I am pleased to add my greetings on this very special occasion, the 219th anniversary of our charter being granted by the New York Board of Regents.
I join this celebration having spent a sabbatical leave, generously awarded by the Board of Trustees, separated from the College. I have been asked by many students: did you enjoy the time away? And, I’ve found that the best way of answering this is to appeal to the experience so many of our students have during Study Away – it was wonderful, but we couldn’t wait to get back. I’m delighted to be back home at this remarkable institution, rejoining this remarkable “academic village,” reconnecting with all of you. And, my temporary separation from Union has only deepened my appreciation of our history and our distinctive mission within higher education.
Preparing for this day, I did what I do every year; I turned back to those resources that document the distinguished history of Union College. On Sunday, I read at Codman Hislop’s biography of Eliphalet Nott to remind myself of the remarkably difficult environment within which this young minister operated, first as a Trustee of Union and then as it’s 4th President. I also read at Wayne Somer’s wonderful Encyclopedia of Union College – always a source of remarkable detail and always a source of amazement; amazement at the many ways in which this remarkable institution and it’s graduates have changed the world.
Monuments to Union’s impact on the world abound: the wonderful statues of William Seward that grace Madison Square Park, in New York City and Volunteer Park in Seattle or the new statue of Seward planned for Juno, Alaska – they all attest to the difference this Union alumnus made while serving as Senator and Governor of New York and as U.S. Secretary of State; the New York subway system itself, stands as a sort of monument to Union graduate Solomon Deyo who designed the first New York subway; Murray Hall on the campus of Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey (and, I might add, the site of my first faculty office), stands a monument to the Union graduate David Murray who taught mathematics, astronomy, and natural philosophy there many years and who helped design the Japanese system of education when he served as that country’s Superintendent of the Imperial Ministry of Education; I like to think that the University of Michigan stands as sort of memorial to Henry Philip Tappan, that schools first President, a graduate of Union College, and his vision for what a research university should be about; the Hepatitis B vaccine, which continues to preserve the lives of millions, gives testimony to the legacy of Dr. Barry Blumberg, another Union graduate. I could go on and on.
Founders Day is a time to celebrate the faith that the New York Board of Regents placed in this college in Upstate New York. It is also a time to reflect on the many ways in which this college has justified their faith. And it is a time to remind ourselves of our continuing obligation to justify that faith, our continuing obligation to make a difference.