Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College
Commencement Reunion

Debby H. Dluhy '62

Posted on May 23, 2012

Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts



My thanks to Dr. Crutcher and my fellow trustees for this great honor.

I am very pleased to have two degrees from Wheaton. This one took just a little longer than the first.

When I was first notified that Wheaton planned to award me an honorary doctorate this spring, I expressed hope that perhaps my new degree might be an honorary Doctor of Laws. It would have been very nice for once in my life to have the billable hours of an attorney.

Let me begin by sending a warm welcome to our commencement guests, particularly to my family; husband, Bob; daughter Lenora; brother, Jeff; Kathy and Tomas who join me here today. I thank them for coming. And for their support over the years.

A special welcome to the great Class of 1962 here for our 50th Reunion.


Welcome to all alumni/alumnae here this weekend. Thank you for your many contributions to Wheaton. It is your continuing and growing generosity that makes possible this wonderful education and maintains our college as one of the preeminent schools in the country.

Finally, and above all, I want most especially to applaud the Wheaton staff and faculty. Your dedication, your work with students, brings forth the promise of a new generation of informed and caring citizens of the world.

Today belongs to the Class of 2012. My congratulations to our newest graduates and to your families. This is a great day for you all. Graduates and parents, together you have made one of life's most important investments, a liberal education.

I know that graduating seniors have worked very hard. Graduates, my greatest hope for you is your Wheaton education has awakened your curiosity and led to the discovery of the things that matter deeply to you.

During these four years you have learned how to learn. This will provide the basis for living an abundantly fulfilling life in a world that presents no shortage of challenges. I plan to follow the guiding principle of an admired 20th century architect, Ludwig Van Der Rohe, who believed less is more.

Only some distance from my own graduation had I realized how much Wheaton has influenced my life and my life's work. It was here that my studies in art began. Taking art history courses, a survey in my freshman year, and in 1958, that class met in the basement of the Chapel. A perfect dark spot for viewing slides, with the occasional interruption of organ rehearsal above.

We studied for our exams by reviewing faded black-and-white photos mounted on cardboard, dog-eared from excessive handling and nearly as old as some of the monuments themselves.

We had no digitized images, access on computer screens, and streaming into our rooms. So much has changed. Yet what distinguished Wheaton then distinguishes Wheaton today. The close faculty and student interaction, the support offered to individual learners, and the caring community of this college. These are the hallmarks of the Wheaton experience. They are as important today as they were 50 years ago. And they don't have to stop with graduation. I stand before you as the living proof that Wheaton can stay a part of your life.

It was my Wheaton faculty who recommended me for graduate work, who wrote to get me my first job in teaching. It was another Wheaton contact who took a chance on me when I changed fields going from college teaching to nonprofit administration.

Class of 2012, not only do you have the benefit of the faculty support, you have the additional advantage of a strong network of alums who are valuable resources to you. I hope that you will never hesitate to reach out to your Wheaton College [peers] across the generations. They too will be there for you.

I would just like to share one personal story and it's about Wheaton. It's about starting out, or in my case restarting out. This may have relevance to you at some point, perhaps a first job, perhaps a change in path. My story and an important lesson came when I took a sharp bend in the road and entered what was for me a completely new field in nonprofit administration, dropping what felt like a huge shift from my position as a college faculty member to an entry level position and very junior staff member.

I applied for a job in the development office at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. My Ph.D. in liberal arts was not important the day I went for that interview with the head of development at the MFA. In fact, what did matter to him went back to my junior year of college, some 19 years earlier, when he had been head of public relations at Wheaton.

He remembered me and a large dance production I had helped to create in which I had a leading role. The work so impressed him then that he had wanted to film it as a public relations piece for the college. During the interview he commented, if I could do that well, perhaps I could also tackle development work. Though he was concerned the museum position would involve a lot of donkey work, his words, not mine, he offered me the job and allowed me to find out for myself.

A Wheaton connection helped me get in the door. The rest would be up to me. I had wonderful mentors at the MFA and within eight years I was moved into the museum's school administration. My experience at the MFA that first year taught me this: Don't be afraid to take a chance and try something new. And if you do, don't rest on whatever laurels you think you have. No matter what you are given to do, no matter how menial the task, do them thoroughly and do them well, then ask for more. This will move you forward faster than anything else I know. You will never be promoted or given more responsibility just because people think that you are bored.

Happily I did the donkey work well. I raised lots of money and became successful in development. Ultimately, I raised sufficient money to build the museum's school building, then I was able to use my Ph.D. in art and newly acquired administrative experience in the fullest possible way, becoming an associate dean at museum school and ultimately overseeing the education of artists there. A different but very rewarding outcome for my life's dream and purpose.

I encourage you all to embrace your lives, your journeys with vigor and excitement. You are well prepared and you have many Wheaton friends to be with you along the way.

Class of 2012, I wish for each of you a journey that is defined by the things you care about, enriched by the people you love, spiced by the challenges you will face, and rewarded by fulfilling of commitment to the well-being of others. Thank you for sharing your day with me.

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