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Hamilton's 189th Commencement

Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack Shares a Fable Under Sunny Skies

By Holly Foster  |  Contact Holly Foster 315-859-4068
Posted May 20, 2001
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Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, a 1972 graduate of Hamilton College, told Hamilton's class of 2001 that wisdom and understanding don't always have to be derived from the complex and urged them to look for the simple things in life at the college's 189th commencement ceremony, held on Sunday, May 20.

Vilsack opened his remarks by reading an excerpt from The Forty-Ninth Magician, a children's book written in 1966 by Samuel Babbitt, who served as president of Kirkland College. Kirkland College was Hamilton's sister institution that was established in 1968 and combined with Hamilton in 1978.

The Forty-Ninth Magician tells a tale of a king who had to choose one magician from among 49 who wanted to hold the position of King's Own Magician. At a special contest held to select the magician, the first 48 all tried to outdo each other. But the 49th magician "didn't have any boxes or mirrors. He didn't have any helpers or animals. Just himself."

He told the King that he could show him how to make hours into minutes and minutes into seconds until time itself disappears. The magician showed the king how to make a whistle by holding a blade of grass between his thumbs and blowing through them. They built a dam and a wheel of reeds. The King "realized that as the young magician had promised, the hours had become minutes and the minutes seemed like seconds on that magic afternoon."

Hamilton awarded 430 bachelor of arts degrees at ceremonies that were held outside on the main quadrangle.

The valedictorian, Elizabeth M. Vogel of Londonderry, NH, told classmates in her address that "a common ground shared by so many people important to me at Hamilton is the passion for what they do. In some this passion is manifested as a constant search for meaning; in some a competitive spirit; in some the ability to see beauty everywhere. My wish for all of us here today is that we always surround ourselves with friends and family that encourage us to have such passion, and to actively love the lives that we're living." 

Honorary degrees were awarded to Vilsack; Dr. John M. Driscoll, Jr., 1958 Hamilton College graduate and chairman of the department of pediatrics at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York; Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, author, Harvard professor and education scholar; Ralph Sutton, jazz pianist; and Melinda Wagner, 1979 graduate and 1999 winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Music.

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