Commencement 2004

“I ask you to recognize that you are entering the broader world at a critical historical moment, one that can and will determine if America can regain its long-held legitimacy as a beacon of hope, of individual possibility, of democracy, and of moral authority for the rest of humankind. This will not happen without your attention, without your commitment, without your determination to take the time within your busy days to think behind what is so facilely presented to you.…The world is yours to reclaim and, we hope, remake.”

— President Frances D. Fergusson

“It is clear that we are an extraordinary class, comprised of people with startling intellect and varying interests. Thus, it has been a remarkable challenge to search for something that unifies us as a class. At first I thought it might be the all-nighter, drinking cup after cup of coffee through the wee hours of the morning to finish a paper, but there are some (extremely responsible) members of our class who have always had their work done on time and never needed to pull an all-nighter. One of my friends suggested that we could all identify with not having enough time to hydrate ourselves between events during senior week, but it doesn’t seem like that would apply to all of our class. Finally, I realized that a truly unifying experience for our class, as Vassar students, is that for us ACDC no longer refers to a band, but, fair enough, that doesn’t seem to be an insightful enough conclusion for a commencement address. So I settled on the idea that what truly unifies each and every member of our remarkable class of 2004 is that we have been profoundly marked by Vassar in one way or another. And we stand before you today having accomplished a great deal, including the completion of a Vassar degree.”

— Sarah Tahamont, senior class president


photo of Sarah Tahamont giving her commencement speech
photo of Sarah Tahamont giving her commencement speech

“Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee you will ever again spend each day surrounded by so many highly intelligent people, people who are such independent thinkers, certainly not if you come to work in Hollywood. The good news is that everywhere you go, there will be at least one very bright person—and that’ll be you. I know that’s putting some major responsibility on your shoulders. But I believe you’re all up to the challenge.

I want to offer you a few pieces of advice: try to keep it real. Stay true to what’s best in yourself and to the best of what you’ve experienced here at Vassar. Continue to expose yourself to new ideas. Trust your instincts and think for yourself. Make art, or at least value it. Look for the core of what makes each person human, appreciate the details that make them unique.


photo of commencement speaker Samuuel L. Jackson
photo of commencement speaker Samuuel L. Jackson

Find something that moves you or pisses you off, and do something about it. Put yourself out there. Be brave. Be bold. Take action. You have a voice. Speak up, especially when something tries to keep you silent. Take a stand for what’s right. Raise a ruckus and make a change. You may not always be popular, but you’ll be part of something larger and bigger and greater than yourself. Besides, making history is extremely cool.”

— Samuel L. Jackson, commencement speaker

To read President Fergusson's and Mr. Jackson's speeches, visit www.vassar.edu/commencement.

Photography by Will Faller