Wyoming Governor To Amherst College Class of 2012: “Don’t Be Afraid to Try”

August 26, 2008
Caroline Jenkins Hanna
Director of Media Relations

Hear the audio of the talk.

AMHERST, Mass.—“History is shaped by ordinary people doing ordinary things… So don’t be afraid to try and don’t be afraid to fail,” David Freudenthal, governor of the state of Wyoming and Amherst College alumnus, urged the members of the school’s Class of 2012, who packed Amherst’s Johnson Chapel the evening of Monday, Aug. 25. Freudenthal, who graduated 35 years ago, imparted this wisdom and some other words of encouragement about college, public service and life in the annual DeMott Lecture, which is directed toward first-year students and relates to their summer reading. The talk helped kick off a week of orientation activities for the new undergraduates on campus and beyond.

The governor and Democratic Convention superdelegate began his address by discussing his upbringing in rural Wyoming and his own path to college. He explained that it was the son-in-law of the superintendent of his hometown’s school district—himself an Amherst alumnus and former member of the economics faculty—who suggested that Freudenthal apply to and then enroll at the college. “I arrived at Amherst with just my boots, my hat and one suitcase,” said Freudenthal, adding that as the seventh of eight children in a ranching family of modest means, he was able to attend only because of a generous aid package he received from his alma mater. His first semester was difficult for him academically and socially, he said, but he made it through—thanks to the many support systems in place at the college. “This is a remarkable institution in that it makes the effort in a wide variety of ways to ensure that you take advantage of your education.”

Freudenthal then went on to discuss the summer reading assignment he picked for the Class of 2012, the book Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship by Jon Meacham, as well as the choice of Amherst’s orientation committee, a chapter from Paul Rogat Loeb’s Soul of a Citizen: Living with Conviction in a Cynical Time. Through personal anecdotes and touching stories, he explored the lessons he learned from the readings and how they fit into his own experiences first as an attorney and now as the Democratic leader of a largely Republican state. Some included: “In life, you’re going to do some things that may not necessarily endear you to everyone around you”; “Keep your sense of humor”; and “Be kind to yourself.” The governor concluded the address before taking questions from the audience saying, “To each of you who are fortunate enough to be at Amherst—it’s a remarkable gift—I would tell you that the only limitations on your future and what you can do tomorrow will be the doubts that you have about yourself today.”

The talk was an inspirational start to the week of events for Amherst first-years that includes academic advising, affinity group meetings, improv workshops, swing dancing and off-campus three-day intensive group experiences, among other activities. The First-Year Orientation Outing Trips (FOOT)—organized and led by sophomores, juniors and seniors—provide an opportunity for new students to get to know one another in New England’s great outdoors, while Community Engagement Orientation Trips (CEOT) are designed to integrate service into the students’ academic curriculum and introduce them to  the local community. The latter immerses first-years in the Pioneer Valley through volunteer work at various nonprofits in the area.

It was Freudenthal, though, who helped set the tone for such activities. “I think it says something about Dave, Amherst and the connection between them that the governor thought it was important to be here tonight and begin a conversation that you will have with yourselves about what to do with your lives and how you will contribute,” Amherst President Anthony W. Marx said to the students at the end of the governor’s lecture, alluding to Freudenthal’s decision to delay his travel to Denver to fulfill his duties as a superdelegate. “I hope that you will all think on that choice and the importance of what you have begun today.”

Hear the audio of the talk in its entirety.

Since its founding in 1821, Amherst College has become one of the premier liberal arts colleges in the nation, enrolling more than 1,600 talented, energetic and diverse young men and women.