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Text of President Stephen C. Ainlay's charge to graduates

I want to thank our honorary degree recipients – Dr. Woodruff and Dr. Bell – 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 Hannay from Computer Science, James McCord from English, Ekram Hassib from Electrical and Computer Engineering, Cara Molyneaux from the Library, George Shaw from Geology, and William Thomas from Modern Languages.

I also want to 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 2011, 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 2011 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 Class of 2011. 

First, I want you all to know that it has been my great honor and my privilege to serve and represent you as your President.  Whether I’m talking to alumni, fellow educators, government officials, or others interested in the character of today’s students, I quickly use your accomplishments and qualities as evidence of a generation’s promise.   I point to the difference you have made in the world beyond our campus: bringing joy into lives of people in nursing homes through programs like U-Rebloom; helping young children to read and imagine a brighter future; going to far-off places like Ghana to build libraries and improve schools and places like Ethiopia to fix wells and bring clean water; feeding those who need help through Campus Kitchen and Octopus’s Garden; aiding low income families with their taxes through the VITA Program and raising funds to help with their  housing through initiatives like “Thruway” – an A cappella competition that you sponsored at Proctors; and raising research funds aimed at ending life-threatening illnesses through a variety of dinners and other fund raisers.  Because of all this, in you I have great faith; in you I have great hope.

I celebrate your academic accomplishments: you’ve received Minerva Fellowships, Fulbright Fellowships, Davis Peace grants among other prestigious awards.  You’ve excelled in athletic competition, both as individuals and as teams.  You’ve set records and repeated league championships.  You’ve taken us to NCAA playoffs in hockey and lacrosse for the first time in our school’s history; you’ve had unprecedented successes in national and international academic competitions, like the Model UN and SAE Aero East; you’ve inspired us with you Steinmetz presentations, performances, and posters; you’ve captured our imaginations with your singing, photographs, paintings, poetry, and other musical and artistic work; and, you’ve presented scholarly work at regional and national academic conferences.  Again, in you I have great faith; in you I have great hope.

I emphasize the difference you’ve made at Union.  You’ve created good will between campus and community through your tutoring and other volunteer work and your effort to embrace what the city has to offer through innovative programs like Taste of Schenectady.  You’ve debated and supported the values of academic integrity in your discussion of an honor code.  You’ve taken seriously the need to build more sustainable practices that start here through innovative research and the implementation of new policies and practices.  You’ve raised funds for those members of our community who have encountered illness and supported them with your friendship.  Because of all this, in you I have great faith; in you I have great hope.

I hope that you’ve found in Union a supportive environment that has helped you grow and find your passion.  I hope that your time at Union deepened your love of learning.  I hope that we’ve created within you an insatiable appetite for knowledge.  I hope that we’ve provided you with intellectual and social tools that will allow you future success. And, I hope Union has created memories, friendships, and commitments that will endure.   I predict that they will because that is truly a hallmark of the Union experience. 

As I said at Baccalaureate yesterday afternoon, nurture the relationships you’ve developed here.  Stay in touch with each other.  Stay in touch with faculty and staff here – people who made a difference in your life and who care about what happens to you.  And come home often to Union; you will always be welcome here.

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, you sisters and brothers under the laws of Minerva, you daughters and sons of Union College.  Godspeed.