Dartmouth Gets Taste of Future Speaker to Grads: ‘Fulfillment Will Come by Ending Freedom’

Monday, June 15, 2015
Hanover — In an era of distraction, it’s commitment that counts, in the eyes of Dartmouth College commencement speaker David Brooks.

“It’s the things you chain yourself to that set you free,” Brooks, a New York Times columnist and author of several books, told the 1,093 members of the undergraduate class of 2015 sitting in the sweltering heat on Sunday.

To those newly minted alumni and 11,000 other people packed onto the Hanover Green, Brooks promised an atypical graduation oration: none of the old chestnuts about finding one’s passion, no urging the graduates to embrace failure. Instead, he said, “I’m going to tell you what’s going to happen to you over the next 60 years of your life. So right now I’m giving you the ultimate spoiler alert.”

He opened with a reel of jokes, some cutting, some risque, some containing hints of more serious notes to come.

“While on campus you have mastered new skills: you have learned how to dominate a classroom discussion even though you didn’t do any of the reading,” he said, ribbing his audience, “and in lecture halls you mastered another skill. Right now, for example, it looks like you’re staring at me with rapt attention, but you’re all completely asleep.”

The resulting roar of laughter redoubled when the crowd caught sight of the Jumbotron, which focused on an actual sleeping member of the graduating 

“I start by reminding you you’re in a beautiful spot in your lives,” Brooks told the graduates. “You’re more mature than the freshmen, still sexier than the faculty. And let’s face it, you’re a lot sexier than the Dartmouth faculty.”

That particular crack earned him a mixed response: cheers from the students and boos from the professors seated behind him.

But the air grew more serious as Brooks moved on to sketch life after graduation, which is far less exciting than being a college senior, he said, and involves “long periods of loneliness and heartbreak.”

Beyond the lack of direction recent graduates face and the loss of the structures and personal attention provided by college, today’s world offers a panoply of distractions, he said.

“Our phones are always beckoning us to shift our attention span,” he said. “If you can’t focus your attention for 30 seconds, how can you make a commitment for life?”

Brooks advised the Class of 2015 to determine which of their experiments were productive and which were not. He spoke at length of the virtues of love and marriage, and told the graduates to seek a calling, not a career.

“Your fulfillment in life will come by how well you end your freedom,” he said.

Luke Katler, who received his degree on Sunday, said he had found Brooks engaging, but noted that the speaker had repeated many of the conservative thoughts in his writing that frustrated liberal students at Dartmouth.

“Even though I really jived with what he was saying,” Katler said, “I thought it was very much him saying, ‘Chain in your dreams and then you’ll be happier. Stay within reason and things will be good, rather than shoot for the stars.’ Which is a pragmatic and important message, I think.”

Katler’s class graduated four valedictorians, all with 4.0 grade point averages: Catherine Baker, David Bessel, Abhishek Parajuli and Talia Shoshany.

Baker, a neuroscience major, echoed some of Brooks’ message through the language of science.

“Attention is a precious resource,” she said in her address to the senior class. “At any time, we have the opportunity to choose how to direct its narrow spotlight. It would be wise for us to allocate our attention carefully — allocate it deliberately to moments like this, so that they can be cherished always as mental snapshots.”

Many graduates engaged in another kind of remembrance, pinning green ribbons to their gowns in honor of two classmates, Torin Tucker and Blaine Steinberg, who died within five weeks of one another last year.

An avid skier, Tucker succumbed to a rare heart anomaly while competing in a cross-country race on February 1, 2014. He was 20.

“Torin was the nicest guy in town,” said Henry Franco, a friend of Tucker’s in Chi Heorot fraternity. “His smile still kind of radiates and brightens the halls of the house.”

In addition to a green ribbon, Franco wore a small pin that read “Torin,” which he said Tucker’s father had given to his close friends to wear for the occasion.

“He was here in spirit and he’s dearly missed,” Franco said.

Steinberg, who died on March 7, 2014, had dreamed of becoming a sports reporter. She was 20.

“Blaine was a good friend,” Sunday graduate Aneesh Chuttani said, describing her as an “incessantly remarkable, positive person.”

“Nothing would ever make her down or sad,” Chuttani said. “She just kept going and going and would do anything. She inspired everyone, in a way, with her attitude.”

This year, 19 graduates from the Upper Valley earned their degrees from Dartmouth.

They are Jonathan Brown, of Hanover; Joseph Carey, of Hanover; Tyler Dillehay, of Claremont; Katherine Franklin, of West Lebanon; Diksha Gautham, of Hanover; Anastasia Kahan, of Hanover; Karampreet Kaur, of West Lebanon; Emily Lacroix, of Canaan; Catherine Liebowitz, of Plainfield; Caitlin Martin, of Hanover; Cody Patch, of Lebanon; Sara Peterson, of West Lebanon; Andrew Pillsbury, of Hanover; Christian Slayton, of Hanover; Danielle Smith, of Lebanon; Julia Souba, of Hanover; Katherine Williamson, of Hanover; Benjamin Bauer, of South Strafford; and Caeli Cavanagh, of 

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.

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