Office of the President

CSM Commencement Speech

What Fifty Said

When I was young my teachers were the old.

I gave up fire for form till I was cold.

I suffered like a metal being cast.

I went to school to age to learn the past.


Now when I am old my teachers are the young.

What can't be molded must be cracked and sprung.

I strain at lessons fit to start a suture.

I go to school to youth to learn the future.


"To get to this day, to become a graduate of the College of Southern Maryland, you must have learned to sort out uselessness from what is important. Your teachers have done the same when they created out of hundreds and thousands of possible lessons and readings those that they assigned to you to accomplish. You did when you made time in your lives to complete a course of advanced college study. 'What Fifty Said,' by Robert Frost, has two stanzas and each opens with a similar line, indications of pause for the youthful and for the aged: 'When I was young my teachers were the old. Now when I am old my teachers are the young.' At this pause in our lives, at this moment in which we have poured so much effort as we can as human beings to slow down time, to mark a milestone, to make sure that we stop ourselves sufficiently to know it for the milestone that it is. A commencement. Students transformed into graduates, a goal held for a year or two years, four years, six years, a decade or more by teenagers, 20-somethings, by sons and daughters, mothers, fathers, grandparents, new students, returning students, drop-ins and ex-dropouts, we pause because we did it. We set our sights and hit our mark, and now we know more than any lesson, more than any class, more than any exam or assignment, that if we put our minds to a task, we can do it. But we can't do it alone. Nobody can and nobody does... To prepare for kindergarten, my mother gave me a pencilbox. Those of us that are over 50 will smile at that memory. A pencilbox in the shape of a desk nameplate. And what it said on it where the name should go was doctor of fool-o-sophy, spelled p-h-o-o-l  osophy. Who knows what psychological influence that gesture had on me. There was a high school teacher who insisted that I attend college back at a time when that was not the usual thing to do. There was a college professor who suggested graduate school. Now back to our moment. Take a slice of it now and think, 'Who helped me?' What teacher, what parent, what aunt, uncle or neighbor, or professor or professional counselor? On whose belief in you, do you come to us today? A graduate of the College of Southern Maryland for 2012. Somebody looked at you and saw something, some spark, some connection, some unmet need."