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Grads encouraged to ‘pay forward’

Sarah Lawrence graduates were reminded that success is never achieved without the support of others and were encouraged to “pay forward” the support they’ve received. The messages were from Ford Foundation President Darren Walker, who addressed 315 undergraduates on May 18, and Kyes Stevens, founder and director of the Alabama Prison Arts + Education Project, who addressed 129 master’s degree candidates on the 17th. 

Walker recalled his childhood in a rural southern town where his mother had the foresight to enroll him in the first class of Head Start in 1965.  

Darren Walker and Kyes Stevens

“There’s a story that we Americans like to tell ourselves: the story of the self-made man,” said Walker. “It’s the story of the entrepreneur who founds a startup in his garage – or the minimum-wage worker who pulls himself up by his bootstraps. But graduates: that story is pure fiction.” He added, “I share this because it’s often easy to forget that our success is not only our own.”

During the commencement for graduate students, Stevens talked about her work in bringing education and equity to those in prison. Stevens, a Sarah Lawrence alumna, also rejected the idea that success could be achieved in a vacuum without the support of others. “I am full of gratitude for all the people along the way who invested in me. A simple reminder that we do not get anywhere all on our own. That whole bootstrap logic is broken.”

College President Cristle Collins Judd told the graduates, “You are surrounded by people whose lives have shaped yours and with whom you have shared a very special experience, place and philosophy of education.”


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