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2011 Commencement | Dean Peter Starr's Speech

2011 Commencement Speech by Peter Starr

Welcome to the College of Arts and Sciences’ Commencement for 2011! And a special welcome to Kevin Sawyer, brother of graduating senior Ted Sawyer, who is watching the video stream of the ceremony live from his base in Iraq.

What is there to say about the class of 2011?

521 students will walk across this stage in a moment, having earned a bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in fields from economics to literature, art history to neuroscience, health promotion to arts management. They have studied under outstanding faulty, both in the College and across the University, and have taught us, their faculty mentors, a great deal in turn. They have completed award-winning research projects on ambition in Beowulf and Macbeth, optical lattices, conditioned place preference in zebrafish, or portrayals of gender in Czech magazine advertisements. These are the winners of the recent Robyn Rafferty Mathias Student Research Conference. They have pursued internships and research projects at the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Woolly Mammoth Theatre, the World Bank, the Jane Goodall Institute, and at countless other leading organizations – including, of course, both houses of Congress. They have published scholarly articles, novels, musicals, and volumes of poetry, very often as undergraduates. They have studied abroad in over 30 countries, including Brazil, China, Egypt, India, and South Africa. While abroad, they have helped build temporary housing for victims of the 2011 Chilean earthquake or served as aid workers in a Zimbabwe orphanage. And, in their spare time, at least two of our graduating seniors have been named Patriot League Scholar-Athletes of the Year!

Our graduates have survived the foibles of the Washington Metro system, some of them turning into a remarkable senior capstone play entitled, See Something, Say Something. Others have survived O Chem with the wonderful Monika Konaklieva and will pursue their medical studies at Johns Hopkins, Georgetown, Penn, or NYU. Still others survived life in the basement of McKinley building, then helped to inaugurate our new state-of-the-art studio production studio in Kreeger. Nearly all of you survived Snowmaggedon, the quest for affordable groceries at Whole Foods, the scrum after available plugs in Bender Library, and – yes – the Wonk campaign, the spoils of which are likely to be found in nearly every suitcase and trunk headed home today!

I am sure that each of our graduates today can look back on a few key moments, and a few key mentorships, that exemplify all that they’ve learned and experienced in their time at American University. Because these moments and mentorships lie at the very heart of what is great about AU, we have invited our graduates of the Class of 2011 to reflect on their experience here at the university on camera. During the reception that immediately follows this ceremony – to be held across Massachusetts Avenue in the magnificent Katzen Arts Center, and to which you are all invited – we will be screening several short videos that capture those reflections. (Please stop by the Abramson Family Recital Hall at the south end of the building to take a look!)

I’d like to leave you, though, by evoking one of the many moments that will exemplify the Class of 2011 for me. It came at the end of a truly remarkable recital this past Sunday by soprano (and graduating senior) Liz Zito, whom you’ve just heard sing our National Anthem. Having performed a dizzying array of art songs – from Thomas Morely and Henry Purcell to Rachmaninoff and Richard Strauss – Liz invited A.J. Welch, who is here on the podium today, on stage for an encore. I dare say that most of us in the audience, who’d heard Liz and A.J. rip through so many wonderful jazz standards over the years, expected something in that vein. But A.J. emerged for the encore clutching a hymnal, with a characteristic twinkle in his eye, and what they actually performed was the 19th-century English hymn, “For the Beauty of the Earth.” If you know this hymn, you know it as a hauntingly beautiful expression of thanks for all the glories of human existence. Having just viewed the videos that we’ll be screening, in which many of you – our graduates – express your thanks to the faculty and staff who have mentored and nurtured you, the hymn resonated for me with those reflections. But it especially spoke to how thankful we all are to have had you among us these several years. Though we trust you will stay in touch in your new capacity as alumni of American University, your daily presence on our campus and in our community will be deeply, deeply missed.

On behalf of the College’s faculty and staff, hearty congratulations to the Class of 2011!


Student Speaker Introduction

Lawrence (Dewey) Musante will receive a baccalaureate degree in Literature, with a minor in Cinema Studies from American University. During his tenure at AU, Dewey was a teaching assistant for Literature Professor Eric Duserre in the course Critical Approach to Cinema. He interned in the Writing Center and served on the College Undergraduate Studies Committee. Dewey performed in the University Theatre Department’s production of Oklahoma! as well as the AU Players Musical Theater Cabaret. 

Movies are Dewey’s passion. As a young child, he would spend occasional weekends with his maternal grandmother Joan. They would trek to the local video store where he would peruse the shelves looking for old and new movies that would capture his interest. Over the course of the weekend, Joan would cook his favorite foods and they would sit together, watching movies. Because of this passion, Dewey will attend NYU this fall in the Tisch School of the Arts, pursuing a master’s degree in cinema studies. He hopes this will lead to a career as a film historian or a professorship in cinema studies, but he will never give up his lifelong dream of writing and making his own movies.