Commencement 2016 Speech

Tulane President Fitts Commencement Speech 2016

May 14, 2016

Welcome. To the class of 2016, there is no more appropriate place to celebrate what you have accomplished than here in the Superdome. This place has been home to great championships: from the Final Four to the Super Bowl to Wrestlemania.

This is your championship moment and you should revel in it. But no head locks or diving elbow drops OK.

You’ve worked incredibly hard. You have learned so much. You have grown as people. And you’ve done it all with the tremendous support of all of those sitting up behind you cheering you on.  

I can feel their pride washing down from the stands. So graduates, I want you to remember everything your parents, families and friends have done to help you reach this milestone, and give them a roaring round of applause.

So our graduates range today in age from 19 years old to 68 years young.

No matter how old you were when you arrived at Tulane, you became part of a life-long community. Your experiences have bound you together forever.

Let’s take a few moments to look back on some of those experiences, and on some of the things that Tulane has taught you.

First, we taught you resilience. Just as many of you moved into the dorms four years ago, we held a freshman bonding exercise called Hurricane Isaac. Thoughtfully, we decided to immerse you in the historical experience of life before electricity.

In fact, later that year New Orleans taught the world that same lesson when the Super Bowl came to this very stadium, and the power went out for 34 minutes.

By the time the lights came back on, concession prices had gone up by two dollars.

Tulane taught you perspective. For instance, our downtown campus begins just across the street from the Superdome, which depending on how much road construction is going on could be anywhere from a two to four hour trip to the uptown campus -- longer if you take the shuttle.

Tulane taught you patience as you awaited completion of the library expansion at Howard-Tilton. I am happy to report that we finished it - just in time for your graduation. I hope you enjoyed those last few weeks of beautiful study spaces.

We taught you how to promote yourself, as many of you auditioned for parts as extras in the movies that filmed on campus such as “22 Jump Street,” “Bad Moms,” “So Undercover” and other Oscar contenders. I also understand that some of you didn’t bother with the auditions and just walked onto the set.  

We taught you to value wellness. Many of you spent extra hours exercising in the Reilly Center in the hopes of catching a glimpse of Channing Tatum pumping iron, of course instead all you ended up seeing me playing handball. Not necessarily a pretty sight.

You learned at least four valuable technical skills at Crawfest – pinch, peel, eat and repeat.  

We taught you community by bringing tailgating back to campus. Tailgating is when we spend hours doing nothing but passing a good time: talking, dancing and eating great food. Come to think about it – it isn’t that different from most weekends in New Orleans.

And we taught you adaptability. Sometimes we canceled classes because of the weather for what turned out to be a sunny day. On other days, we made you wade through knee-deep puddles to get to class. This will help you deal with the uncertainty of the world.  

You and I have fallen in love with New Orleans and Tulane together. In my first two years here, I have learned some wonderful and, well, humbling lessons of my own.  

I learned that parades are not passive experiences. After getting hit in the head with the beads, I worked hard on my hand-eye coordination. I also learned to beg to have a shoe thrown at me -- something I never thought I would have to do.

I learned to eat things like soft-shell crab poboys without asking questions of either the crab or the person selling it. And I learned that music sounds better when you’re standing ankle deep in mud at Jazz Fest. And when Michael White plays it.

Most of all, I learned that New Orleans and Tulane are like no other place in the world. Both are full of brilliance and joy.  

Let me sum that up for you by talking about the music we’ve heard already today and will hear from Michael White. Clearly it represents joy – music that makes it impossible to stand still, as many of you have already demonstrated today.   

But it also represents brilliance. You are hearing great complexity -- a single theme sometimes played backwards or upside down like a Bach fugue. And extraordinary creativity, as each musician improvises, literally composing in front of you.   

Tulane also represents both head and heart. We revel in science and in music, in history and in culture. We have stunning brain power, and something I’m used to calling chutzpah. No other place makes such powerful learning so much fun.

When people learn you are a Tulane graduate, expect them to treat you differently. Whether you launch your career from Mali or Metairie, people will know that the education you received was like no other, in a city like no other. They will know that you did not simply learn in a classroom in a city, they will know that you learned in a city that was your classroom.

They will know that no matter what you majored in, your courses spanned the breadth and depth of human knowledge and experience. They will know the lessons you learned to help rebuild New Orleans are the very ones you will use to help change the world. They will know you are poised, prepared and purposeful. They will know you are a Tulanian.  

Finally: Graduates, while Tulane has molded you, I want you to know that you have also forever shaped Tulane. In the face of tragedies that affected your fellow students these last few years, you gathered us together in a fierce community and proved that we are a family.  

Whenever we fell short in living up to our values, you pushed us to be better, to be more inclusive, more diverse, more welcoming, and more just.  

While students here, many of you invented ideas that will change the world.

And you inspired us with your public service, contributing hundreds of thousands of hours to the community. And in return, the people that you served taught you as much as any of us have in the classroom.

I am so grateful to each of you for everything you have done for Tulane.

My hope is that in your years at Tulane, you have learned how to lead, but also how to collaborate. That you have gained self-confidence and also humility. That you will bring the best of Tulane to solve problems all over the world.  

What I know is that you have become part of Tulane, forever.   

Welcome to the family.