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Union's 218th Commencement Exercises:  Charge to Graduates

Commencement 2012

June 10, 2012

I want to thank our honorary degree recipients – Dr. Ratigan and Dr. Powell – 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.

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 those who are retiring: David Gerhan and Tom McFadden from the Library, Harry Marten from the English Department, Linda Patrick from Philosophy, and Mike Rudko from Electrical and Computer Engineering.

We need to also thank Professor William Finlay, our Marshall, the members of the Commencement Committee as well as the entire Union staff for organizing this day, readying this beautiful campus, putting up awnings, setting up chairs, preparing food that we will enjoy, and many other things.

Members of the Class of 2012, you know better than I do that you have many to thank for helping you reach this day.  I would invite all the members of the Class of 2012 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.

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.

Before we take our leave, however, I’d ask you to be seated for just a few more minutes and allow me to say a few words to the members of the Class of 2012. 

On Tuesday evening of this week, at the Senior Dinner in College Park Hall, I asked you to cheer the “Great Class of 2012.”  You’ve done much over the past four years here at Union to make you worthy of that designation.  Let me just remind you of some of the things you’ve done. 

Members of your class have recorded a number of historic firsts.  I probably don’t need to remind you that our men’s hockey team once again had the ECAC’s best regular season record and, for the first time in our school’s history went on to win the ECAC championship series.  We also won, for the first time in our school’s history, the regional final and advanced to the Frozen Four.  What a run; what an accomplishment!  And, members of the Class of 2012 were indispensable to this success.  Similarly, our men’s lacrosse team, for the first time in our school’s history, hosted an NCAA playoff game and advanced to the NCAA quarter finals.  What a run; what an accomplishment!  And again, members of the Class of 2012 were critical and three seniors were named USILA Scholar All-Americans. Other members of your class, on both men’s and women’s teams, realized great success on the court, field, track and ice and in and on the water. 

And athletics was not the only area where your class established firsts for the school. Members of the Class of 2012 were also pioneers of sorts in expanding educational opportunities.  Members of your class were part of the first group of student interns we sent to IBM global research centers, developing the opportunities future Union students will have to link technology with global experiences.  Yes indeed, you accomplished much.

Members of your class helped set other records as well.  The Class of 2012 helped Union College once again claimed top honors in Recyclemania – named the best among all colleges and universities in per capita recycling.  We recycled 61.79 pounds per student or a total of 161 metric tons of carbon dioxide output. That’s the equivalent of taking 86 cars off the road.  The Class of 2012 was also key to setting a new record of volunteer service to our surrounding community.  Union students provided over 13,000 hours of service beyond our gates and your class was a big part of this story.  Yes indeed, you’ve accomplished much.

When you weren’t setting records, you were nevertheless breaking new ground.  Members of the Class of 2012 introduced Two Degrees bars.  Using a one-for-one-model, every bar sold yielded a meal for a malnourished child.  Members of your class led efforts to ensure the implementation of the College’s new honor code, emphasizing the importance of academic integrity to our learning environment. Members of your class founded new organizations like U-Break and Alpha Delta Lambda, a non-residential service-based sorority.  Members of your class led to way in establishing a “green fee” to advance our efforts to increase sustainable practices and improve our community.  Yes, indeed, you’ve accomplished much.

It’s not surprising then that when the College dedicated new facilities that have greatly enhanced our learning environment – facilities like the Wold Center, Lippman Hall, and the new Neuroscience facility in Butterfield Hall – we turned to members of the Class of 2012 to give voice to the student perspective.

Yes, it’s fair to lay claim to being “the Great Class of 2012.”  But what will you do next as you take your place in new communities around the country and around the world? 

I would remind you that with the opportunities that Union has given you comes the responsibility to make a difference.  This has been part of what it means to be a graduate of Union since the time of the school’s founding. 

To help you remember this, I want to recount a memorable moment from this year’s men’s hockey season.  When Coach Rick Bennett was asked by reporters in Tampa if he thought Union had a chance to win, he responded by asking simply “Why not Union?”  I loved his response; it showed a certain confidence but it also said something about not being intimidated by the scale of the undertaking.  I believe we should shorten Coach Bennett’s question in characteristic Union fashion (thus, “why not Union?” becomes “why not U?”) and keep this question at the fore as we encounter seemingly insurmountable challenges.  I’d urge you to make it a motto for the Class of 2012 as you go forward with your life journey.

As you enter your new communities, take responsibility for meeting the seemingly insurmountable challenges you will encounter with similar confidence.  When you encounter injustice in your communities and wonder who will address it, imagine your alma mater asking: “Why not U?” When you encounter political inertia and wonder who will break the logjam and bring about change, again, imagine old Union asking:  “Why not U?” When you confront failures of technology, organization and wonder who will develop new innovations, reform the organization, and create a will to persevere, ask yourself “Why not U?” I think you get the point.  Don’t look to the next person or the next generation. Take responsibility. I have every confidence that you will, knowing as I do, the “Great Class of 2012.”

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.

All of us at Union look forward to welcoming you home to this special place many times in the years ahead.  I wish you the best, members of the Class of 2012, you sisters and brothers under the laws of Minerva, you daughters and sons of Union College.