Interim Provost Marion Crain’s address to the Class of 2023

Marion Crain
“Open your mind to the complexity and wonder of the world,” Marion Crain, interim provost, told the Class of 2023. (Photo: Sid Hastings/Washington University)

Welcome, Class of 2023!! 

Two questions should occupy your mind tonight. 

  1. Why are you people on the platform here?
  2. Why am I here?

As to the first question: Every one of us on this platform and the faculty teaching your classes and living in the residence halls with you and the caring  WashU staff you will meet tonight and beyond are here to guide you on the next stage of your journey, to help you find your own voice and chart your path forward.

As for me, in particular: Vice Chancellor White introduced me as the “provost.”

That introduction probably doesn’t help much because most people don’t know what a provost is. 

The provost is the university’s chief academic officer. I oversee the schools, the classes, the faculty and research activities, as well as many aspects of the student experience outside the classroom. The provost works with the chancellor to set academic priorities for the university, to allocate resources to advance them and to implement them. The chancellor is out in front on those things and I’m mostly behind the scenes. To put it simply, if the chancellor is Batman, the provost is Robin. 

Another way to think about it is what the provost does relative to the deans of the schools: If the schools are the instruments, the provost is the conductor, helping all the instruments play in a coordinated harmony so that the whole of the music is greater than the sum of its parts.

Now, as to the second question: why you are here. Every one of you is here because you deserve to be, because of all that made you who you are. You’re the cream of the crop. You are here to answer for yourselves the most important question of all, and you can’t find it by Googling on your iPhones. In the words of poet Mary Oliver, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

This is the question we all struggle with. 

It’s traditional at this juncture to utter a few words of sage counsel on how to use your time at the university to help answer this question. In this case, the answer was available on Google — again, from Mary Oliver. Consider these instructions for living life, which seem appropriate here:

Pay attention.

Be astonished.

Tell about it.

It’s that simple. 

But bear with me while I embellish just a little. While you are here, think about the kind of life you want to build. Who do you want to become?

Open your mind to the complexity and wonder of the world. Take advantage of opportunities to engage with ideas that are unfamiliar and feel a bit uncomfortable. It is often said that life begins at the edge of your comfort zone, and that’s true of learning as well.

Take classes that appeal to your heart and soul or pique your curiosity. And especially, take classes outside your major — at least one every year, and better yet, one every semester. If you’re studying science, take some classes in the humanities or art. How about a class on the art of medicine? Designing creativity? Or aging? We have those. If you’re studying humanities, take some classes in the sciences. How about a class on climate change or sustainability? If you’re studying business, take a class on Shakespeare or philosophy. How about a class on morality and markets? We have that one, too.

Finally, talk to people about what you are learning. Talk to your peers, your parents, your classmates, your teachers and the wonderful, compassionate WashU staff who cook and serve your food, pick up your trash, clean your room, check out your library books and advise you on course selections. Confide in them, seek advice from them, share your wonder with them. All have something to teach you, and we will learn from the questions you ask us, too.


Pay attention.

Be astonished.

Tell about it.

We can’t wait to learn what you will do with your wild and precious lives. Welcome Bears, Class of 2023! 

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