A Closing Refrain: Reflections at a Graduation
"If education is restricted or becomes the exclusive province of
the few, then education will cease to be a leveling or enabling
force. It will become an instrument of power in its worst sense:
power over others. Education for the few will lead to authori-
tarianism as well as to the exclusion and the marginalization of
those who are different or lack privilege."
-Arturo Madrid, "Less Is Not More ... in the Case of Education,"
Brooklyn College commencement address, 4 June
1997·
i.
On 4 June
1997,
at its seventy-second commencement exer-
cises, my undergraduate alma mater, Brooklyn College (now a part of
the City University of New York), honored me with a Distinguished
Alumna Medal. As I sat on the dais and looked out at the assembled
graduates and their guests, I remembered my own graduation on
another sunny afternoon in this same tree-lined quadrangle thirty-
five years before. Much had changed in the intervening decades, but
one thing had not. The campus itself had changed remarkably, now
crowded with more buildings to accommodate a larger student body.
And the students themselves were more boisterous than my own
graduating class. These students enthusiastically cheered the faculty
who marched in the academic procession; they applauded and shouted
their approval of various speakers' remarks; and, in marked contrast to
the polite seriousness with which the class of
1962
greeted the confer-
ring of degrees, the class of
1997
shouted with unabashed glee and let
go helium balloons that floated out over Boylan and Ingersoll Halls.
What had not changed was who these students were. To be sure,
the Brooklyn College class of
1997
was not, like the class of
1962,
overwhelmingly white and predominantly Jewish. Instead, these new
graduates were far more racially and ethnically diverse. Here were chil-
dren of immigrants from the Middle East, Russia, and the Caribbean,
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