Unforgettable

As they walk toward me to receive their diplomas, right hand outstretched, beaming with pride, I know I will never forget them: Our first African-American ASUPS president (and a terrific young leader; that’s him there in the photo), a bunch of remarkable student athletes who set records that will last a long time, our six Fulbrights who will scatter across the globe, a small army of Teach for America and Peace Corps volunteers, an array of breathtakingly talented musicians, the student who worked for the university catering service at just about every event at the president’s house over the last four years (and got elected to Phi Beta Kappa, too), the English major who earned a 4.0 and received a fellowship to a top graduate school—in archaeology. These are just a few of the many 2009 graduates who made their mark here.

They will set out from Tacoma, and I can’t help hearing the echo of the phrase, “Every end is a beginning; every beginning, an end.” It’s a truism that enjoys wide currency at college commencements. (I’ve been guilty of uttering it more than once.) But it’s not just true for our black-robed graduates—it’s equally true for the college itself. At the very time we are celebrating the Class of 2009, we are also working hard to assemble the freshmen who will compose the Class of 2013.

Memory mixes with hope.

“Your college will never forget you,” said commencement speaker Philip Mangano. He was talking about the former Puget Sound students who had just been awarded honorary bachelor’s degrees after a 66-year interruption by the storms of suspicion that followed the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. Through more than a half-century of history, through their own eloquence and dignity in the face of their nation’s betrayal, through standing ovations from their classmates before they left us and the futile intercessions by Dean Regester and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt to prevent their removal, through the springtime blooming of the cherry trees they gave as a last gift to their college before going off on trains to detention camps, through the replanting of more cherry trees in their honor by Puget Sound students in the 1980s, through the annual decoration of those trees with their names and with origami cranes, and through their own lives of achievement and the countless convocations in their honor that took place between then and now. Through all this, their college did not forget them.

Until, at last, in 2009 Yoshiko Fujimoto Sugiyama, Michiko Jinguji Kiyokawa, and family members of Yoshiye Jinguji, Masayoshi Jinguji, Hugh Seto, and Shigeo Wakamatsu all returned to their campus home once more to receive the honor owed them and the 30 other Japanese Americans who left us too early so long ago.

Your college will not forget you. And you will not forget your college. The lessons learned, the skills and knowledge honed here, the people from across the country with whom you became friends, the faculty who shared their thinking with you and inspired more original thoughts in you, the dreams and plans you carved out and acted upon. These things are the stuff your college is made of, and they are inextricably a part of you.   You are unforgettable to Puget Sound, as Puget Sound is unforgettable to you, because a college is, at last, a community of people who hope and remember together.

“Home is where you start from,” I tell each arriving freshman class at opening convocation in Baker Stadium. Soon I will say it again to more than 700 freshmen starting out on a journey that will be unique for each of them and that will also join the journeys of tens of thousands who preceded them. This will be the place of their hopes and memories, of their starting out and of our beginning again, too. This will always be their home, unforgettably, no matter what.