SARASOTA -- As New College President Gordon E. "Mike" Michalson, Jr. addressed the Class of 2012, he commended the graduates' individuality and ambitions, remarking enthusiastically about their future.
New College is like no other school, and its students are like no other graduates, he said.
"By contrast, your intellectual curiosity -- reinforced by the emphasis on critical thinking skills, strong communication abilities, intellectual independence and a humane openness to multiple points of view -- will be your secret weapon in the years ahead, while also insuring a more fulfilling personal life," said Michalson. "You will face the inevitable tensions of public debate over pressing issues with the self-confidence of one who does not shrink from ambiguity and complexity out of fear and anxiety. You will, in short, be a better citizen."
Like the students who crossed the stage to get their diplomas, commencement was a bittersweet time for Michalson, who is retiring in July after serving New College for the past 20 years, 16 of those years as the school's leader.
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In contrast with his own time at the school, Michalson told the crowd, "I'm sure to you, it seems somewhere between 'just yesterday' and 'a million years ago' that you first dropped your son or daughter off at the campus."
"I am also sure that the pride you feel at this moment knows no bounds," he added. "We surely share your pride and are very grateful to you for your confidence."
The state honors school of liberal arts and sciences graduated its second largest group of students with 179 students receiving their Bachelor of Arts diploma. The mood at the bayfront commencement celebration was festive. The air was warm, but a breeze kept the heat at bay as it floated through the large tent situated along the bayfront.
In a school where graduates celebrated anything but tradition on this night, students came dressed not in the traditional cap and gown, but in various costumes.
"Each one of you can doubtless cite numerous instances in your time at New College when we could sharpen our questions and carry on a debate, but not settle on a single clear answer," he told the graduates. "In fact, I'll bet everyone came away more stimulated and, I choose my words carefully here, more patient, more thoughtful, and reflective. You may even have become more humble."
Michalson told the graduates he had no worries that following commencement, they will not become like graduates from "every other school."
"For this I not only thank you, but I also predict great things for you in the challenging period ahead, as you find yourselves in livelihoods that no one here this evening could possibly predict," he said. "You will succeed precisely because we did not train you to do just one thing."