|June 7, 2010|
Text of President Stephen C. Ainlay's baccalaureate remarks Saturday
We gather together for this Baccalaureate Ceremony in Memorial Chapel, a beloved spaces for many graduates of Union College. During the recent ReUnion weekend, I ran into a member of the class of 1970 who was back for his 40th ReUnion. His son was interviewing in Grant Hall when I stopped to talk with him outside the Chapel. He said he’d walked through the doors of the Chapel; it was empty with only natural light streaming through the windows. He reported that, as he gazed at the room, adorned with the portraits of former Presidents of the College, a flood of memories came over him, overwhelming him with emotion.
Memorial Chapel was completed in 1925 and was intended to honor Union alumni who had been killed in wars up to that time, especially the then recent conflict of World War I. Over the ensuing years, it’s evolved into a place for remembering the passing of all graduates of the College and other members of the Union community. For this reason, each year at the Baccalaureate ceremony, we take time to honor those members of the Union family who died during the preceding year. We do so again today. Their names are listed in the program and I would ask that you join me in remembering them, their many contributions, and their love of Union with a brief moment of silence.
Well, you are almost there! On Sunday, you will join the ranks of the more than 20,000 Union alumni who live in places near and far, places all across the globe. You will have the opportunity to do what so many before you have done; that is, you will have the opportunity to take what you’ve learned and apply it to whatever field of endeavor you choose. You will have the opportunity, in the grand tradition of Union, to make a difference.
Tomorrow will be a day for celebrating what you’ve accomplished and for contemplating the “commencement” of your life after Union. Today, however, I would ask you to focus on remembering. Our Baccalaureate provides an opportunity to pause before you end your time here, to reflect on accomplishments, friends, mentors, experiences, and on the sacrifices that made this weekend possible.
I told the Class of 1960 the story of the 1970 alumnus who told me how special Memorial Chapel was to him and they all nodded in agreement. When they gathered here for their Alumni Convocation, the Class of 1960 remembered that their senior year was the beginning of the turbulent decade of the 60s. They remembered that in their senior year Alaska was admitted as our 50th state, Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone premiered on television, and the Guggenheim Museum opened its doors to the public in New York City. They remembered that four African American students occupied a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, NC, in one of the key early events in the civil rights movement. They remembered that the Soviets shot down a U-2 spy plane, igniting a confrontation with the U.S. government. They remembered a young Senator by the name of John Kennedy who won the California presidential primary. And, the remembered that Elvis Presley returned from two years of military service in Germany during their senior year, delighting young people across the country (and sometimes annoying their parents) with the release of “Are You Lonesome Tonight.”
Memories of all these national and world events came back to the 50 Year Class during their ReUnion weekend. Similarly, memories of their times at Union rushed over them. I know this because one of the joys of being President is that alumni share these memories with you during the visits back to campus. One member of the Class of 1960 brought his clarinet along to a reception we held in the President’s House. He wasn’t there long until he was joined by a keyboard player from his class and, even though they hadn’t played together in 50 years, they performed song after song, re-living their membership in a campus “Dixieland” jazz band and delighting other class members and their spouses. The members of the Class of ’60, remembered arriving at West Hall with a foot locker that contained a suit and sport coat. They remembered bringing typewriters and transistor radios. Computers, Playstations, flat screen televisions, cell phones, and SUVs were not part of their experience – none of them existed in the fall of 1956 when they arrived on campus.
The Class of 1960 remembered being welcomed by Dean Huntley. They recounted influential faculty – like Ed Craig, Edgar Curtis, Harold Larrabee, Sherwood Fox, Clarence Goodheart, and Joe Finkelstein – who had introduced them to a new book or a new way of thinking. They remembered Bob Ridings, the athletic equipment manager, who fired the small cannon at games and oversaw the “cage.” They remembered Carter Davidson, their President, who struck fear in their young and impressionable hearts as he strode across campus. They remembered broadcasting new and sometimes controversial tunes on WRUC. They remembered mentors who helped them plan their course of study and their lives. They remembered housekeepers and dining hall workers who took care of them. They remembered exciting games. They remembered cold, especially when walking past the Nott Memorial. They remembered dances arranged with Skidmore students. They recounted roommates and close friends. They remembered good times and good conversations.
What will you remember about your time at Union? I suspect you will remember arriving at the College in the fall of 2006 – some of you arriving in SUVs, some with U-Hauls – carting along computers, printers, flat screen tvs, ipods, cell phones, and video games. I greeted a good many of you, your arms loaded and parents in tow. I suspect you will remember world events such as the devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake that hit Haiti. You will remember a catastrophic oil leak that defied technology and attempts to plug it, fouling the Gulf of Mexico. You will remember “swine flu.” You will remember the winter Olympic games held in Vancouver. You may well remember a men’s hockey season that posted the best record in the history of the program and went to the ECAC finals. You may remember a walk-off home run at a women’s softball game and the obvious glee of the children from the Boy’s and Girl’s Clubs who were there to cheer the team on. Many of you will remember Hoops for Help, a faculty/staff/student basketball game that raised money to help people in Haiti and Chile who urgently needed it. You will remember that you helped build a playground at Jerry Burrell Park in Schenectady’s Hamilton Hill area, bringing safe play space to city children. I hope you will remember that the Schenectady Chamber of Commerce gave us an award for the help we give to the city, we were placed on the President’s Honor Roll of Colleges that serve their communities, and the Schenectady County legislature gave us an award for our sustainability efforts and the Princeton Review declared us one of the nation’s “greenest” colleges. I hope you remember this because you helped garner these awards for Union.
I am sure that you will remember your roommates, and your friends and your favorite faculty. I predict you will talk proudly of the ways in which your relationships with all of them continue to flourish long after graduation. In short, some of the details of your experience will be different when you return for your 50th than they were for those in the Class of 1960 but something will be strikingly similar.
I like to say that in choosing to attend Union, a person chooses a lifetime membership. I mean that. Your relationship with Union will change tomorrow. But, I would urge you to hold onto all that it’s been and take advantage of all that it can continue to be for you. Come back for ReUnions and Homecomings. Attend Alumni Symposia the College sponsors – we’ve done three so far, focused on immigration, health care, and the smart grid respectively. While you may not feel like sitting in another class today, mark my word you will want to relive that experience in the future. Make the trip to Union when you see that a concert, game, or theatre performance is coming up that you would simply hate to miss. Go out to the alumni event that’s nearby the place you come to live, even if you are tired after a long day’s work. Stay connected with each other.
And, when you are back on campus, be sure to look back into Memorial Chapel, with the light streaming through its windows, and, like the alumnus from the Class of 1970, let the memories rush over you.