New College of Florida Celebrates 46th Annual Commencement

May 25, 2012  — One of the largest graduating classes in the history of New College was told that their innate intellectual curiosity, a cultivated tolerance for ambiguity and the virtue of open-mindedness will guide them on a successful career path by outgoing President Gordon E. “Mike” Michalson, Jr., who delivered the keynote address at the College’s 46th Annual Commencement Ceremony on Friday, May 25.

As dusk fell on the great lawn of the New College bayfront, 179 students received Bachelor of Arts degrees from the state honors college for the liberal arts and sciences.  This represents the second largest graduating class in the history of New College (182 students graduated in 1975) and the largest class since the College gained independence in 2001, when 173 students graduated.  The charter class of 1967 had 43 graduates.

In his commencement remarks, Michalson assured parents that their sons and daughters were “wonderfully prepared for a future in which college graduates will experience multiple career changes, a future filled with career options that haven’t even been invented yet.  Frankly, in today’s situation, the students I worry about are those being trained to do just one thing, since that is a surely a recipe for obsolescence.

“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.  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,” he said.

Responding to the current national trends towards vocational-oriented degrees, Michalson stated, “We have a different approach here at New College, an approach that manages to support the legitimate needs of economic development without making those needs paramount.  Our distinctiveness is embedded in the seriousness with which we take the ideal of educating the ‘whole student’ as opposed simply to honing their acquisitive instincts and capacities.

“The intellectual curiosity of the students we attract is not only the starting point for the truly educated person we try to cultivate, it is very likely the main source of New College’s institutional distinctiveness. Intellectual curiosity is like a power supply providing the College with an ongoing stream of continuity through administrative changes, political upheavals and budgetary downturns.”

Michalson will step down as president of New College on July 1, 2012, after serving 16 out of the past 20 years as the College’s top administrator. His successor is Dr. Donal O’Shea, an internationally acclaimed mathematician and veteran administrator from Mount Holyoke College (Hadley, Mass.).

“It was absolutely wonderful,” said O’Shea, who traveled to Sarasota to join the celebration.  “I love the independence, the happiness and the energy of the graduates.  Like all graduation ceremonies it was moving and solemn, but also a real testimony to the free spirited nature of the students, who have a true sense of their own selves.”

Continuing a longstanding tradition of imaginative processional garb, the students expressed their individuality with a colorful assortment of outfits and accessories in lieu of traditional caps and gowns. While the costumes always provide an amusing distraction to the ceremony, the intellectual rigor required to attain a New College degree (including a comprehensive senior thesis) and the plans the graduates have for careers and post-graduate study underscore the serious effort required to graduate from one of the country’s most highly-lauded liberal arts institutions.

This year’s graduating class of included four Fulbright scholars who will study in Indonesia, Georgia (country), Germany and the Netherlands as participants in the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government. New College consistently has been named one of the country’s top 10 producers of Fulbright scholars and this year’s award recipients brings New College’s historical total  to 69. Students in the graduating class also earned two French Teaching Assistantships awarded by the French government, as well as two State Department Critical Language Scholarships.

For more information on New College’s 46th Annual Commencement, including the complete text of President Michalson’s address, visit ncf.edu/commencement or contact the Office of Public Affairs at (941) 487-4153 or publicaffairs@ncf.edu.

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