Celebration Banquet for the Class of 2008

May 24, 2008

Hello, seniors. It’s heartwarming to see you here this evening, many of you with your parents or others who supported you during your St. Olaf years. Parents and friends, I extend a warm welcome to you. Thank you for everything you did to support your student at St. Olaf. We’re glad that you could be with us this weekend.

Seniors, this is your last night as a student. At this time tomorrow you will be alumni of St. Olaf College, and, incidentally, you will have lost your last, best excuse for sleeping until noon. After commencement tomorrow, it will be all about your future, as it should be. I graduated from St. Olaf 34 years ago this weekend, and that’s a long time, but I vividly remember the pride I felt at having graduated from St. Olaf College and the excitement of moving to a new city and to the next phase of my life. I hope you are having similar feelings tonight.

I had dinner last night with the Class of 1958, the Golden Reunion Class that is here to celebrate their 50th reunion. Seventy percent of the living members of that class have come back to campus this weekend, which we believe is an all-time record for a Golden Reunion class. I can’t help seeing you tonight through the lens of the Class of ’58. They are bankers, social workers, nurses, potters, painters, pastors, a surprising number of meteorologists, teachers, professors, librarians, coaches, administrators, scientists, musicians, golf pros, physicians, homemakers, business people and military personnel. There are some remarkable people in that class, including the current chair of the Board of Regents, the first treasurer of the ELCA, a bishop, the former dean of the Oberlin College Conservatory and the former head of operations for the U.S. Weather Service. Members of that class have sung with the Bach Society Chorus, played in the Phoenix Symphony, and appeared on Broadway, at Lincoln Center, at Carnegie Hall and on “A Prairie Home Companion.” One member of that class appeared on “The Tonight Show” because of his ability to whistle one tune while humming another. One member of that class discovered a drug that provides non-surgical treatment for prostate disease, and another is one of this country’s leading cancer researchers.

Golden Reunion classes prepare something called a memory book. It’s the size of the telephone directory of a small city, and each page has at the top a class member’s yearbook picture and at the bottom a picture of them today. There are some pretty good-looking Golden Oles in the Class of 1958. In the middle of the page each person reflects in a paragraph or two on their life since St. Olaf. Here are a couple of excerpts. One person wrote, “I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to be a part of such a great school where I have wonderful memories of fun, lasting friendships, and of course challenges of learning.” Another wrote, “What a phenomenal and unique education we received on the hill.” And another: “St. Olaf and the Class of 1958 have remained an integral and wonderful influence on my life, greater than I would have imagined.” One said, “I remember with love and appreciation the friends and teachers of my years at St. Olaf. It was a magical place and time.” I am fond of this remark by one Golden Ole: “I enjoyed my time at St. Olaf and found it more intellectually challenging than medical school.” Another said, “As the years have passed, more and more I am grateful for the influence of St. Olaf in my life. The education, traditions, friendship and values have been, and still are, an important part of my life and the life of my family.” One said, simply but eloquently, “I remember the friends and special time at St. Olaf. It was a good place to start becoming an adult.”

It’s fun to muse about the accomplishments you will have to report in 2058. Knowing this class, I expect that they will be remarkable. You will be leaders in the church, in scientific research, in medicine, in sustainability. You will be elected to office. You will have created wealth for yourself and for others. You will have published books and performed in concert halls around the world. You will have done well, and you will have done good. The world will certainly have changed by then, but I predict that you will be saying the same things that this year’s Golden Oles are saying about their experience at the college. You will remember favorite professors and wonderful friends, and you will reflect on the difference between when you first came to the Hill as a first-year student and tomorrow, when you will leave as an accomplished person with a vocation to pursue.

Tomorrow will be a glorious day. Enjoy every moment of it. Stay in touch with your college. Come back soon. Good night.

David R. Anderson ’74