Chancellor Gordon Gee likened the 2007 graduating class of Vanderbilt University to superheroes with limitless potential and the burden of great responsibilities.
“You serve the law of the universe that bends toward justice and all of a sudden you can withstand fatigue and nights without sleep,” Gee said during the Commencement ceremony Friday on Alumni Lawn on the Vanderbilt campus.
“You can withstand spit and flame, and every name that villainy can hurl at you. You can do anything.” (Listen to quote)
Gee’s annual Commencement address to 2,556 graduates and their friends and family capped the academic year for the Vanderbilt community. A total of 3,141 degrees were awarded – 1,466 to undergraduates and 1,675 to graduate and professional students. On Thursday, Vanderbilt alumnus and Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus addressed the class as part of Senior Class Day activities.
Gee highlighted several accomplishments and events from the year, including the return of once-expelled civil rights leader the Rev. James Lawson to campus as Distinguished University Professor; a project by students from Vanderbilt’s divinity and business schools to combat poverty in India; and a weekend trip by faculty, students and administrators including Gee that traced the route of the 1961 Freedom Rides with commentary from some of the original Freedom Riders about the effort to desegregate public transit systems.
“We found ourselves inside a story about the ability of good people to resist and overcome villainy,” Gee said. “If you ever doubt that human efforts make a difference, try to imagine that world before the civil rights movement, the world before the Freedom Ride.” (Listen to quote)
Gee urged graduates to resist the lure of materialism and of tabloid distractions – “the Lindsays, the Parises, the TomKats, the Britneys” – in favor of higher purposes like overcoming poverty and pursuing non-violent solutions to problems in the world.
He evoked the imagery of the civil rights movement to make his point.
“Constantly check to make certain that you are on the right side of the lunch counter, and that you are the ones riding the bus instead of on the outside trying to stop the ride,” Gee said. (Listen to quote)
For more information about Commencement at Vanderbilt, go to http://www.vanderbilt.edu/commencement/. For more Commencement news, audio, video and photos, go to http://www.vanderbilt.edu/news/commencement2007.
Media Contact: Jim Patterson, (615) 322-NEWS