Shapiro bids farewell to graduates, presidency
"I hope you feel both exhilarated about the future and reflective about those aspects of the Princeton experience that will always remain with you," he said. "And I have to say that, at this particular commencement, I share these thoughts and emotions with you...."
Shapiro retires this month to return to full-time teaching and research in the Department of Economics and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs following a sabbatical leave. In a surprise presentation during the commencement exercises, the Board of Trustees awarded Shapiro an honorary doctor of laws degree.
"He has skillfully and thoughtfully guided Princeton into the 21st century, in service not only to this nation but to all nations," said Robert Rawson Jr., chair of the trustees' executive committee. "He leaves office with Princeton at the top of its game, with a strengthened commitment to teaching, as a national leader in financial aid for undergraduates and graduate students, with more options for campus life and with a renewed commitment to the beauty of the campus.
"We now look forward to his continuing contributions as teacher, as scholar and as resident of this community that he has served with such wisdom, such integrity and such grace," Rawson said.
In his address, Shapiro reminisced about some of his experiences as president over the past 14 years, from teaching first-year students bioethics to listening to performances by the University Orchestra to reading books by faculty members.
"For these many experiences, I want to thank all Princetonians -- faculty, students, staff, alumni and parents -- for the inspiration and friendship they have provided and for their devotion in keeping Princeton -- this place, this idea -- flourishing," he said. He also thanked the trustees and his family for their support.
Speaking to the graduates, Shapiro said that the University faces many of the same challenges as they do at this point in their lives. Both "must find ways to build on the efforts of those who came before us," but also "strive to develop our unique individuality, summoning the courage to put aside outdated notions and work on behalf of new ideas and innovative programs."
A particular challenge, he said, is to prepare, as a society and as an academic institution, for the moral questions posed by rapid advances in science and engineering.
"In the 21st century, scientists and engineers will continue to inform us regarding what we can do with our ever-expanding knowledge base, but it is our shared responsibility to decide what we should do," Shapiro said.
For insights, he encouraged students to look to the past, to debate and to "think deeply" about such issues -- using the skills they have developed at the University.
"Here at Princeton we continue to support such work, and we have launched important new programs to explore such urgent social and political topics as the manifestations of religion in national and international life, the relationship of law to society, the role of self-determination, and the global pursuit of peace and justice," he said. "And we have tried to ensure that, during their time at Princeton, while our students are acquiring so much contemporary knowledge and an understanding of their place in the long stream of human history, they are also learning to ask themselves and each other critical questions about the purpose of their lives, the significance of their actions and their moral responsibility as educated citizens."
Shapiro reminded the graduates that their responsibilities as citizens are great.
"I hope that wherever your own life's journey takes each
of you, you will always be conscious of how your own actions
affect others, of your obligations to those less fortunate
than yourselves," he said. "It is in your relationship to
others that your lives will be defined and your humanity
most fully expressed."