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Week of 19 May 2005· Vol. VIII, No. 30

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Student speaker: words, sense of history prepare us

By Tim Stoddard

Cassandra Nelson (CAS'05) Photo by Kalman Zabarsky


Cassandra Nelson (CAS'05) Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

Cassandra Nelson feels prepared for just about anything after graduation. Nelson (CAS’05), who attributes her readiness to her liberal arts education, will remind her BU classmates in her speech to this year’s graduating class that their academic journey has given them skills that can be applied in any workplace. “A liberal arts education isn’t obsolete in this day and age,” she says. “It’s an education in how to picture and understand human situations. These skills will be useful in the ‘real world’ that our parents and older siblings keep threatening we are about to enter.”

Reflecting on her experiences at Boston University, Nelson will discuss how national and local events over the past four years have shaped the collective experience of the class of 2005. As she was writing her speech, she took inspiration from author Madeleine L’Engle, who once said, “We think because we have words, not the other way around.”

“The books we have read, the lectures we have heard, and the papers we have written have actually changed the way we think,” Nelson says. “They have improved the way we think.”

She will also discuss how national and local events have shaped her classmates’ worldview. Members of the class of 2005 had just begun their second week of classes on September 11, 2001, Nelson says, and the aftermath of the terrorist attacks profoundly shaped their subsequent four years. “The introduction of 9/11 into our lexicon certainly means that in many ways we think differently now than we did four years ago,” she says. “But it’s interesting that that started off our four years, and that in the end, we shared the Red Sox victory. Four years ago, the Red Sox were synonymous with dogged hope, and now they are synonymous with victory. Four years ago we were hopeful, and now we’ve crossed the finish line.”

Earlier this semester, President ad interim Aram Chobanian invited the University’s most academically accomplished seniors to submit a speech draft. A committee of faculty members and administrators received 23 submissions and listened to 5 finalists deliver their speeches before selecting Nelson to address the class of 2005. “I appreciate that Cassandra talks about the basics,” says Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore, who chaired the selection committee, “and the importance of a liberal education and the role of words in our lives.”

An English major graduating with honors from the College of Arts and Sciences, Nelson has been a Trustee Scholar for the past four years. While her postbaccalaureate plans haven’t yet crystallized, she sees herself eventually going to graduate school to study English literature, with the goal of teaching at the college level or going into publishing.

Nelson, who was her high school salutatorian in Landenberg, Pa., admits that she’s “a little intimidated” by the prospect of standing before a crowd of more than 20,000. “But I feel very honored and privileged to share the stage with some pretty impressive people,” she says. “It’s one time when I’m kind of thankful that I’m nearsighted. I’m hoping that once I get up there and take my glasses off to read the speech, everyone will just blend into a red sea.”


19 May 2005
Boston University
Office of University Relations