IU Bloomington Graduate Commencement

Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall
Bloomington, Indiana

Friday, May 03, 2019

IU President Michael A. McRobbie speaks to the Class of 2019 during the IU Bloomington graduate commencement ceremony. Photo by Alex Kumar, Indiana University

Celebrating Indiana University's rich history

Trustees, Provost Robel, Ms. Colwell, Mr. Linebarger, honored guests, colleagues, and members of the Class of 2019:

In less than two months, the celebrations for Indiana University's Bicentennial Year will begin. And on January 20, 2020, we will observe with the greatest of pride the university’s founding 200 years ago. Today, we congratulate you, the members of the Class of 2019, the last graduates of Indiana University's second century, on all you have achieved in your years here. But in congratulating you, it is also fitting that we reflect on the immense achievements of those who have gone before you, and on the remarkable impact that so many of the alumni and faculty of the university have had on the state, nation, and world. For the character of their achievements provides a measure for all that you will achieve in future years.

Five giants of Indiana University

The last few weeks have seen the passing of four such giants—George Taliaferro, David Hamburg, Senator Birch Bayh, and Senator Richard Lugar. All made enormous contributions to Indiana University, the state, and the nation. And this year also marks the 10th anniversary of the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Economics to the late Elinor Ostrom, a scholar of outstanding excellence.

Alumnus George Taliaferro was one of the greatest football players in IU history and the first African-American to be drafted by the NFL, where his career was no less remarkable. During his time as an IU student—when segregation was prevalent across our state and nation—Mr. Taliaferro fought to integrate the Bloomington community, and he continued throughout his life to be a champion for fairness, compassion, and equality.

David Hamburg graduated from the IU School of Medicine and went on to reach the loftiest heights of leadership in medical and psychiatric research. But much of his life and career was also dedicated to public service and philanthropy, and he worked tirelessly to improve the health and well-being of children and to end violent conflict around the globe.

IU alumnus and former U.S. Senator Birch Bayh was the only lawmaker since the Founding Fathers to author two constitutional amendments. If you voted in any federal American election before you turned 21, you owe a debt to Birch Bayh. He authored the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age to 18. And his co-authorship and fearless championing of the 1972 Title IX legislation made possible equal opportunities in both sports and education for literally tens of millions of women in universities across this country, and the impact of his work on Title IX endures to this day.

Former Senator Richard Lugar was one of our nation's most illustrious and visionary statesmen. His accomplishments were myriad. Among them was the Nunn-Lugar Act, which eliminated more than 7,500 nuclear warheads from Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union. Our nation and world are safer because of him. From 2013, he served as a distinguished scholar and professor of practice in IU’s Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies, named just last year in his honor and that of his former colleague, Congressman Lee Hamilton.

And this year, we also celebrate the 10th anniversary of the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Economics to IU Professor Elinor Ostrom. She is he only woman to ever win the Nobel Prize in Economics. Professor Ostrom and her husband Vincent, founded IU's legendary Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, also named in their honor. She was known for her courageous and groundbreaking research which demonstrated by meticulous and sustained empirical studies, that ordinary people are perfectly capable of creating rules and institutions that allow for the sustainable and equitable management of shared resources, confounding decades of economic orthodoxy.

Set of shared skills and virtues

The extraordinary achievements of all five of these IU legends demonstrate how an education at Indiana University can prepare you for careers of sustained excellence in statecraft, politics, science, public policy, athletics, and the fight for justice, equality, and civil rights. Senator Bayh, Dr. Hamburg, and Mr. Taliferro were all IU alumni. And while Senator Lugar and Professor Ostrom did not study at IU, both made enormous contributions to the university as faculty members. And we count them both as alumni by virtue of the fact that both were awarded honorary IU doctorates.

But what qualities, what character traits and virtues did these five possess that allowed them to achieve greatness in their fields?

First, all five shared a commitment to scholarship and rigorous academic study, and an unremitting dedication to the search for truth. This commitment did not end with their formal education, but continued throughout their lives. They firmly believed, as theologian William Ellery Channing wrote, that "The world, from our first to our last hour, is our school, and the whole of life has but one great purpose—education."1 Dr. Hamburg and Professor Ostrom were renowned scholars, who never stopped questioning, exploring, and learning. Senators Bayh and Lugar were known for the discipline of study that made them experts among their senatorial colleagues on numerous critical issues of the greatest national and international importance. And when George Taliaferro entered professional football, he promised his parents that he would return to IU to finish his degree, a pledge he fulfilled, gaining a further degree some years later.

