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Commencement Speaker Tells Graduates to Treasure Juniata Values

(Posted May 18, 2009)

Peter Marzio, director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, said "Juniata has a better sense of itself than any other college or university I have encountered since my days here" at Juniata's 131st commencement ceremony.

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Peter Marzio, director of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas, asked the 2009 graduating class at Juniata College to use the qualities within themselves and the values they were taught at Juniata and apply those principles and values to the larger world at the college's 131st commencement ceremony May 16.

The graduating class of 337 students was awarded bachelor of arts (120) or bachelor of science degrees (217) at the ceremony today presided over by Juniata President Thomas R. Kepple Jr. For trivia buffs, as Kepple shook the hand of the 268th graduate, Jessica Milstein, he succeeded in congratulating the most graduates in Juniata history (3,305), breaking the previous record (3,304) held by the late Calvert Ellis, Juniata president from 1943 to 1968.

The senior graduating class statistics include that 96 percent graduated in four years or less, more than 40 percent of seniors studied abroad, and 85 percent completed an internship, research experience or student teaching, and 33 percent completed an individualized study program.

"Juniata College is not weird. It has a better sense of itself than any other college or university I have encountered since my days here," Marzio said in commencement address introduction. "Indeed its curriculum continually morphs into different courses and combinations of disciplines, but its objective is the same as when I attended: to help us get a strong sense of who we are. 'Know thyself' sounds so simple, but it is a demanding, complex command that requires all of our energy."

Marzio, who has helped build the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas into one of the finest art museums in the country, enumerated a handful of essential principles he learned at Juniata. He told his audience that: humility is an essential value; teamwork helps you learn about yourself; a belief in community is fundamental; and to be open to others and defend diversity. "I remember students helping prisoners in Lewistown learn to read; others worked with gangs in Chicago; there were food and clothing drives. I saw some of the brightest students in America at Juniata go on to become superb doctors, lawyers and businessmen -- students who could write their own ticket anywhere, but who preferred to return to their own towns and apply their genius to the communities they loved," he said, illustrating his point about community values.

I saw some of the brightest students in America at Juniata go on to become superb doctors, lawyers and businessmen -- students who could write their own ticket anywhere, but who preferred to return to their own towns and apply their genius to the communities they loved."
Peter Marzio, director of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas

Marzio also used his career as a Juniata football player to remind students that participating in the life of a college, whether through sports, community service or academics, can be its own reward. "The world is more malleable today than at any time since the end of World War II. If you apply the Juniata values of 'know thyself' to your world, the possibilities are endless."

Marzio explained that his Juniata education gave him a wide base of knowledge that has been incredibly useful in his own career journey, saying, "I found the range of intellectual experiences to be my salvation. I declared history as my major, but I also accumulated a lot of credits in geology and in art history from the man who gave me the confidence to be myself, Professor Barbash. In graduate school at the University of Chicago, I got a scholarship to enroll in both the history and art history departments. And I am convinced that part of the reason things have gone so well for me in Houston for the past 27 years is my basic understanding of geology, especially as it relates to the oil industry."

"Today you are graduating from a top-notch school," he concluded. "If you have made it through all the hurdles that this dynamic liberal arts institution sets up, then you can make it against the greatest odds. Just remember, few people have learned the Juniata values of know thyself. That is what the world will learn from you."

The 2009 Senior Class Gift collected more than $13,380 (71 percent of the class contributed to the gift), which will be used to build and design a study garden beside Beeghly Library to provide a quiet outdoor space that complements other sustainability initiatives on the Juniata campus.

Marzio has led the Houston museum since 1982 and has overseen a period of growth with attendance increasing from 300,000 to 1.6 million and the museum's endowment growing from $5 million to $1.1 billion. The museum's budget increased from $5 million to $52 million and the museum's permanent collection has nearly tripled to 57,000 works of art.

He earned a bachelor's degree from Juniata in 1965. He received a master's degree in 1966 and a doctoral degree in 1969 from the University of Chicago.

He has written extensively about art and history. His most recent book is "A Permanent Legacy: 150 Works from the Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts," published in 1989. He was editor and a contributor to the Smithsonian's Bicentennial book "Nation of Nations" and wrote two acclaimed histories of American drawing and lithography, "Art Crusade" (1776) and The Democratic Art" (1979). He also wrote "Rube Goldberg: His Life and Work" in 1973.

At the University of Chicago, Marzio served as research assistant to Professor Daniel J. Boorstin, working on "The Americans: The Democratic Experience," which received the Pulitzer Prize in 1973.

Marzio, a native of Governor's Island in New York City, moved into his museum career in 1969 when he became curator of prints and chair of the Department of Cultural History at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of History and Technology. In 1978, he became director and chief executive officer of the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. During his time in Washington, he also taught as an associate professor of art history at the University of Maryland from 1967 to 1977.


Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.