Matriculation Address to the Class of 2027

President Kumar delivered the following address to the Undergraduate Class of 2027 at the matriculation ceremony on August 30, 2023:

Thank you, Caroline, for that kind introduction.

Welcome: Tufts University Class of 2027!

And welcome to the parents, families, and loved ones joining via livestream, whether from campus or from around the world.

It goes without saying that I wish I were giving this speech in person, but clearly, Mother Nature had different plans. But I know we will have many more opportunities to gather together over the next four years—hopefully under better weather conditions!

Students, I know what you’re thinking: Now comes the part in the program where we need to listen to a lengthy speech about what it means to be a college student and how critical this next chapter of our life will be. I’m sure you’ve heard this talk many times from your parents, family members, and teachers over the past few months, and are tired of it. So, I will do my best to spare you that today.

Another thing I’m not going to talk about is the practicality of your Tufts education. Instead, I’m going to offer a slightly different perspective, but one that is equally important—how to not be too practical during your time here. And I’d like to offer a few pieces of advice as you begin your journey at Tufts.

Today, you are on the verge of a new and unfamiliar path. Like starting anything new, it is natural to experience several conflicting feelings: uncertainty and fear of the unknown, as well as curiosity and excitement about the opportunities that lie before you.

When you look back on this day in 20 years, trust me when I say that you probably won’t remember how nervous you felt, or how embarrassed you were when your parents cried dropping you off—despite you begging them not to. Instead, what I hope you recall the most is that sensation of pure, unbridled curiosity and excitement. I encourage you to hold on to that feeling and let it be your guiding light—not only during your time at Tufts, but throughout your life.

This brings me to my first piece of advice: Every now and then, when someone asks you why you are doing something, your answer should be “Why not?”

Right now, you may take pride in feeling like you already have everything mapped out. You may have already decided what to major and minor in, what classes to take, or what clubs to enroll in. But if you’re sitting at this same spot four years from now, having followed the precise plan you had set on day one, then Tufts has failed you.

As you’ll come to learn, one of the great advantages of being a college student is the immense freedom you are afforded. In many ways, you will be freer here at Tufts than at almost anywhere else you’ve been or anywhere else you will likely go. That’s because there are many different freedoms and nearly all of them converge on the university campus. Freedom from parental constraints, freedom to travel, freedom to develop your own identity, freedom to worship or not, freedom of expression, and freedom to pursue ideas wherever they may lead without undue interference.

I urge you to take full advantage of this freedom. It will never be easier to explore a new discipline or to discover new ways of viewing the world than in the next four years.

Take a course for which you cannot find a practical justification. If you’re a computer science major, take a course in philosophy. If you’re a philosophy major, take a course in computer science. And regardless of your major, take at least one course in electrical engineering (as an electrical engineer myself, I couldn’t resist a shameless plug).

Share a room with a fellow Jumbo whom you have almost nothing in common with other than your common love for Tufts.

Engage and debate with people who fundamentally disagree with you on issues that divide society.

Pick up a sport or club activity, despite lacking aptitude or ability for said sport or activity.

Find satisfaction in being wrong.

All of these things I have just listed share one thing in common—they require stepping outside of your comfort zone.

Which brings me to my second piece of advice: while you’re exploring and taking advantage of your freedom, don’t be afraid to be uncomfortable.

As students, you will often find yourself in new and unfamiliar circumstances. You will be asked to make choices that affect the kind of experience you have and the direction of your life in the future. You won’t always know what to do.

When that happens, remember that you are not alone. Tufts is a caring place full of helpful, thoughtful people who are committed to helping you thrive. Here at Tufts, seeking support is not a sign of failure or weakness, but a sign of strength and self-awareness.

At the same time, I want to draw an important distinction between support and comfort. As a university, it is our responsibility to support you—but it is not our responsibility to ensure that you stay within your comfort zone.

Over the next four years, you may be tempted to choose the most comfortable or predictable route—you may decide to take a course that you know will give you an easy A, or you may decide against studying abroad because you’d be the only one in your friend group to do so.

But new ideas and personal growth rarely come from within your comfort zone. I firmly believe in the value of so-called mistakes and failures. They help you discover deep truths about yourself and your calling.

When I came to the US to pursue my PhD in Electrical Engineering, I moved from Bangalore, India—a city of several million people, to Urbana, Illinois—a city of a few tens of thousands. Up until then, I had never set foot in America and had never even heard of the Midwest. I had never been on an airplane! To say I felt out of place when I arrived would be an understatement.

At the University of Illinois, my first office mate was a stereotypical Midwesterner who grew up on a farm in Southern Illinois. As you can imagine, we didn’t have much in common.

My solution to this discomfort? I grew a ponytail, bought a twenty-year-old Cadillac, and developed a taste for truck stop food. Looking back, these were arguably not the wisest decisions I’ve ever made, but the point is that I immersed myself in discomfort rather than shying away from it. Despite our differences, my office mate became a friend who I’m still in touch with today. And my time in the Midwest opened up doors to opportunities that I didn’t know existed when I first came to America.

So, when you are debating whether to take that course on a topic you’ve always been curious about, or whether to fulfil your dream of studying abroad and immersing yourself in a new language and culture, ask yourself how that decision will contribute to your overall learning and growth. And, if you’re still unsure, just ask yourself “Why not?”

Whatever path you choose to take, we already know you will succeed. You are Jumbos, after all.

I realize that what I've said so far may give you the impression that I’m preaching. But in reality, I’m also reminding the university—and, by extension, myself—of the responsibility we have to provide you with transformative experiences that will challenge you, broaden your horizons, and question, rather than reaffirm, your beliefs. And we cannot tell you to do these things if we are unable to do the same ourselves.

I would like to close by sharing a brief history lesson—and before you start rolling your eyes, I promise I will keep it short.

In the early years following Tufts’ founding in 1852, Matriculation, as you can imagine, looked a bit different than it does today. Rather than a ceremony to welcome first-year and transfer students to Tufts, it referred to a book—called the Matriculation Book—that outlined the rules of Tufts College. All incoming students were required to sign this book agreeing to the terms of these rules.

To give you a sense of what these rules entailed, one of them stated the following: “No student is to go out of the towns of Medford and Somerville, without written leave from the President, or from a College Officer.”

Thankfully, things have changed since then. You are no longer required to sign a book, and you no longer need permission from me or a member of the administration to leave campus.

In fact, I’m doing the opposite—I’m urging you to leave the gates of this campus. Explore our host communities in Chinatown, the Fenway, and Grafton. Enroll in a course on a different campus. Engage in volunteer and community service activities. Take advantage of everything the vibrant city of Boston has to offer.

And don’t just leave campus physically, but intellectually as well. Follow your sense of curiosity, go outside your comfort zone, and never forget to ask: “Why not?”

Now before I end for good this time, I’d like to assure you that I haven’t forgotten the fun part of being at Tufts—and I worry that you are all such earnest and responsible people. So, I would like to announce a call for proposals for funding events. Successful proposals will have the cost of an event covered if they are:

1.     Good, clean, and safe

2.     Not profligate

3.     Open to any member of the Tufts community

4.     Have no purpose other than simply being fun.

If you’ve already started planning the Great Snowball Fight on the President’s Lawn, then please, go ahead—I’ll supply the hot cocoa and marshmallows.

Today marks the beginning of an exciting journey, and it is a privilege for me to be part of it. I look forward to getting to know each of you during your time here, and I can’t wait to see what you will accomplish.

What else is there to say but: Congratulations, and welcome to Tufts University!

Thank you.