President Hanlon's Address

Class of ’77 Birthday Bash – August 22 2015


In thinking about what to say today, I came to realize that we should all know more about the number 77.  So I found out what I could learn about 77 from the numerology sections of various astrology and mysticism websites.  (Let me tell you there is some amazing [xxxx]  on those sites!)

I learned that 77 is one of a few “Master Numbers”, which means that 77’s operate a higher spiritual plane.  I discovered that 77’s exhibit all the vibrations and energies of 7’s, but doubled and amplified. 

Seventy-sevens have exceptional inner strength and tenacity, which also makes them highly charged people that can be, at times, difficult to deal with. 

Financially, 77’s are a hit with big paychecks … unless the number 9 lies in their life path or birth date, in which case I guess they are totally screwed. 

But over and over, what I saw on these websites is that 77’s have an adventurous spirit.  And I believe that to be true based on the way we have all embraced this fantastic Jackson Hole setting.  I credit the organizing committee for recognizing that essential part of the 77’s spirit and ask that we all thank them once again, including especially Nancy Vespoli, for their efforts in together such an amazing weekend.

I’m certain that you all remember that John Kemeny was President during our years on campus.  And some of you may remember that President Kemeny spoke to us at Convocation that fall.  But how many of you remember what Kemeny said to us that day?  Let me remind you.

It was September of 1973 – we convened for the Convocation ceremony in Webster Hall (now the Rauner Library).  In his remarks that day, President Kemeny told us about a science fiction story he had just read in which, at some future time, medicine had advanced so far that every body part was replaced as it wore out.  Some of you, maybe, can relate.  And just to be clear, this was not just knees and hips, it was every body part (brains, toes, …). 

Kemeny went on to explain that the point of the book was to answer the question “What remains of a person after their physical body has been completely replaced?  What is a person’s essence?”

Kemeny then made a pivot to the College.  Students, he noted, are replaced every 4 years.  Faculty, staff, alumni, buildings can last a bit longer.  But given that Dartmouth was, at that time, over 200 years old, even the most persistent faculty, alumni and buildings had been refreshed. 

And so, Kemeny mused, what remains of the original College?  What is the soul of Dartmouth – those elements that have remained constant throughout the first two centuries of the institution’s life?  On that September day in 1973, he ventured that there were two:

  1. First, the place.  The Hanover setting, nestled deep in the North Woods.  And he quoted President Martin Hopkins who said “Any man who ... never experiences the repose to be found on lakes and river, has not stood enthralled upon the top of Moosilauke … has not thrilled at the whiteness of the snow-clad countryside in winter or at the flaming forest colors of the fall – I would insist that this man has not reached … some of the most worth-while educational values accessible to him at Dartmouth.”
  2. Second, the close relationship between faculty and students based, at its core, on genuine intellectual exchange.  In speaking to us that afternoon, President Kemeny said “I would insist that the man or woman who spends four years at Dartmouth, who attends classes but does not experience the thrill of great ideas expounded by great teachers, who is not enthralled by the beauty that man has created, who has not engaged in debate on the great issues facing mankind, who has not been awed by coming up against the frontiers of human knowledge – I would insist that this man or woman has missed the best that Dartmouth can offer!”

In President Kemeny’s telling, some 42 years ago, place and fellowship constitute the heart of Dartmouth – the enduring core of our beloved institution.

This is an important question, because make no mistake, Dartmouth does renew.  As we begin our 246th year, Dartmouth is on the move - as vital and forward-looking as it was at its founding.  We have launched exciting new academic initiatives that will advance our education and research as interconnected entities.  We are recruiting great faculty minds, planning new buildings …

And in about three weeks, I will welcome a fresh new class of first-year students to campus, just as John Kemeny welcomed us in Webster Hall all those years ago.  The Class of 2019 will enjoy a Dartmouth education deeply rooted in the liberal arts, but delivered in ways that are quite different from what we experienced, infused with technology and experiential learning and the chance to work with faculty who are focused on today’s great challenges and opportunities. 

But despite all this change, when all is said and done Kemeny had it right.  What will draw the class of 2019 together in Jackson Hole in August of 2057 are the timeless elements of Dartmouth that draw us here this weekend – memories of great Dartmouth faculty who ignited our imaginations … and the magic of the place - early morning treks across the misty Green, the quiet of the Connecticut River.  These are the heart and soul of Dartmouth, the foundation of the kinship that we celebrate this weekend. 

Happy birthday, Class of 1977!