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Union College 216th Commencement Exercises:  Charge to Graduates

June 13, 2010

Commencement (June 2010)

What a wonderful way to celebrate the accomplishments of the Class of 2010!

I want to thank our honorary degree recipients -- Dr. Horn and Dr. Dresselhaus -- for being with us today. You honor us with your presence and we are proud to count you among our own.

I would call your attention to the list of prize recipients, printed in the back pages of the Commencement Program. They received their awards at Prize Day but I would ask you to join me in recognizing them today with your applause.

I recently heard Cory Booker, the Mayor of Newark, give a talk in Boston. He urged the students to remember their families but to also remember those many ancestors - people long since gone - who labored and often lived hard lives to create the opportunities they have today. Mayor Booker was right, of course: people who lived their lives long ago, toiled in fields, factories, and forests, should be remembered. You owe many generations for their sacrifices which opened the opportunities that you have today.

While you can't know, let alone thank, all those who long ago contributed to your success, you can thank those who most immediately made all this possible. I would invite all the members of the Class of 2010 to stand, turn to your family and friends in attendance today, and join me in thanking them with applause for their love and support which prepared you for Union and sustained you the past four years.

Would all of you join me in thanking the members of the Union faculty who have shared their love of learning with you these past four years and especially John Boyer, Barbara Boyer, David Hemmendinger, and Terry Weiner who are retiring this year.

I also want to thank Professor William Finlay, our Marshal, the members of the Commencement Committee as well as the entire Union staff for organizing this day, readying this beautiful campus, and preparing food that we will enjoy. They have approached this day with their usual care and professionalism.

I invite all of you - graduates, friends, family members, faculty, staff, and administrators--to join the divisional receptions immediately following this ceremony. These divisional receptions offer a fine opportunity to affirm the bonds that have been forged.

Now please allow me a few words to our graduates. The Class of 2010 is my first four-year class. You are the first Union students to know me as your only President. That has been my honor; that has been my privilege.

When people ask me about young people today, and they often do, I point to you when I answer. I praise the difference you have made in the world beyond our campus: feeding those who desperately need help through programs like the Campus Kitchen project and Octopus's Garden; building playgrounds in areas where children desperately need safe places to play, like Jerry Burrell Park; sending much needed financial support to places devastated by natural disasters, like the Hoops for Help faculty-staff-student game which sent funds to aid earthquake recovery efforts in Haiti and Chile; raising funds for research aimed at ending cancer and other life-threatening illnesses, like Pink at the Rink and Relay for Life; and, winning recognition from the Schenectady Chamber of Commerce and even President Obama for your many contributions. You've done much.

I praise your academic accomplishments: you've received Minerva Fellowships, Watson Fellowships, Fulbright Fellowships, been finalists for prestigious prizes like the Gagliardi Trophy and received a host of other honorific prizes and awards; you've been celebrated by being named to Liberty League and ECAC all-academic teams; you've had unprecedented successes in national competitions, like the Ethics Bowl; you've inspired us with you Steinmetz presentations, performances, and posters; you've captured our imaginations with your artistic work; you've presented at regional and national academic conferences; you've published. Again, you've done much.

I praise the difference you've made at Union. Our Middle States visitation team commended Union for its appreciation of the richness that comes with a diverse community and commended us for becoming a more welcoming place. Much of this owes to your efforts. Your efforts also helped us earn a special award from the Schenectady County Legislature in recognition of our implementation of sustainable practices and the Princeton Review declared Union one of the nation's greenest campuses. Again, you've done much.

Hopefully Union has done much for you as well. I hope that your time here has helped you find your passion. I hope your time at Union has deepened your love of learning and provided you with intellectual and social tools that will allow you to be successful in whatever you choose to be and do. I cannot think of a field of endeavor where graduates of Union haven't made a difference; I have every confidence that the same will be true of you.

And, I hope you carry with you memories, friendships, and commitments that will endure. I predict that they will because that is truly a hallmark of the Union experience. But don't make me wrong! Nurture the relationships you've developed here. Stay in touch with each other. Stay in touch with people who made a difference in your life and who care about what happens to you. And come home to Union, you will always be welcome here.

It is impossible to spend four years at Union and not hear about the fabled accomplishments of those who graduated ahead of you. I told you at the President's Dinner on Tuesday evening that the "Union Notables" posters that now adorn the walls of College Park Hall should inspire you as you contemplate the possibilities for your life. Seward, Bigelow, Barrett, and Morgan should be more than names to you; you should think of them as fellow-villagers who also lived and studied at this storied college, separated from you only by time, united with you in a common purpose. What is that purpose? To take what you've learned here and translate it into improving whatever field of endeavor you choose, improving the communities you join, improving the lives of the people you encounter along your life journeys.

I would like to close today's Commencement ceremony and send you on your way, by paraphrasing the charge that Union's first President, John Blair Smith, gave to Union students over 200 years ago: "as you leave this place, do so ready for a useful life." No matter what you choose to do in the years ahead, remember that your academic lineage is a great one and your lineage beckons you to make a difference.

I look forward to welcoming you home to this special place many times in the years ahead. I wish you the best, you sisters and brothers under the laws of Minerva, you daughters and sons of Union College.