Make the world better, Bard College at Simon's Rock grads told

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Photo Gallery | Bard College at Simon's Rock graduation

GREAT BARRINGTON — A Nobel Prize winning economist implored the graduating class of Bard College at Simon's Rock to "be citizens and make the world a better place."

The college held its 47th commencement ceremony on campus Saturday morning and saw more than 100 young students receive either an associate or bachelor's degree.

Known as "the early college," the average age of a student entering Simon's Rock is just 16 years old.

For Bachelor of the Arts degree candidate Prytherch, heading to college that young meant a painfully embarrassing student I.D. card photo for a full four years. But it also meant a splendid learning environment where her fellow students were encouraged to challenged even her "most deeply held beliefs.

Lael Nethania Ngangmeni, an Associate of Arts degree candidate, joked that she and her classmates were "high school dropouts." But having been born in Cameroon before eventually moving to the United States as a child, Ngangmeni said she was two years behind where she should have been in school, making Simon's Rock a great choice for her.

"Let's take what we've learned and get busy conquering the world," Ngangmeni said.

Paul Krugman, who said Saturday's commencement address was his first despite having given hundreds of other speeches throughout his career, warned students in the introduction to his speech that "I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing."

"If I bomb — in particular if I'm really boring," Krugman said, "what happens in Great Barrington stays in Great Barrington, right?"

He didn't bomb, but did use the political and economic backdrop found in his New York Times column to offer advice to the graduating students, including a plea to "try for a bit of hard-to-maintain balance."

The former Princeton professor whose parents lived in Great Barrington for many years suggested that to be good citizens, the graduates would need to recognize both the good and the bad, "to face up to the things that have gone wrong without dismissing the things that have gone right."

Krugman compared the current social climate to when he graduated from college in 1974. He noted that he and his friends never had to worry about becoming solidly middle class, but said that income inequality has sharply risen in the decades since 1974.

"We really have become a vastly more unequal society, in which a few people make incredible amounts of money, while ordinary families struggle to afford some key, necessary things," Krugman said.

On the other hand, Krugman noted significant process on many social issues since his life as a student, though he acknowledged that racism and sexism still exist — "just look at this year's presidential election." In 1969, for example, polls showed only a small percentage of Americans supported interracial marriage but today very few people would openly oppose it.

"When I was growing up, God looked like Charlton Heston, and now he looks like Morgan Freeman, and my guess is that this matters more than you think," Krugman said.

What it will take to continue to move society forward, Krugman argued, would be "people who care, people who work at it, and who keep on plugging even in the face of reverses."

"I'm not saying that we're doing great. That glass is still half empty. What I'm saying is that if you keep working for good things, and don't give up easily, some good change happens."

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376


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