May 20, 2011 — “In every walk of life, we must try to eradicate human behavior based on blind prejudice and bigotry, and replace it with human decency,” prominent Holocaust educator Dr. Helen N. Fagin told the 167 members of New College of Florida’s Class of 2011 this evening as the College celebrated its 45th Annual Commencement on the great lawn of College Hall.

“It will become your task to be ever watchful of signs and uncivilized discourse, ignorance and even hatred creeping into the fabric of our social and political life. Take advantage of your personal potential and the many great opportunities that lie ahead for you to make this a better world for your generation, for future generations of Americans and, indeed, for the entire world,” Fagin urged graduates during a powerful and touching address that drew upon her own experiences as a Holocaust survivor and lifelong educator.

The ceremony, which included light breezes and a spectacular sunset over the Gulf of Mexico, drew more than 1,500 parents, alums and friends who gathered on the bay front to celebrate this year’s graduating class. Continuing tradition in New College’s 50th Anniversary year, students expressed their individuality with a colorful assortment of costumes, outfits and accessories in lieu of caps and gowns.

Fagin extolled the graduates to remember that no one can limit their spiritual freedom.   “No power could deny your own gift of creativity and no propaganda or indoctrination can affect your own sense of what is right and wrong.  Your New College diploma is your badge of honor – carry it with pride and integrity, and do your best to fulfill the promise your parents and the four years you have spent in this honors institution of learning have invested in you.”

During the opening remarks, New College President Mike Michalson thanked the graduates’ families for their moral and financial support over the years, describing the New College experience as “truly a family affair.” Michalson spoke about the value of personal connections that characterize this tight-knit community of approximately 800 students.

“My wish for you is that the sense of loyalty you feel toward one another as a class will deepen your appreciation for the value of your experience at this small and intimate institution,” he told the graduates. “After all, the New College experience is profoundly connected to the importance in life of personal relationships, such as those you’ve formed here.”

Michalson also offered an observation about the graduates’ future financial success in the context of the broader goals of a New College education.

“I naturally hope that some significant portion of you go on to become fabulously wealthy and then, in the natural course of things, think positive and generous thoughts about your alma mater,” he said.  “Nonetheless, I trust that all of you appreciate that the aim of your New College education has not been to make you more efficient in satisfying your acquisitive tendencies. Instead, the aim has been to leave you a more disciplined and self-reliant critical thinker, able to navigate the overwhelming contingencies that lie ahead of you with self-confidence, competence and humane impact.”

In addition to celebrating this year’s class of graduating students, tonight’s ceremony also marked the retirement of four longtime members of the New College community.  Provost Charlene Callahan (Psychology), Professors Catherine Elliott (Economics) and David Schatz (Russian Language and Literature) and New College Foundation Director of Events Mary Lou Wingerter Couch all were saluted by the crowd, with Wingerter Couch receiving the honor of being named an honorary alumna by the New College Alumnae/i Association.

Speaking on behalf of the three retiring faculty members, Schatz reflected on his more than 40 years as a teacher at New College.  “I am a better person because of my experience at New College, and I only hope that I have succeeded in giving as much as I have received from my wonderful students and colleagues over the years.”

This year’s graduating class of outstanding scholars included six Fulbright Fellows – who will travel to Namibia, Russia, Taiwan, Germany and Mexico – and a recipient of a State Department Critical Language Scholarship, who will study Punjabi in India. In addition, two New College graduates received teaching assistantships from the French government and two others were awarded Spanish Government English Language Teaching Assistantships.

For more information on New College’s 45th Annual Commencement, visit or contact the Office of Public Affairs at (941) 487-4153 or

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