All five also shared a commitment to collaboration. The concept of "working together" was a defining theme of Professor Ostrom's career. She was known for bringing scholars together from around the world to answer seemingly unsolvable questions concerning the governance of commonly held resources. Her groundbreaking work demonstrated that human collaboration often yields better results than privatization or the government regulation of such resources. Senators Bayh and Lugar were renowned for putting principle above party and for their commitment to working in a true spirit of bipartisanship to do what is right for our communities, our states, our nation, and the world. Former President Barack Obama paid tribute to this spirit last Sunday, when he said that in Senator Lugar he saw "someone who wasn't a Republican or Democrat first, but a problem-solver—an example of the impact a public servant can make by eschewing partisan divisiveness to instead focus on common ground."2 And Dr. Hamburg, who worked very closely with Senator Lugar on the development of the Nunn-Lugar Act, constantly demonstrated throughout his multifaceted career this commitment to collaboration in pursuit of his goals.

And all five were also people of enormous integrity who exemplified to the highest degree the words of the 18th century poet and essayist Samuel Johnson, who wrote, "Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful."3 Throughout their lives they behaved with humility and modesty and treated others with decency and respect. They consistently stood up for what they believed was right, as George Taliaferro did when confronted with appalling discrimination and socially sanctioned segregation.

The qualities and virtues that allowed these five great figures from IU's history to succeed are the very virtues you have learned during your time at Indiana University.

Your IU education has taught you to search for, venerate, and defend the truth. You have learned that truth is an elemental component of our moral and ethical systems, and is a fundamental part of our relations with other people, not just for its pragmatic utility, but as a good in itself.

You have worked in the same collaborative, interdisciplinary, and participatory spirit exemplified by these five IU legends, understanding that to solve great problems you must harness the efforts of people and thought from the most diverse of backgrounds.

Like all of you, these five figures all made the serious personal investments and commitments required to earn an advanced degree. And like them, you now stand ready to use the knowledge and skills you have acquired to become the leaders of tomorrow.

In the years to come, I fully expect that it will be your achievements that will also bring pride to Indiana University—and that others will stand on this very stage to extoll your virtues and achievements, and hold these up as a beacon to those who will come after you.

Called by circumstances to advance the common good

Members of the Class of 2019, in today's uncertain and unstable world, the pressing tasks that are waiting to be performed are extensive, and the problems in need of solutions immense.

Yours will be the classrooms, the clinics, and the laboratories of the future. And yours, the arts, ideas, and industries of a new emerging world where success is measured in how well you transform knowledge and ideas into helping people.

Your IU education has instilled in you the desire to ask—and the capacity to seek answers to questions about globalization, about prosperity and poverty, about energy, technology, and fundamental questions about right and wrong.

As graduates of Indiana University, you have been preparing for years to become the next generation to discover, to understand, and to apply all that you have learned.

May you be inspired by the lives and careers of those like George Taliaferro, David Hamburg, Birch Bayh, Richard Lugar, Elinor Ostrom—as well as today’s Commencement speaker, Tom Linebarger, today’s honorary doctorate recipient, Rita Colwell, and by the faculty with whom you have worked at IU—to devote yourselves to public service and to advancing the common good.

May you have the clear-sightedness to perceive the problems that exist wherever you find yourselves, the wisdom to discern the best solutions, and the courage to respond when you are called upon to advance the common good. May you carry on the traditions of excellence that have brought you to this moment.

And may it be said in years to come that it was graduates like you—here and around the world—who confronted and conquered the most difficult challenges of today and gained the respect and gratitude of all.

Congratulations, Class of 2019!

Source Notes

1. William E. Channing, "On the Elevation of the Laboring Classes." 1840.  The Works of William E. Channing, D.D., (American Unitarian Association, 1888), 62.

2. Barack Obama, as quoted in Christina Zhao, "Barack Obama and Bipartisan Lawmakers Pay Tribute to Former Senator Richard Lugar," Newsweek, April 28, 2019, Web, Accessed April 30, 2019, URL: https://www.newsweek.com/barack-obama-and-bipartisan-lawmakers-pay-tribute-former-senator-richard-1407899.

3.Samuel Johnson, The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia (J. Belcher, 1811, originally published 1759), 12.