education one must also believe about other aspects of life. It seems to me honestly impossible to believe in an authoritarian view of education and not also believe in authoritarianism in other modes of life. There is, on the other hand, a lot of loose talk about education for democracy; but I believe that, if education has any chance at all to influence democracy, it will do so, not by fine words or courses in the catalogue, but by educating students in the use of their learning for the purposes of a democratic life, in themselves, in their families, and in the world.
Esther Raushenbush, speaking as Dean of the College
Orientation Day, 1949
I want to talk about dreaming. Not the activity of the sleeping brain, but rather the activity of an awake and alert one. Not idle, wishful speculation, but engaged, directed daytime vision. About entrance into another space. Someone else’s situation, sphere, projection, if you like. By dreaming, the self permits intimacy with the other without the risk of being the other. And this intimacy that comes from pointed imagining should precede all of our decision-making, all of our cause-mongering and our action.
Toni Morrison, Author
I am getting a bit tired of the self-pity of all the people who think they can live passively, marginally, without participation in the great struggles of life, as if they had made a separate peace….I hope that you will count yourselves as members of a new, committed generation.
Max Lerner, Journalist, educator and advocate
I am a liberal. I was not always. In my childhood, I was a card-carrying non-political individualist. A rugged one, indeed. In my tenth year, on a summer day in 1935, as I approached the beach for my ruggedly solitary swim, I was treated to the first careless crack in the community called Cleveland. A sign: NO SWIMMING. CONTAMINATED WATER. Our city fathers didn’t want us in Lake Erie any more. By the end of the war, there was no place at all to swim, because the great lake had turned septic.
During this period of arrogant disregard, the perceptive citizens who appealed to their leaders for action were ridiculed, demeaned and caricatured as “communists,” “alarmists,” “anarchists,” “drunks,” “anti-Christ illiterates” and even “sexual perverts,” which seemed just a bit excessive, since their only object of possible affection was a dead fish.
These cynical attacks, to say nothing of the pollution, were sponsored, fostered, encouraged and made “legitimate” by those most magnanimous of entrepreneurs: the rugged individualists who claimed to have toiled only in the interest of their stockholders.
Individualism needs, for its own moral comfort, to be tempered by community.
Paul Newman, Actor and philanthropist
There was a time when I really didn’t think that I had learned that much here at Sarah Lawrence. In four years of college, I never took a science course. I never took a language. I never took math. I never took art. As I sat where you are sitting today, I was glad to be graduating, but confused and more than a little apprehensive, for I hadn’t a clue as to what I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing.
And the very first piece of advice that I want to give you is this: It doesn’t matter. You are okay, even if you don’t see your future in clear print. [Life] is about the joy of growing, and testing, and thinking, and not being afraid to ask those questions. That is what you learned here. No matter what the subject, this college has given you—as no other college can in quite the same way—the tools that will last you all your life.
Barbara Walters, Alumna, journalist
Do you know what stories you’ll tell about the coming weeks? Not about the competent, cool way you entered and mastered Sarah Lawrence, but about all those dumb things you did. So just think: If you don’t do any dumb things, you won’t have any good material to work with.
All I can remember about my first day so many years ago was that my parents insisted on taking home movies of me, entering Westlands Gate. They actually expected me to wave my hand and look back over one shoulder. I was mortified and wished that the earth would open up and swallow—them! It does make a good story, but it’s not as sharp, good or funny as some of yours will be. If you’re lucky or blessed, you won’t have to wait too many years to laugh at what you do today…
From the annual opening day speech by Marilyn Ogus Katz ’51
Dean of Studies and Student Life, 1982–1998