Amherst Magazine

The Forest Ahead

By Caroline J. Hanna

In this year’s Commencement address, President Anthony W. Marx argued that the global economic crisis was brought on by a false assumption about the nature of enterprise in society. “Individual ingenuity came to be worshipped in the view that individual gain, all by itself, would lead inevitably to benefits for everyone,” he told the audience on the Quad. “We forgot that, left unchecked, individual enterprise is as likely to lead to a contagion of sub-prime mortgages and credit default swaps as it is to penicillin or the microchip.”

Urging the Class of 2009 to “step into the forest ahead, toward returns you had not even known you would seek,” he also asked the new graduates to guard against selfishness. “You are the real return on our endowment,” Marx said. “It exists in the lives you will lead, in the careers you will pursue. The multiplier effect of an Amherst education will ripple through you and countless others who will be inspired by you.”

Since its founding, the college has recovered “from frequent recessions and from three great depressions,” Marx said. “In each instance, the college maintained or even increased financial support for its students who had come to need it more. And, in each instance, the college reinforced a faculty who could teach us how to create a better world.”

Such investments yield “an even greater return in difficult times such as these, as the world stands needing of the gifts of principled determination for the lives of great consequence that you now have to offer,” he concluded. “With joy, confidence and pride, we watch and support you as you proceed before us.”