Willamette University

In His Words

M. Lee Pelton has given hundreds of speeches, in dozens of settings, while presiding at Willamette. The following is a composite of some of them. Among Pelton’s most enduring qualities at the helm, as those of us who spend a lot of time on campus have seen, were his willingness to think big and his presence at the podium.


We have all arrived at this moment together because of countless gestures of hope made by the generations that preceded us.

We know that this century will depend increasingly on knowledge: knowledge discovered, knowledge gained, knowledge tested, knowledge shared, knowledge applied. And these things, in turn, will require wisdom: the way in which knowledge is weighted and used.

My hope — one that I know you share with me — is that we can create out of the rich diversity of human experience communities of learning — communities made both beautiful and effective by their pluralism, communities of learning that will turn the tide of human want into a sea of joy and light.

The most invigorating part of your years at Willamette will be those moments in class — or in interaction with a classmate, in conversation with friends in your residence hall, over dinner at Goudy Commons, on strolls along the Mill Stream, or in a student committee or club meeting — that will help you understand how you wish to live your life.

Although Willamette can offer you a great deal — professors, your advisor, labs, the library, fellow students, an art museum, computers — you will be the ultimate arbiter or architect of meaning. As a fellow president said, “You will perceive your own meanings, develop your own values, and make your own choices.”

At Willamette we educate the young women and men who will solve the problems and change the world. We educate them to humanity by helping them understand their connectivity to the world around them: not only their connectivity to natural laws or outward expressions of aesthetic and cultural forms or economic and political structures, but also to the earth and the environment that sustains life.

In your communities — wherever you live, work or study — you will encounter the increasing diversity of the United States. You will encounter how a new “globalism” has changed our relationships with neighbors that once seemed so far away and so abstract, and how this new proximity and interdependency changes the way we think about  education, commerce and society. Let me put it in practical terms: For many of you, in your lifetime, the very best companies will have as an expectation that you, for a portion of your work life, will live and work in a country outside the United States.

What is required is that you acquire through your time at Willamette — in the classroom as well as your many associations outside the class — those habits of mind that give you the capacity to think deeply and — this is most important — to think for yourselves.

The noisy drum beat of slogans, the jangling discords of the news, the great storm of sound bytes that rain down ceaselessly upon the citizen make democracy vulnerable to those messages that are the loudest or most persistent rather than those that are most reasonable or well considered. The waves and bits of detritus we endure now surpass anything that previous generations ever knew.

So here is what I want you to do while you are at Willamette: Stand for something. Stand up for something.

Live a life of no regrets. Where you see wrong, right it; where you see hurt, soothe it; where you see a broken heart, mend it.

Live a good life and all of the other things will not matter.

When you depart from this commonwealth of learning, may your life bring you some work of noble note, may you find meaning in your commitment to others and may your memories of Willamette be undying.

Good luck and good cheer.”

M. Lee Pelton

“Acquire...those habits of mind that give you the capacity to think deeply and...to think for yourselves.”